Web Engine Diversity and Ecosystem Health

Programming - Mar 31, 2024

As front-end developers, our job is working with browsers. Knowing how many we have and the health of them is always of great interest. As far as numbers go, we have fewer recently than we have in the past. It’s only this month that Edge is starting to auto-update browsers to the Chromium version, yet another notable milestone in the shrinking number of browsers.

A few years back, Rachel Nabors likened the situation to a biological ecosystem and how diversity means health:

If we lose one of those browser engines, we lose its lineage, every permutation of that engine that would follow, and the unique takes on the Web it could allow for.

And it’s not likely to be replaced.

A huge consideration in all this is the open-source nature of what we have left. Remember that Microsoft’s browser technologies were not open-source. Brian Kardell:

In important ways, we are a more diverse, efficient and healthier ecosystem with the three multi-os, open-source engines we have left (Blink, Gecko, and WebKit) than when we had had more and were dominated by projects that weren’t that at all.

As a followup Stuart Langridge touches on another kind of diversity:

What’s really important is diversity of influence: who has the ability to make decisions which shape the web in particular ways, and do they make those decisions for good reasons or not so good?

Here’s hoping that the browsers we have left will continue to evolve, perhaps even fork, and find ways to compete on anything except standards. While the current situation isn’t as bad as perhaps some folks were worried about with the loss of Microsoft’s engines (and maybe it’s even a good thing), it would certainly be bad news if we lost even more browsers [nervously glancing at Firefox], both in shrinking numbers and shrinking diversity of influence.

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