Ladybird: What developer Andreas Kling is planning with his team

Andreas Kling is now planning big things with the free browser Ladybird and would like to expand it into a cross-platform project. In an interview with iX, he explains what he and his team are planning to do with the new browser, why they absolutely do not want to allow external influence and why he is the figurehead of SerenityOS and Ladybird, but he is not the project as a one-man -want to see the show understood.

Andreas Kling is the main developer of the Unix-like operating system SerenityOS. He has worked at Apple and Nokia in the past, but has been working full-time on SerenityOS since May 2021. He recently live-coded a Linux GUI for Serenity’s LibWeb browser engine.

In our first news about Ladybird, we described your browser as a competitor to Google’s de facto monopoly. That was of course an exaggeration, but is there anything that you would like to do technically fundamentally different than the currently available web browsers?

In fact, we are not competitive today and we still have a long way to go. On the technical side, I wish that with Ladybird we would focus more on simplicity rather than performance. Today’s major browsers are incredibly complicated, much more complicated than they need to be. The big companies have poured billions of dollars into their competition for prestigious JavaScript benchmarks that have nothing to do with what 99 percent of websites are actually doing. This has resulted in browser architectures that are complex, difficult to understand, and difficult to secure.

I know this because I’ve been a part of those performance wars myself: when I worked at Apple, I did a lot of things in WebKit that were complicated and messy just to improve some benchmark.

In the Ladybird engine code (LibWeb and LibJS) we try to get as close as possible to the web specs, using the identical terminology and replicating the spec algorithms step-by-step whenever possible. While performance is important to us (and we still have a lot of work to do on that front!), we’re not going to write millions of lines of code just to achieve a 20 percent improvement on some benchmark.

On the non-technical side, I think it would be nice if there was an open source browser engine that could render modern websites but wasn’t funded and/or controlled by the big tech companies. I welcome small donations from some people, but I’m not interested in selling anyone influence over Ladybird.

Ladybird isn’t the only alternative to Chrome & Co. Have you tried the others like Epiphany, Dooble and the qutebrowser? What do you think of them?

Sure, I’ve tried many browsers over the years. For someone mostly interested in rendering engines, all these “alternative browsers” are basically the same thing: it’s just WebKit, Blink, or Gecko with a different GUI. I have nothing against these browsers, but they are not very exciting.

You now officially refer to Ladybird as a cross-platform project. Which target group do you see for Ladybird in the future?

For the foreseeable future, the target group will be people who want to work on Ladybird. New developers join the project every week. We’re not out to attract users or impress venture capitalists. We really just focus on developing the engine and making it work with real websites.

In our first interview you asked the question “Why?” simply with “Why not?” answered. Is that still the answer now that you see Ladybird as a bigger project?

Yes, believe it or not, we still do this for fun! The difference is that we’re now taking compatibility with other systems a little more seriously, so our developers can also use Ladybird on their own machines if they want to.

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