With the way the tide turns in today’s fast-paced, always-connected world, it’s a bit perplexing that you may one day wake up and find that the way a company operates across its entire product lineup has been irrevocably changed overnight. It is rather disconcerting and a reminder that nothing is ever set in stone, unless you’ve made yourself a cosy monopoly. These words are coming from my head as I read the press release from Opera, announcing their intention to drop development of their in-house Presto rendering engine in favour of Webkit.

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It may look the same, but in future it’ll be a different beast altogether.

This change will apply to both their mobile and desktop versions of their browser, changing the way Opera Mini, Mobile and desktop render the web to the end-user. Because Opera still holds a significant amount of market share (i.e. just enough to keep them relevant) its not going to disappear that quickly. Adopting Webkit, though, hints at just how much of an impact Google’s Android and Chrome browsers, along with Apple’s versions of Safari on iOS and OS X.

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For comparison, when you look at how mobile browsers have changed market share over the last year, Opera has been on a relatively steady decline, with most of the market share it had lost to the rising powerhoise that is Android. Both the iPhone and various Android devices use Webkit-based browsers and the majority of website updates and new websites are catering for Webkit devices because it’s just so much easier,  in addition to Webkit offering better standards support like HTML5. In SA, this graph looks nothing like our local mobile browsing stats – Opera dominates with over 50% market share, but has been steadily declining thanks to Android slowly gaining ground with its native browser.

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Clearly, things aren’t so rosy for the company and it doesn’t help that for the last two years their desktop browser has come last in Tom’s Hardware’s Web Browser Grand Prix, hogging RAM and CPU cycles and not being as stable or quick as Firefox, Chrome and even Internet Explorer have become. Safari’s always run like lightning on OS X so it’s really no use comparing anything on Apple’s platform. All of this could be attributed to rushed development or possibly issues with Presto itself. Whatever the case may be, Opera has seen fit to replace it with Webkit. Don’t worry though as things will stay the same graphically and there should still be options like Opera Turbo and the like to keep bandwidth use to a minimum.

You’ll just have to live with the fact that you’re basically going to be using a modded and skinned version of Chrome in the future. I was an Opera fan in college, but today it’s nothing like the browser I used to love. Chrome’s got that honour now. Will the adoption speed up development of new versions? If so, it would be a good decision to make.

P.S. I made a point of writing this post inside Opera 12.14, just for fun. But I can’t right-click on images within WordPress’ editor, while other browsers have this functionality. That kind of drives home how far apart Opera’s development is from reality. Perhaps being a better Webkit-based browser than other Webkit-based browsers is Opera’s true calling.

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