Opera is throwing its hat into the battle of the browsers by finally ditching Presto in favour of WebKit, the software engine long known to power the likes of Google Chrome and Safari, as well as Chromium for its iOS and Android apps. The official announcement came with a blog post by the company, celebrating hitting the 300 million monthly user mark across all its browser products on phones, tablets, TVs and computers.

The Norwegian company wrote in its blog that it would be showcasing its WebKit-based Android browser at the Mobile World Congress, which is coming up in a few weeks’ time. Opera said that it will also be gradually making the WebKit shift to desktop browsers too.

“The WebKit engine is already very good, and we aim to take part in making it even better. It supports the standards we care about, and it has the performance we need,” said CTO of Opera Software, Håkon Wium Lie about this shift.

Opera Software

Opera, now with WebKit

He said that it made more sense to have Opera’s experts to work with open source communities to further improve WebKit and Chromium, rather than develop its own rendering engine further. Wium Lie also revealed that Opera intended to contribute to WebKit and Chromium projects and it had already submitted its first set of patches that aim to improve multi-column layout.

Last month, hints of a WebKit based Opera browser named Ice had hit the headlines. In a video published by Pocket-lint in January, Opera CEO Lars Boilesen explained that Opera had traded in the traditional tabs and buttons in favour of an all-touch gesture based control system with Ice. The homepage contain compact icons or ‘apps’ as Boilesen described them. These apps can be used to open pages directly, like Boilesen showed with the Google Maps app. The URL bar and search functions have been combined to make the experience of browsing simpler. Boilesen shifted back and forth between pages via simple swipe hand gestures.

“This is a full touch and tablet-focused browser,” said Boilesen in the video explaining Opera Ice’s interface. “Most are taking a PC browser and squishing [it] into a tablet, or they are taking a mobile browser and blowing it up to fill the space.”

Today’s announcement went beyond a single product, talking about making sweeping changes within Opera. While it is not certain which products would continue to keep Opera’s in-house technology, change is possibly afoot in the company.

It is being speculated that killing off Presto could mean a lot of layoffs would take place in the engineering department of Opera but spokeswoman Zara Lauder was optimistic in her statement to CNET. “We have never had more people at Opera working on our products than right now, and we look forward to contributing to WebKit. This change has been some time in the making, and all hands are now hard at work on making the best possible browser for our users.”

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