The future of browser engines for embedded systems

More and more embedded systems with LCDs are using a web application for the main UI versus something like Qt. There are several reasons:

  1. the UI can be accessed remotely
  2. web development tooling is really advanced (ex Elm)

The problem with this approach is you need to run browser (typically in Kiosk) mode on your system, and these are heavy apps. In the past, we’ve used browsers based on Webkit. Lately, we’ve had to use Chromium for various reasons. Adding a Chromium based browser to an image adds at least 100MB to your image, and requires graphics acceleration. I’ve hoped Webkit would continue to be a viable lean option for a browser on embedded systems, but it seems to be falling behind:

There are varying opinions on this – in this podcast, Matt Mullenweg states that everyone should just use the Chromium engine:

MM They started contributing to an existing project. And then later, I think they’ve re architected it twice since then, but they later rebuilt it. And now we have this, you know, to go back to Microsoft, Microsoft, of Internet Explorer fame, that was the thing they got taken to Agent trasport is now using chromium as the basis of Edge. And actually, another controversial view I have is that it’s inevitable and probably a good thing for Firefox to adopt chromium as well.

GT Interesting. Let me unpack this. This is funny, because when Chrome, when Chromium was announced at the time, Firefox was a great browser that everyone loved. And it’s open source. And at the time, I remember thinking, why is Google doing this? You know, why don’t we just make Firefox is it, it had great extension, all the things at the time, right? This is we were talking about 10 years ago? Probably, I don’t know the date. But let’s let’s unpack this about Firefox.

MM Sure. I mean, Firefox is currently declining in every major market, except for Germany, I believe. They I think are moving slower than they could. And I would estimate they’re spending 100 million a year in developer resources in the engine, right, because the web standards are moving forward quickly. You need to work with everyone. And they’re in a tough spot. Because as the usage declines, web developers incentive sort of tests with Firefox. And regardless of all the web standards, you and I know more than anyone, like, doesn’t matter if you go to the website, and you still need to test all the browsers, it is less than enough for people to testing right? And so they get like this gradual wearing away or some websites will just work a little worse, some applications will work a little worse in Firefox. And they believe users. And contrast to what Microsoft’s doing an edge with brave did with chromium, like I think where we conflate things is we think Google, big and evil, they shouldn’t control everything. And like, you know what? Sure. I think what will drive Google the better though, is people being able to not have to compete on parsing arbitrary HTML, rendering that, but actually, what is all the things on top of that? What is the user interface? What is the privacy model? What is the you know, payment integration? Brave does really interesting things a cryptocurrency. Like, what does? What does the innovations happening on top of that layer? So if we can just get all of humanity to say like, “Here’s the engine, here’s this thing” V8 Chromium, whatever it is, that is like some of the best code and most well tested code ever written. And that can become like a de facto standard, that actually is far more powerful than, than sort of English language, prose, written standards, when you have a code standard becomes very real and much more robust. And you know, what, if Google was the shepherd of that code, starts to do really, truly evil things with it, then it’ll fork. Great. But until then, let’s get it all these engineers working on that. And what if Mozilla was able to invest that 100 million dollars a year of development, to create an innovative user experience on top of it, let’s not forget, like Mozilla created the search box, which was like the browser monetization, they created tabs, like so much innovation came from there, historically, and came from their users. So I think there’s a possibility for that again, in the future.