There’s been a bit of controversy lately concerning the rising dominance of WebKit-based browsers (e.g. Chrome, Safari, and Mobile Safari) and the potential that we’re repeating past mistakes:

Not so long ago, IE6 was the over-dominant browser on the Web. Technically, the Web was full of works-only-in-IE6 web sites and the other browsers, the users were crying. IE6 is dead, this time is gone, and all browsers vendors including Microsoft itself rejoice. Gone? Not entirely… IE6 is gone, the problem is back.

However, I believe there’s one gigantic difference between IE6 then and WebKit now that’s being overlooked.

Microsoft put the brakes on Internet Explorer development after IE6 because they realized that they were helping build the runtime for their own competition. If Internet Explorer releases had continued at the same pace, most everyone would probably be using IE15 today and IE6 would be as memorable as Chrome 4 or Firefox 7.

Conversely, Google has a vested interest in Chrome’s ongoing success (and WebKit’s success by extension). Instead of threatening Google’s primary revenue stream, WebKit and Chrome serve to enhance Google’s golden goose. So, unlike the past situation with Microsoft, Netscape, and IE6, Google has no motivation whatsoever to shutter active development on Chrome and WebKit if it overtakes Internet Explorer and Firefox.

Does that make vendor prefixes and targeting experimental features a great idea? Maybe not. Frankly, I’m not qualified to speak intelligently about cutting edge CSS features.

What I do know is that just because the current climate seems similar to the one ten years ago, that doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to assume history is repeating.