Open-source divorce for Apple's Safari?

Apple may be ready to ditch the open-source code behind its browser, leaving a sour taste for some developers.

Two years after it selected open-source rendering engine KHTML as the basis of its Safari Web browser, Apple Computer has proposed resolving compatibility conflicts by scrapping that code base in favor of its own.

In an e-mail seen by CNET News.com, a leading Apple browser developer suggested that architects of the KHTML rendering engine--the heart of a browser--consider abandoning the KHTML code base, or "tree," in favor of Apple's version, called WebCore. KHTML was originally written to work on top of KDE (the K Desktop Environment), an interface for Linux and Unix operating systems.

"One thing you may want to consider eventually is back-porting (WebCore) to work on top of (KDE), and merging your changes into that," Apple engineer Maciej Stachowiak wrote in an e-mail dated May 5. "I think the Apple trees have seen a lot more change since the two trees diverged, although both have useful changes. We'd be open to making our tree multi-platform."

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What's new:
Two years into its Safari Web browser, Apple has proposed dumping open-source rendering engine KHTML in favor of its own code base.

Bottom line:
KHTML developers, who initially hailed Apple as a white knight, are now calling the relationship between their group and the computer maker a "bitter failure."

More stories on this topic

The suggestion, which KHTML developers said they were unlikely to accept, comes as Apple tries to quell rising dissatisfaction among the original architects of KHTML. Two years after hailing Apple as a white knight, those developers are calling the relationship between their group and the computer maker a "bitter failure."

In a conflict some call emblematic of what can go wrong when corporations embrace open-source projects, developers are airing longstanding gripes against Apple, accusing the computer maker of taking more than it gives back to the open-source group.

Apple declined to comment for this story. But Safari engineer David Hyatt did acknowledge KDE complaints in his blog, defending the scope of recent patches and soliciting suggestions on improving Apple's relationship with KDE.

"For what it's worth, the patches I posted...are not solely KHTML patches," Hyatt wrote. "What do you think Apple could be doing better here?"

The subsequent dialogue, played out in public mailing lists and blogs, led to the e-mail exchange in which Stachowiak suggested that the KHTML group start fresh from WebCore.

KDE said complaints about Apple had been brewing for some time, and attributed some of the tensions to the inherently at-odds priorities of corporations and volunteer coders.

"Business is constrained in ways that open source prides itself on not being constrained," said George Staikos, a software consultant, KDE developer and spokesman for the open-source group. "There have been problems all along in the sense that Apple had their own internal issues to deal with (that) did not mesh well with the model used by

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