Opera Software has responded to criticism of earlier versions of its Web browser, particularly over ease of use, by launching a new version — Opera 8.
Although not a radical rewrite, Opera 8 provides a much cleaner default user interface, with fewer toolbars and menu options shown after installation. The company is hoping this will make Opera easier for first-time users.
"A lot of people told us we had a good browser, but it was daunting for a new user. In Opera 8 we've focused on having a basic browser, but with a difference," Jon von Tetzchner, Opera's chief executive, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday.
Some notable new features include support for Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), Opera's small screen rendering technology and voice browsing. The interface remains fully customisable, so experienced users can still get to features in the browser quickly once they've configured the system.
Opera is hoping that the wave of interest generated by the launch of Mozilla Firefox will benefit Opera as another alternative browser to Internet Explorer. The company thinks it's in a good position to compete. "Mozilla deserve the users they've got. It's a good product, but ours is better" said von Tetzchner.
As with previous versions, Opera's free version has advertising built in, while a paid version without advertising is also available. Most other browsers are available for free without advertising, with payment representing a psychological barrier to some people.
Opera also faces philosophical objections from some quarters for not being open source. Von Tetzchner believes you don't need to be open source to be good. "Open source is a good thing, but it's not the solution to all problems. If we only had open source and no commercial applications, that would be bad — we need competition".
Opera also thinks you may end up paying for other browsers anyway. "If you need support that will cost you. One phone call to Mozilla can cost as much as buying Opera," Von Tetzchner claimed.
The small screen rendering technology included in Opera 8 comes from the company's noted success in browsers for mobile devices, and the company thinks that the future of the Web lies away from traditional PCs. "Looking forward, the biggest change we will see is the proliferation of non-PC Internet devices. Cross-device support will be important".
This should be the spur for Web designers to start using standards-based mark-up for everything, even if they're not specifically targeting alternative browsers, according to von Tetzchner. "Using CSS and Web standards you can supply something that will work on different devices," he said.
Already the new version is proving popular with users. Over 10,000 downloads had been recorded in the first 30 minutes of it being made available. Opera's servers were struggling to cope at first, but the company is taking measures to ensure the software is available for everyone to download.