I woke up this morning to find a press release in my inbox from the Oslo, Norway-based cross platform browser maker Opera Software that I simply couldn't let go without some commentary. The headline of the press release reads "Security concerns drive record downloads of Opera 8.51: Online shoppers seek browser alternatives during holiday season" and goes on to say that the company:
...today revealed that online security concerns have prompted record downloads of Opera 8.51, the latest version of Opera’s award-winning Web browser. The surge in downloads can be attributed in part to the detection of additional, severe security flaws in Internet Explorer. Since its debut less than one week ago, more than one million people have downloaded it...
Something about "Opera" and "security" started to ring a bell with me (not a good one at that) and then, after re-reading the press release, I noticed the words (in the aforementioned paragraph) "in part." A quick search of ZDNet's news archive revealed what the other part was. Exactly one week ago, Opera Software reported that it patched a security flaw in its own browser -- one that, according to the news report, could "allow malicious attackers to remotely take control of a user's system." The update was labeled by the company as Opera 8.51 (yes, the same version mentioned in today's press release) and the company issued an advisory on November 22 entitled Opera 8.51 for Desktop: Download the latest maintenance, stability, and security release.
So far, we have a company that has issued a new version of its own product to fix a security problem with the old version and that same company is bragging about how the number of downloads of the new version comes as result of security concerns over the competitor's software (not its own). This didn't add up so I decided to do some real math. Looking back to September, I found a news report that talked about how Opera started giving away the banner ad-free version of its normally US$39-priced browser. That was version 8.5. Then I found a report where Opera boasted of how the move to give away its software resulted in 1.6 million downloads. A little more than a week after that, the company issued a press release that said "More than three million new users have downloaded the Opera browser in the two weeks since the company launched its free browser." So, if the downloading stopped there, then that means there are at least 3 million copies of the browser in the market. Meanwhile, 1 million people have downloaded the new more secure version.
Is it possible that most if not all of those downloads came from existing Opera users that were concerned with Opera 8.5's security and not Internet Explorer's? So, now, not only do we have a company that's managed to attribute the downloads of a security fix to a problem with another company's software, we also have a company with at least 2 million customers that still need the new version. Is this a new PR tactic? 1. Issue broken software. 2. Wait until a few million people download it. 3. Issue a fix. 4. Wait until at least 1 million people download the fix. 5. Use the opportunity to blame your competitor for the "good news?"
For the sake of media transparency, I've published the full text of the press release here.