Interview with Frode Hernes, VP Product Management for TV and Connected Devices, Opera Software about Opera´s move to Chromium/Blink and the affect the move has had on the industry and Opera´s TV products.
Opera Software Blog (OSB): With the launch of the new Opera SDK 4.0, Opera has become the first company to unveil a commercial-grade Chromium/Blink SDK for TV & set-top boxes. What impact does this have on the industry?
FH: Up until recently, this industry has basically been using two different engines, one is Opera Presto, which now has been put into maintenance mode, and the other is WebKit. Opera Presto has been in development for almost 20 years, is very well-tuned to the applications andworks fantastically with the current applications. But, we can see that it is getting more difficult to keep Opera Presto aligned with modern CPU architectures such as multi-core CPUs and devices with high-end graphics processors.
The other engine is WebKit, which has been used by both our competitors and companies taking WebKit from open source or chipset manufacturers and shipping that on various devices. It has also been very successful and has been used by probably the largest part of the market up until recently. Earlier this year Opera announced the decision to move to Chromium/Blink as the rendering engine powering all our products. We selected Chromium over WebKit both for strategic and technical reasons. We saw Chromium/Blink as a component that added more value than just WebKit.
This year, Google forked off Blink from WebKit, to speed up development and to optimize Chromium/Blink further. We now see that development on WebKit is less open, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to get things done in WebKit so there is a trend of companies turning to the new Chromium/Blink: Yandex, Adobe and Digia to name a few. This means that approx. 70% of the people that were contributing to WebKit are now contributing to Chromium/Blink, which, in turn, means that Chromium/Blink will move forward faster, be a more integrated engine and have better performance, making it an ideal platform for CE Devices going forward. Opera releasing Chromium/Blink encapsulated in an SDK, tested with major content such as YouTube, Hulu, Pandora and BBC, while also pruned down for embedded use, is a major event in the industry. We are probably the most trusted browser partner, and, with Chromium/Blink, we are on the most well accepted future platform for the industry. This combination is almost unbeatable, so we see a lot of interest from our customers to let us help them move to Chromium/Blink.
Some of our customers will stay on Opera Presto for a while because of their low-end devices, since Chromium/Blink is a more resource-hungry component, and others will stay because of their current product cycles, but already we’re seeing almost all customers accepting the idea that they will migrate to Chromium/Blink. We also see new customers coming to us and asking if we can help them on Chromium/Blink. Big players who haven’t been using Opera Presto understand how complex this is and are looking for new ways to deliver a state-of-the-art browser in their devices; therefore, they’re coming to us and asking for our support. So, this is opening up a whole new market for us.
OSB: What will happen with Opera Presto?
FH: We have just released a new version, Opera SDK 3.6, with some new functionality and have also announced that a version 3.7 is planned for January. As well as maintenance, we will continue to add functionality, as long as that functionality enables important content, to ensure we keep inline with the new content being released by the big content providers. The goal is to migrate everyone over to Chromium/Blink, eventually, but this is the CE industry. Devices have 6-12 months time to market, and live for 5-7 years in the homes after they are shipped, so no change happens overnight.
OSB: How does having a Chromium/Blink SDK affect the Opera TV products and the roadmap?
FH: It doesn´t really affect it as much as you would guess because both are HTML5 engines and are 100% compatible on content at the moment. Opera Presto and Chromium/Blink both support the same HTML5 standards. They also both support YouTube and the BBC iPlayer and the same video-on-demand. So, it is not really changing anything; it just gives us a more effective way of delivering an embedded browser with these capabilities and positions us for moving forward.
The focus, in the Chromium development project, is mostly on performance. It is vital that the browser is capable of delivering the same performance as native programs or apps. This is currently seen as more important than adding features or web support in the browser engine. We believe that the browser with HTML5 has become a very standardized module and is not being revolutionized every year anymore. Now, it is more about the way we deliver it and the performance we get out of it on the new hardware.
OSB: Now that we are on the Chromium/Blink SDK, does that mean there will no longer be features exclusive to Opera?
FH: Certainly not. We have more than 100 engineers in our TV department, building functionality on top, underneath and on the side, while improving the current Chromium/Blink. Opera has taken the lead in making Chromium/Blink more embeddable. When we enhance Chromium/Blink, we give this back to the community, and anyone, including our competitors, can fetch it from there, even if that will take some time. But, when we develop TV-centric features outside the engine itself, we will keep these as proprietary features unique to our product.
We have already created several features that are specific to Opera. The most important is that we have a stable API on top of Chromium. This is extremely important for our customers because the Chromium APIs will change rapidly. By developing to our APIs, our customers can easily upgrade to new versions and keep their own applications unchanged. Underneath these APIs, we also hide the complexities of managing CPU resources and memory, and we implement all the special handling of various content such as YouTube, BBC, HbbTV and apps from the Smart TV Alliance. The video streaming features and the DRM integration that we already had on Opera Presto are also ported to Chromium/Blink, as well as our framework for platform integration with OIPF APIs (Open IP TV Forum). The feature set will be tuned for TVs. It will be optimized for our customers´ hardware, with the specific features you need for TVs that are not available in the common Chromium/Blink.