Jon von Tetzchner is the chief executive of the Norwegian browser company Opera. Although Opera first became known for its desktop product, the company has also become well known for its Opera Mini handset-based web browser.
Opera has become heavily involved in the development of standards for widgets — the lightweight, web-based applications that are starting to become prevalent on new handsets. It has also been working hard on the development of HTML 5, which has more built-in rich media functionality than the current version of the web standard.
ZDNet UK caught up with von Tetzchner at the Wireless '09 event in London on Wednesday to discuss standards processes and how Flash may soon become unnecessary.
Q: Tell us about the work Opera has been doing with widget standards.
We work mostly through the W3C, which is where the widget standard per se is being worked on. The widget standard [as far as it has been established] is more about the packaging — on the relation of how you connect to the underlying device, it hasn't been standardised fully. Bondi is trying to standardise that, and we have engaged with Bondi and with [the Joint Innovation Labs].
There are already quite a few initiatives, and there is a risk of fragmentation, and obviously our goal is always to try to make things migrate... to a single standard. Sometimes, on the way, people are eager to get started, but we try to engage as much as possible to make sure that this gets standardised in a way that works for everyone.
What does Opera gain from these widget standards bodies?
I don't want to say this is a philosophical thing for us, but we do believe the internet is too important to be limited. There is a significant risk of the fragmentation of technology. It'll be like on the PC: you'll write an application for a platform, and it will only run on that platform. We're already seeing some of this [in widget development], where web technologies may be in the mix. But you're mixing all those things in, and suddenly you have to write for the platform instead of for the technology.
Our goal is to try and make this work because we believe that's the right thing to do. We've seen the benefits of this from the PC side, where there are differences between the different operating systems, but you can still run all the applications. That's the benefit of having things standardised.
We have a lot of people that know how to write standards, how to implement standards and how to engage in the standards bodies. We have the biggest active group in the W3C to do just that. Considering that our competitors tend to be a lot bigger than us, that shows our commitment to this.
You see fragmentations — in the worst-case-scenario, you'll think they are lobbying towards a single-vendor lock-in again, and I don't think anyone really wants that.
In what way could that happen?
Clearly, if there is one vendor that wins, then [lock-in] is the potential outcome. It keeps people on their toes to have competition. If there are multiple vendors implementing the solution, then you'll see innovation. To me, again, it doesn't matter whether it's open or closed source, because if everyone was using a single piece of open source, that wouldn't solve it either.
Currently, we are seeing competition in the browser space. There are four browsers, basically; there's Microsoft — they have multiple [browsers], but let's simplify the picture a little — there's Mozilla, there's Apple and there's us. The competition there is leading to innovation and improvement in the different browsers. We've seen that so many times in history — that competition leads to better quality products.
You didn't put Chrome in that list.
This is more about the engine. Chrome is based on Safari — they're based on the same piece of code. But again, if WebKit wins the market or the Mozilla code where there are a few vendors that are building on top of it, I think that would stifle innovation in that particular field.
Tell us about Opera's involvement in the development of HTML 5.
We are very engaged in this. In some ways, we had a period of time when HTML was kind of not being worked at. There was HTML 4 and a lot of work on XHTML — these are technologies that are beautiful, but...