Opera: The Little Browser That Could

Summary:In this second part of my interview with Opera CTO Hakon Wium Lie (part 1 is here), we discuss the impressive feature set of the Opera browser. Despite having a market share of only 0.

In this second part of my interview with Opera CTO Hakon Wium Lie (part 1 is here), we discuss the impressive feature set of the Opera browser. Despite having a market share of only 0.64%, according to the latest figures from Net Applications, Opera has a loyal user base and a reputation for innovation.

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I told Hakon that some of the features I like about Opera are its mobile version and the widgets. Hakon said they introduced widgets in Opera 9 and they're based on the 4 main web technologies: HTML, CSS, Javascript, DOM. He said that Opera widgets can "run on a lot of devices as well." So their widgets can run on desktop, mobile phones (once mobile phones start to ship with Opera 9) and other devices. He said there are more than 500 widgets available currently - and notes that they want widgets to be standardized, so they can run on more than just Opera.

Opera positioning

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I asked about Opera's positioning as a browser, in such a competitive market (Microsoft and Mozilla). I see Opera in the same light as the other small browsers - as a niche player and going after niche markets which perhaps the big players don't focus too much on. In Opera's case they are highly regarded as a mobile browser. So I asked Hakon how he views Opera, compared to the big players. He told me they "want to be all over the place", but they really want to grow their desktop browser market share. Communication about their features has been a problem for them. He believes that features like being able to delete private data easily are compelling for mainstream users, but it's hard to get the word out. He says you don't need to be a geek to use these things, so they'd love to attract more desktop users. 

On mobile, Hakon said they are "the only one [browser] that can fit on a small device - our code base is smaller, we use less memory and as a result we run much better in a mobile environment [than their competitors]." So that is a big push for Opera, to push the web onto mobile devices.

The future of the browser

I then asked about the future of the browser. What are Hakon's thoughts on the browser in a cross-platform, cross-device environment of not only desktops and mobile - but gaming machines, televisions, etc. He said the browser is increasingly the platform when you're developing web apps. He talked about using web standards more, so in his opinion the browser will be a very important part of the future - because it'll be the main development environment for the Web platform.

He also sees Microsoft's Avalon platform as a distraction from web standards, in that it is trying to make Windows the dominant platform instead of the Web. So he sees open web standards as crucial going forward for the Web.

Opera Partnerships

I asked what Opera is currently working with Nintendo on browsers for gaming devices kind of partnerships will Opera develop in order to compete and move their vision forward. Hakon said they're currently working with Nintendo on browsers for gaming devices. He also said around 24 phones were released last year with the Opera browser on them and he thinks that will probably double this year. Thirdly, he said they have Opera Mini - which is a small Java applet that runs typically in phones, enabling very small file downloads etc.

Finally I asked about BitTorrent, which was integrated into Opera earlier this year. Hakon said that has proven to be very popular. He said there is a lot of legitimate content that can be used with BitTorrent - e.g. Linux distros.  

Summary

Opera is a feature-packed browser and a great option for not only mobile phones, but for the desktop too. With web standards support and advanced functionality such as widgets, BitTorrent and Opera Mini - Opera is not short on quality. Their challenge is to get the message out and somehow increase their market share on the desktop. And it's a big challenge, with currently less than 1% market share and Microsoft and Mozilla as competitors!

See Also: Opera's Hakon Wium Lie compares IE7 to Ford Pinto; Which is best: Firefox 2, IE7 or Opera 9?; Opera 9 Beta released - includes widgets and BitTorrent

Topics: Browser

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