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Opera begins shift to WebKit engine after reaching 300m user milestone

Opera Software has revealed that its browser products have hit 300 million monthly users while also announcing a "gradual transition" from its own Presto rendering engine to the open-source WebKit engine that powers Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari browsers.

The independent Internet browser developer said "most of its upcoming versions of browsers for smartphones and computers" would be built on the WebKit engine, as well as tapping Chromium, the source code upon which Chrome was built.

Opera said the shift to WebKit and Chromium was being undertaken to "provide a leading browser on Android and iOS," currently the two leading operating systems for smartphones and tablets.

"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," Opera chief technology officer Håkon Wium Lie said in a statement.

"It makes more sense to have our experts working with the open source communities to further improve WebKit and Chromium, rather than developing our own rendering engine further," he said. "Opera will contribute to the WebKit and Chromium projects, and we have already submitted our first set of patches: to improve multi-column layout."

Lie mentioned ICE, a WebKit research and development product conducted by Opera that was unveiled in January, as an example of the sort of experimentation the company is doing with the rendering engine.

"The shift to WebKit means more of our resources can be dedicated to developing new features and the user-friendly solutions that can be expected from a company that invented so many of the features that are today being used by everyone in the browser industry," he said.

The Norwegian software firm's first WebKit-based product, an Android browser, will be demoed at this month's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Lie added that the company would also be showcasing its Opera Web Pass operator at the conference.

The company hit the 300 million monthly user milestone across its array of browser products for PCs, smartphones and feature phones, tablets, and Internet-connected TVs.

"300 million marks the first lap, but the race goes on," Opera CEO Lars Boilesen said. "On the final stretch up to 300 million users, we have experienced the fastest acceleration in user growth we have ever seen. Now, we are shifting into the next gear to claim a bigger piece of the pie in the smartphone market."