With Firefox gaining steam and a new IE on the way, can Opera survive?

Summary:If there ever was an industry battle that exemplifies the legendary epic of David vs. Goliath, one that has lasted for years with the scrappy and resourceful David continually unsheathing new and effective weapons, that battle has been between browser maker Opera Software and Microsoft.

If there ever was an industry battle that exemplifies the legendary epic of David vs. Goliath, one that has lasted for years with the scrappy and resourceful David continually unsheathing new and effective weapons, that battle has been between browser maker Opera Software and Microsoft.  Through the end of the 90's and into the first decade of the 21st century, Microsoft has been dominating the browser market with Internet Explorer often succeeding in getting Web site developers to support Microsoft-only technologies that break other browsers like those of Opera, Apple, and the Mozilla Foundation. Demonstrating how David can win against seemingly insurmountable odds, back when the Internet took off like a rocket, the small Oslo, Norway-based company and its very vocal customers took issue with how the Microsoft Network was inaccessible to the Opera browser and Microsoft capitulated. But, if you ask the folks at Opera, the Redmond, WA-based company still needles Opera's customers with the sort of incompatibilities that drive end-user batty, or to Internet Explorer.  Still, somehow, Opera Software continues to grow. 

But, according to a recent News.com report, traffic to the Firefox Web site was up to 2.6 million visitors in March 2005 and Microsoft's dominant share of the Web browser market dipped below 90 percent.  With a new version of Internet Explorer on the way, Microsoft isn't going to take that news sitting down.  Suddenly, the browser playing field is getting turned upside down and all the news is going to Firefox and IE.  Meanwhile, there's the Opera Software which offers a free browser, but you have to buy it to get the unadulterated version of it.   Against the backdrop of the way the browser playing field is changing and in the context of Opera's business model, can the small, Oslo, Norway-based company survive the might of Microsoft and the juggernaut of the open source-based Mozilla Foundation?

According to Opera Software CEO, Jon S. von Tetzchner, that question has been asked over 100,000 times in the last 10 years and the answer is the same as it was ten years ago: "Yes."  Not only is the company riding a wave of popularity on mobile devices, particularly in areas outside the US like Japan, the company is about to release version 8 of it's browser; a version that von Tetzchner says will not only titillate Opera's cult-like following, but that will raise the bar to Microsoft, Mozilla, and Apple's Safari in terms of what it means to be the best browser. 

Amongst other updates, one of Opera 8's key new features will be the way in which it -- in a chameleon-like way -- can pretend to be another browser on a site-per-site basis.  Chameleons?  Geckos (a term used by Mozilla).  Enough with the lizards.  For one site that Opera works really well on, it can continue to advertise that it's Opera.  For another site that is more friendly to Internet  Explorer, it can pretend to be IE.  Opera 8 also ushers in the idea of User JavaScript, a way for savvy end-users to modify the way certain pages from their favorite Web sites look.  That sort of modification -- gaining popularity in a certain Internet circle known as the remix culture --  isn't at all unlike the way the Greasemonkey plug-in is enabling folks like InfoWorld's Jon Udell to make Amazon.com's book pages report on his local library's inventory

In my interview of von Tetzchner, which is available as both an MP3 download and as a podcast that you can have downloaded to your system and/or MP3 player automatically (see ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in), the company's CEO talks about:

  • Why the company will survive as the browser landscape goes through radical change
  • The company's involvement in the WHAT Working Group - a non-W3C working group of vendors (one that doesn't include Microsoft) that's focused on recommending standards for browser advancement and innovation
  • Opera's intentions to improve its presence in North America with the opening of new US-based offices
  • How the company has nearly doubled in size in the last year
  • Why the W3C may be too focused on the server-side of the Web equation
  • The potential role of multimedia clients in establishing defacto standard Web-access technologies and the implications for other technologies like digital rights management
  • Whether or not Opera should open source its technologies
  • Why the alternatives to Internet Explorer should remain devided as opposed to, at the very least, consolidating on a single, open source-based code base (like Mozilla) on top of which multiple players innovate in order to drive certain incompatibilities out of the market (and also to reduce some of Opera's R&D costs)
  • What Microsoft's Web sites are still doing to cause Opera's browser software to be incompatible with their Web pages.
  • The idea of AJAX-based applications, Google's role in them, and how Web-based applications are finally becoming the norm.

Topics: Enterprise Software


David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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