Ladybird web browser now funded by GitHub co-founder, promises ‘no code’ from rivals

Ladybird web browser now funded by GitHub co-founder, promises ‘no code’ from rivals

A new US non-profit organization called the Ladybird Browser Initiative has been set up to develop the Ladybird web browser, based on a new engine that does not borrow code from other browsers.

According to a post this week, the new 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, with initial directors being lead developer Andreas Kling and GitHub co-founder Chris Wanstrath, is funded entirely by sponsorships from those who “care about the open web” and will only accept “unrestricted donations.” 

The software is open source on GitHub and uses the permissive BSD-2-Clause License which is means it is free software and approved by the open source initiative.

Ladybird originated as an HTML viewer for SerenityOS, created by Kling in 2018 as a Unix-like operating system for x86-64 processors. Last month Kling handed over SerenityOS to a maintainer group, stating that all his attention was now on the Ladybird browser, which he forked into a new top-level project targeting Linux and macOS. He also said that unlike SerenityOS, Ladybird will “leverage the greater OSS ecosystem,” meaning that it will use other open source libraries for some features. The FAQ though states that “we implement web standards ourselves,” ruling out adopting a third-party engine in its entirety. The existence of few independent implementations is risky for web standards, since it makes it more likely that a single vendor can establish de facto standards.

Wanstrath, who has also donated $1 million to the project, said in a separate post that “every major browser engine” is “funded by Google’s advertising empire.” He included Safari on the grounds that Google pays Apple to be the default search engine, and Firefox for a “similar deal.” 

Last year Kling addressed another question, the supposition that the web is now so complex that building a new browser is impossible. Kling said that “The ECMAScript, HTML, and CSS specifications today are (for the most part) stellar technical documents whose algorithms can be implemented with considerably less effort and guesswork than in the past.”

Our build of the Ladybird browser running on macOS

DevClass downloaded the source and built Ladybird without fuss on macOS, since there are no binary releases currently available. The browser is quite functional on many sites, if one can tolerate some layout issues and slow performance, though attempting to visit Google Mail raised the error “this browser or app may not be secure,” and even the “Learn more” link did not work for us, while the debug window spat out a torrent of errors. The sites that struggled most were those heavy with ads. Note that the browser is not presented as ready for use: the Readme says that “Ladybird is in a pre-alpha state, and only suitable for use by developers.”

No Google Mail for Ladybird users

The project has been welcomed by enthusiasts for the open web, with comments such as “I think this is a tremendous gift to the Internet that we loved,” and “Bravo Andreas, and thanks for working on keeping the Internet neutral, addressed to Kling on Hacker News. 

Why will Ladybird fare better than Mozilla? “We are setting a much narrower goal than Mozilla and hope that focusing on only browsers will allow us to keep things simple and more sustainable financially,” said Kling in the Hacker News thread.

Ladybird is written in C++. According to the project home page, the choice of language goes back to what Kling was “most comfortable with” when creating SerenityOS, but the team is now “evaluating a number of alternatives” and plans to add a second language to the project soon. Kling confirmed that “our next language will be a memory safe one.”

The task for the small team – “3 employees, with 3 more joining in the next month” according to Kling – is substantial, since there is both the technical challenge of building a competitive web browser, and the marketing challenge of persuading people to switch from Chrome, Safari, or Edge, currently the most popular with over 88 percent of the market according to statcounter. Firefox , which uses Mozilla’s Gecko engine, has only 2.75 percent market share, and even Microsoft Edge has only just over 5 percent.