Throwing in the towel

Microsoft’s change to a Chromium-based browser is a major win for open source

Last week, the news came out that Microsoft is replacing their web browser Edge with a chromium-based version. This is excellent news for open source. Chromium is an open source project headed up by Google but is used by myriad companies and projects like Electron and Opera.

Open source makes more efficient software development possible. Regardless if it’s a community-driven project like the Linux kernel or a company-driven project like Chromium. Chromium is spearheaded by Google but it’s not a win – or loss – for Google. It’s a win for everyone involved. By pooling resources in software development and making it open source, we create an open environment where innovation can foster while we save money and time for everyone involved. The value created by the participating people is shared with the world.

You’ve to understand a bit of the history of web browser development and especially web browser engine development how we got here.

It all started with KHTML and KJS which was the browser and javascript engines developed by the KDE project – an open source desktop environment – back in 1998.

Then Apple forked the code, cleaned it up for code portability and ported it to OSX in 2001. It became WebKit with WebCore and JavascriptCore. Even though Apple released the code back as open source, they weren’t cooperating or participating with the community. They just did what they had to from a licensing perspective.

In 2008, Google adopted WebCore – as part of WebKit –  for their first release of the Chrome browser. The open source version of the browser was called Chromium. Chrome itself is based on Chromium with some closed source components like Widevine DRM which allows video streaming digital rights management for sites like Youtube and Netflix among others. The browser came with a new Javascript engine called V8.

Then Google forked WebCore and created the Blink web browser engine. Both V8 (for Javascript) and Blink (for web rendering) are still used today and actively developed as open source. They form the basis for Chromium, Chrome and most alternative web browsers like Opera. It’s an active open source community with proper governance. Google leads but is cooperating well with the other participants.

I think that Apple and Google realized is that the value created on the internet is not the browser engine. They understood that browsers are part of the infrastructure. Infrastructure investments work better when they’re shared among the participants. Think of it as roads. It’s kind of silly if UPS, USPS, and FedEx all would build their own roads. The internet infrastructure is much the same. With open source, we’re doing the same thing with software. The Linux kernel and all its operating system components have changed the world because of it. Most people in the world own at least one device which runs on Linux.

Open source software is the next step of the information technology infrastructure. I’m happy Microsoft is joining. It’s a win for everyone.

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