Microsoft vowed to build a state-of-the-art, standards-compliant rendering engine into Internet Explorer 8. As we've seen in the latest IE8 beta release, however, the new rendering engine remains a work in progress. Meanwhile, Google busted into the browser arena with Chrome, a sleek and stripped-down browser based on the speedy (and already complete) open-source WebKit rendering engine.
How does Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer feel about all this? As Techworld reports, that's pretty much the question an attendee asked at the Power to Developers event in Sydney, Australia: "Why is IE still relevant and why is it worth spending money on rendering engines when there are open source ones available that can respond to changes in Web standards faster?" Ballmer called the question "cheeky," but he gave a surprising response.
Ballmer began his answer philosophically, saying Microsoft will need to look at what the browser is like in the future and, if there is no innovation around them, which he thinks is "likely", Microsoft may still need its own browser because of proprietary extensions that broaden its functionality. . . . Then came the startling revelation that Microsoft may also adopt an open source browser engine. . . . "Open source is interesting," he said. "Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that, but we will continue to build extensions for IE 8."
Building WebKit into, say, Internet Explorer 9 could provide Microsoft with a ready-made (and very fast) standards-compliant engine. WebKit doesn't work with sites built strictly for IE6 and IE7, but neither does IE8's new engine—the IE team has implemented a legacy rendering mode in the new browser for that very reason. In the end, though, we'll have to see whether Microsoft really wants to use an open-source base for its flagship browser.