Symbian to drop Microsoft in favour of Opera

The company behind the new generation of smart phones from Psion, Nokia and Ericsson ditches bloated IE for lightweight Opera
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

As Microsoft rival Time Warner/America Online weighs whether or not to break ranks with Microsoft, another Microsoft rival, Symbian, is doing just that.

Symbian and alternative browser vendor Opera Software will announce today that Symbian has licensed the Opera browser and will embed Opera in reference designs for Symbian's handheld devices. The deal does not call for Symbian to license Opera for the Symbian family of smart phones, but Opera officials hinted that such a pact ultimately could be forged, once Opera delivers final code for the other two platforms.

Financial details of the deal were not disclosed. Opera officials said the agreement was finalised "a few weeks ago".

Symbian's rivalry with Microsoft in the PDA and smart phone markets has been a public one. In hearings last year on the proposed remedies in the Department of Justice versus Microsoft antitrust case, DoJ lawyers introduced documentation that use Microsoft's operating system domination to cripple Symbian in retaliation for Symbian's supposed support of Sun Microsystems' Java. Earlier this year, Symbian chief executive Colly Myers fired public warning shots about alleged incompatibilities introduced by Microsoft in the handheld space.

Opera has offered a version of its lightweight browser for the wireless EPOC platform for some time. The version licensed by Symbian is a customised and updated version of that port, said Opera chief executive Jon von Tetzchner.

"We're working on Opera 5.0 for EPOC," said von Tetzchner. "We're in beta now and the final is just a few months away."

Opera's deal with Symbian is the latest of a number of recent announcements by the Oslo, Norway-based software vendor. Earlier this month, Opera shipped Opera 5.0 for Linux, its first commercial Linux browser. On the heels of that announcement, Opera unveiled an agreement with IBM, via which IBM will embed a version of Opera for the QNX operating system on IBM's NetVista Internet appliances.

Symbian, for its part, has been relying on wireless browser technology from STNC a company which Microsoft purchased in July, 1999.

Von Tetzchner said Microsoft's acquisition sat none too well with rival Symbian.

"Everyone is trying to make sure they aren't dependent on Microsoft," von Tetzchner said. "So, every time Microsoft does something new like this, we end up getting more customers."

Microsoft angst isn't the only factor driving Opera's growing acceptance on wireless platforms, however, von Tetzchner was quick to add.

"We're seeing that Internet devices do require a full-featured HTML browser. Witness the WAP failure. Customers want the browser on mobile phones, set-top boxes and other platforms," von Tetzchner said.

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