Browser Wars – Reloaded

The dispute over WebKit and KHTML reached a new peak today. With Harri Porten yesterday a KHTML supporter already pubslished his position on the subject and today Zack Rusin, a WebKit supporter, answered.

The Background

WebKit was originally forked from KHTML by Apple (more details at WebKit’s Wikipedia entry). Today it the developmnet is still backed by Apple but supported by other groups as well: Nokia, Adobe, Trolltech, some Gnome guys – and several KDE developers.
Soon after WebKit went public it was questioned if the resources of WebKit and KHTML could not be bundled to benefit both. This didn’t work out totally. Some KDE developers decided to help WebKit, some stayed with KHTML.
In the meantime WebKit became more and more famous and spread: Adobe adopted it, Nokia adopted it, Trolltech will adopt it, it is the standard browser on recent Mac OS releases and was as such even ported to Windows. Therefore WebKit became even recognized by web designers and developers.

So nowadays there is the quite open WebKit development project which is not controlled by KDE at all (but up to a certain degree by Apple) but has a nice set of features. On the other hand there is the KHTML project which is fully controlled by KDE, works nice, but still lacks several features. Especially stuff like missing support for WYSIWIG rich text editors in web applications (WordPress editor, CMS systems, etc.) is a pressing issue for several users.

As a result many users still ask what the situation around WebKit and KHTML is.


The KHTML supporters team never bothered with marketing. In fact there are not even many blog posts or anything else at all about KHTML from their point of view. This became a problem recently when the KHTML supporters realized that they had no voice for the users outside of the community and that they had no way to answer many of the existing questions.
As a reaction Harri Porten published a “KHTML FAQ” yesterday on behalf of the KHTML supporters. The FAQ picks up the most important points of the discussion and highlights the stand of the KHTML fraction.
In short it can be said that they would like to work together with the WebKit project – if they get certain rights. This is understandable since the KDE project has its own needs and wishes and the KHTML team wishes to work according to these just as it did in the past.

However, the FAQ fails to explain what the WebKit project actually responded to these wishes and needs. Since the WebKit project often highlighted that they welcome other developers the question is what the outcome of current discussions and talks which issues are blocking what.

Zack Rusin’s response

One of the most famous WebKit supporters is Zack Rusin who worked for Trolltech for years. He got reviewer rights in the WebKit project quite some time ago. And he posted a response to the FAQ.
In short it can be said that Zack was pissed of by certain assumptions in the KHTML FAQ: Zack points out that many former KHTML developers simply switched over to WebKit and that they still can be seen as “KHTML developers”. He also highlights that even the founder of KHTML is a strong WebKit supporter, and that in general more KDE people contribute to WebKit than to KHTML.

However, he also does not address the real reason or problem why both projects simply do not work together. The question remains what the most blocking reasons are.

Future Development

The discussion boiled up now and will certainly stay on the radar for some time. After all, this is a discussion and an argument between software developers which are emotionally involved with their software.

There are now two solutions: one would be to let a third party step in to settle the conflict. The KDE e.V. comes to the mind: one of the tasks of the KDE e.V. is to settle major problems between developers and technology. The KDE e.V. is also “official” enough to start talks with Apple (if they want to listen). This would be the political solution.

The other solution is the more Open Source one: the one who codes decides. If there will be a WebKit kpart, then the distributions will include it. Then users will decide on their own which engine they use. In the end, the users will decide.
Or it could happen that a developer starts with a WebKit KDE browser on his/her own. If that one works well and is well integrated with KDE it might even happen that most people switch over to that one. As an example, the developer momesana has already developed an own WebKit browser:

Momesana Browser - Google main page

Momesana Browser - Overview

Momesana also published a video (Ogg, 8.8 MB) showing the “Momesana Browser” at work and performing quite nice.