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Blink and the Future of Web Browsers : The New Yorker

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Vijith Assar explains Google Blink and the death of the BLINK tag for good:

On April 3rd, just a hair shy of four and a half years after Google unveiled its Web browser, Chrome—now the most popular desktop browser in the world by some counts—Google announced that future versions of it will switch from the popular rendering engineWebKit to a new custom engine, called Blink. (WebKit notably powers Apple’s Safari, along with most popular mobile browsers.) For now, Blink remains an almost-identical copy of WebKit (which is allowed because WebKit’s code is open source), but in the near future it will be refined by Google’s team into a new, lightweight engine that is fast, efficient, stable, and feature-rich. For Google, this will better facilitate the browser’s integration in alternative emerging contexts, like Android smartphones and its new Glass wearable computing device. Blink is expected to start powering Chrome by this June.

Blink is far from the first browser engine to emerge from the shell of another. Mozilla’s Firefox browser, the third most popular browser in the world, and its Gecko engine trace their origins to Netscape Navigator. Initially launched at the end of 1994, it was, for a time, the world’s most popular browser.

One late-summer evening in 1994, a founding engineer at Netscape, Lou Montulli, informally mused with colleagues about the tremendous gap between Lynx, the text-only browser he had created a few years prior, and the much more elaborate Web interfaces which could be displayed inside Netscape Navigator. He noted that the only remotely fancy thing Lynx could do with text was flash the characters on the screen. By the time Montulli woke up the next day—a Saturday—another developer had added the feature to Netscape, which could be triggered by writing  as an element within the Web page’s source code. Montulli is now widely known as the inventor of the  tag,though he is adamant he never advocated for , much less wrote any of the underlying code.


Chrome’s recent move to Blink undercuts the primary olive branch it promised to Web developers upon Chrome’s release in 2008; those developers now need to test their Web sites in an additional rendering engine. But there is an argument in favor of the change: WebKit is now very widely used, especially in mobile devices, in much the same way that Internet Explorer 6 dominated the market and brought a near-halt to real innovation in the look and feel of the Web a decade ago. “Fundamentally, the belief is that having multiple rendering engines—just as there are multiple browsers—will spur innovation and help ensure the long-term health of the open Web,” said Alex Komoroske, a Google product manager.

Explaining Blink’s name, Komoroske said it “evokes feelings of speed and simplicity, which fits with our goals around speed and simplicity of architecture. We also have a tradition of slightly ironic names, and of course we’re aware of the infamous blink tag from the early days of the Web. But just like Chrome is all about minimizing browser chrome and the [Chromebook] Pixel is all about not seeing any pixels at all, Blink will never support the blink tag.”

Firefox is the last web browser to still support BLINK. Soon that too shall pass:

Even though no sensible designer has used the <blink> element in years, its complete disappearance is still disconcerting. Sites like the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine store old versions of sites for historical purposes, in some cases dating back as far as the mid-nineties, but soon enough it may be impossible to view the sites as they actually appeared at the time. Geocities was finally shut down in 2009, but since it was such an important part of the early Web, the contents of many of those sites are still available via a massive six-hundred-and-forty-gigabyte archive posted on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks.

Ah, nostalgia.

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