Opera — apparently tired of having relevance and influence over the evolution of the web — is quitting the “build a browser” business in order to join the “customize someone else’s browser” business.
This has triggered much discussion of monocultures and the health of the web. In comparison, I haven’t seen much discussion about how it’s simply an awful decision for Opera itself. Well, not until I read the comment thread of this Ars Technica story (about lay-offs), some of which nicely covered several aspects I’ve been thinking about.
First: the announcement said that “this is primarily an ‘under the hood’ change”. I’m skeptical about that. tigas commented:
I await the first beta of OperaKit. Rumored casualties are Carakan (confirmed), Dragonfly (confirmed), Fit-to-Width/Seamless Zoom and Single-Column/Small Screen mode (all but confirmed, those depend on Presto’s dynamic layout code), Instant “Back” and “Undo” (probably too dependent on Presto to be able to be retrofitted to WebKit), IRC and Torrent clients
This doesn’t surprise me. Rendering and JS engines are not identical black boxes. They’re complex things with very large surface areas. Switching them must be invasive and have a plethora of knock-on effects. I don’t know if Opera has announced a release date for their first customized version of Chromium, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it took longer to get working than many people expect. Especially if they just laid off a bunch of developers, including numerous old-timers.
Furthermore, I suspect that new version will feel and behave dramatically differently to the old version, and that’s going to annoy a lot of their users. For example, fluxtatic commented:
Crap…if Dragonfly goes, I’ll shut automatic updates off and stay with version 12.x until it gets too dangerous. I’ll have to hope in the meantime all the little things that make Opera better stick around or come back (tab restore, right-click to open new tab on the tab bar, automatic restoration of last session, being able to save sessions, etc, etc.)
Think of those loyal Opera fans who would defend it to the death in every discussion about browsers on the web. Do you think they’ll have the same passion for a customized Chromium? lithiumfrost summed it up best:
Now that they are becoming just another Chrome-clone, I can’t see the point in continuing to use it. Why? I might as well download Chrome. They’re doing the actual browser work now, and have a lot more experience and expertise in the development.
I’d like to see them open source Presto now, but I my guess is that they probably would have announced that with the change if that’s the way they were leaning. What a waste. Farewell Opera; it’s been a good ride.
What a waste, indeed.