When Apple chose the KHTML engine for its Safari Browser in 2003 over the more popular Gecko engine that powers Firefox, a lot of people were surprised. Firefox was way more popular than the Konquerer browser and had a lot more open source developers online.
Since then, Apple has really run with the KHTML engine, forking it off, renaming its development version "WebKit" and making it faster and leaner than Firefox on the Mac and both Firefox and Internet Explorer on the PC. While it doesn't have a lot of the functionality of Firefox plug-ins and the ActiveX controls of IE, more and more support has been built around the Webkit engine as it gains in popularity. (Yes, Opera is very nice as well - especially the torrent downloading.)
The latest builds of WebKit are adding a great number of improvements that go beyond the "Catching up" that it has been doing in the past. These improvements can be broken down into two major areas: features and speed. The features are certainly interesting and you can read about many of them here. I want to focus specifically on speed.
Safari vs. WebKit icons.
There is no other way to say it. Holy cow is this thing fast! I am currently testing Webkit build r30090 (more recent versions are now there) against standard Leopard Safari 3.04. This unoptimized WebKit build version is running circles around the standard Safari browser. It isn't even close.
I am on a Rev 2, 2 GHz MacBook Pro with 2 GB of RAM on 100 Mb/s Fiber. I am running the two browsers next to each other on a 30 inch display. Webkit feels like I am on a maxed out Mac Pro tower - it really does. Try it if you don't believe me.
If you do, you'll notice that the transition is a cake walk. All of your bookmarks, history, cookies, etc. move across each browser even when opened at the same time so it is very easy and low risk to test WebKit. It has also been so remarkably stable in my testing that I am tempted to move Safari off of my dock.
The results in completing the test:
Safari: 11932.0ms +/- 0.9%
Webkit: 4484.0ms +/- 1.8%
The newest Webkit is 2.5 times faster.
What's so interesting about this is that Safari is already a fast browser. The fastest if you believe Steve Jobs 2007 WWDC Keynote. WebKit's amazing, unoptimized speed means that Safari is going to get so much faster, to where it makes a significant difference in browser user experience. While Microsoft's products are getting bulkier and slower, Apple's products are getting leaner and faster.
Safari is also the browser for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and these WebKit improvements will likely hit these devices as well. Probably about the time a 3G iPhone is released.
Now that will be one slick little browser to have in your pocket!