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Opera to fan the browser-war flames

The Norwegian software maker will next week take the wraps off Opera 5 for Windows - its first free browser

The Opera browser has had a lot going for it. It is cross-platform, fast and light. But it wasn't free. Until now.

Next week, Opera Software N/A plans to introduce a free version of Opera for Windows, according to industry sources. The new release, expected to be christened Opera 5 for Windows, could be supported by ads, rather than by the $39 (about £27) per copy fee that the Norwegian software vendor currently charges for its browser.

Opera Software officials declined to comment on the news.

Opera is expected to make public the new features and functionality of its release on 6 December. The company is expected to position Opera 5 for Windows as a head-to-head competitor with Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.5 and America Online's Netscape 6.0. Both IE 5.5 and Netscape 6 are free.

Microsoft recently released its first collection of fixes and patches for IE 5.5 and has begun signing up beta testers for IE 6.0. AOL/Netscape, meanwhile, released the gold version of Netscape 6 at Fall Comdex in mid-November. Since its release, Netscape 6 has met with a mixed reception, with some users claiming it has not lived up to promises on the feature and standards fronts.

Earlier this week, a security glitch resulting from incomplete installation was discovered in Netscape 6. In June, Opera announced Opera 4 for Windows.

That version included new features such as integrated email, 128-bit encryption and support for standards, including XML, cascading style sheets, ECMAScript and JavaScript. More recently, Opera released its 4.02 point upgrade for Windows, which added supplemental functionality including third-party cookie filtering and handling.

In addition to supporting Windows, Opera also is in various stages of beta and final releases on the MacOS, BeOS, Linux and the EPOC platforms. On Nov. 22, Opera delivered version 3.62 of its browser for BeOS and Beta 3 of its Linux version of Opera. The Mac version is still in the alpha stage. Version 3.62 of Opera for EPOC is shipping, as well.

It is unclear whether Opera intends to make its browser available for free on all of its supported platforms, or just on Windows. Opera officials from the company would not comment.

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