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JavaScript expert: WebKit, get your bug-ridden house in order

Dave Methvin, a leader of the influential jQuery programming tool, says WebKit is plagued with old bugs. He's not optimistic Opera will help improve the browser situation.

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Opera Software

It was a good day for the WebKit browser engine yesterday when Opera Software adopted it in place of its in-house Presto. But yesterday's developments also became an opportunity for a high-profile JavaScript programmer to lodge criticisms about WebKit.

"Each release of Chrome or Safari generates excitement about new bleeding-edge features; nobody seems to worry about the stuff that's already (still!) broken," complained Dave Methvin, president of the jQuery foundation and a member of the core programming team that builds the widely used Web programming tool, in a blog post.

"jQuery Core has more lines of fixes and patches for WebKit than any other browser. In general these are not recent regressions, but long-standing problems that have yet to be addressed."

WebKit is a browser engine used initially in Apple's OS X and later in iOS and Google's Chrome products. It dominates in mobile, though there are variations among the versions from Apple, Google, and others using the software.

Browser engines are used to process Web page programming written in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. jQuery is a very widely used package of prewritten JavaScript code that lets programmers take advantage of advanced Web features, and jQuery's own coders must be sure jQuery works with all browsers.

Methvin fretted that Opera's arrival in the world of WebKit will mean only a different set of shiny new browser features without any new attention to the bugs.

"I can't be optimistic without some evidence that things are really going to change," he said.

On the contrary, he's worried that WebKit's success and priorities means that some aspects of Web programming are sliding back into the dark days when old versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer ruled the Web:

When we started our jQuery 2.0 cleanup to remove IE 6/7/8 hacks, we were optimistic that we would also be able to remove some bloat from lingering patches needed for really old browsers like Safari 2. But several of those WebKit hacks still remain. Even when they have been fixed in the latest Chrome or Safari, older WebKit implementations like PhantomJS and UIWebView [which third-party iOS use to handle Web code] still don't have the fix. We've had to put back several of these as users reported problems with the beta. It's starting to feel like oldIE all over again, but with a different set of excuses for why nothing can be fixed.

Methvin is not the only angst-laden Web developer. Several others lamented Opera's diminished independence as a supplier of an alternative browsing engine.

Opera will debut its first WebKit-based product, a version of its browser for Android phones, at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, Spain, later this month.