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 Post subject: IT News: Opera Goes Mobile in Battle of Browsers
PostPosted: Sat Dec 24, 2005 10:12 pm 
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International Herald Tribune

Opera plans to make money through search agreements, selling branded versions to operators and cellphone manufacturers. Financially, Opera appears prepared for battle. Listed on the Oslo stock market, it reported a net profit in 2004 of 62 million kroner, or US$10 million.


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Opera, a Norwegian software company, was never really a contender in the Internet browser wars for the desktop computer, despite an Apple-like devotion from many of its customers.

But analysts and Opera say it may be on the verge of a more successful rollout. As cell phones become more advanced, many say Opera is at the forefront of browsers that let customers surf the Internet from their mobile phones and other hand-held devices.

Optimizing the Technology

Since its birth in 1995, Opera has received a sort of honorable mention as "the alternative browser." It has been well liked by programmers and technology buffs alike, but it has never quite broken through into the mainstream of Web users.

Even when "alternative browser" became a buzzword last year, Opera was not the product that rapidly ate into the huge market share of Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Internet Explorer. That prize went to Firefox, a newcomer that was based on the open-source browser Mozilla .

Today, Opera hovers around 1 percent of the desktop browser market, with Explorer at 85 percent and Firefox at about 10 percent, according to Onestat.com, an Internet traffic monitor based in Amsterdam.

But Opera's founder, Jon von Tetzchner, who is the chief executive, is nothing if not stubborn. Already, most of Opera's revenue comes from mobile products. Opera makes money by licensing its products to telephone manufacturers and mobile operators; among its biggest customers are Motorola (NYSE: MOT) , Sony Ericsson , Nokia and the Japanese mobile phone operator KDDI. In the first nine months of 2005, 10.9 million phones were sold with Opera's browser.

"We have been optimizing this technology for seven years," von Tetzchner said in an interview. "And since we use the same code for our mobile browsers as for our well-tested desktop browser, we have a very significant head start over the competition."

Many analysts agree that Microsoft is not the given winner. They say Microsoft has not put much effort into developing its mobile browser, Internet Explorer Mobile, mainly because mobile browsing has been so slow to spread until now.

Open Market

"There is an explosion in the use of browsers on mobile devices," said Ray Valdes of Gartner , the research firm, pointing to the hundreds of millions of Java-enabled cellphones that are in use around the world. "This is a huge, basically untapped market, and the field is wide open right now. Opera has been working on this technology, and I think they have an opportunity there."

Browsing the Internet on mobile devices is certainly not new. The capability has been around since the late 1990s, but it has not become as widespread as many expected it would be, largely because the user experience has not been good enough. Small monochrome screens, weak processors and memories and access only to "lite" versions of Web sites all have contributed to making mobile surfing "more trouble than it's worth," Valdes said.

But as more cell phones gain the capabilities that their predecessors lacked, like bigger color screens and better processors, cellphone customers are starting to come around.

"In the next few years, there will be a very big change," von Tetzchner said in his office in Oslo. "Our goal is to be the leading player in this market."

Even if Opera does not yet have to contend with Microsoft, other giants in the browser market and on the cellphone side are making strides. Nokia, for example, has created a browser called Minimap, due to start appearing in high-end Nokia phones in the first quarter of 2006. Nokia remains an Opera customer and has announced no plans to stop buying Opera browsers. Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, has also been developing a slimmed-down version of its runaway success called Minimo, though it is unclear when a finished version will appear.

Internet Access

The Japanese company Access, which produces the Netfront browser, recently bought PalmSource, which makes the software for the Palm Treo phones. Because the field is in its infancy, market-share numbers are unavailable. And Microsoft is not going to sit still for long: Internet Explorer Mobile is available on smartphones that run on the company's operating system. Von Tetzchner said Opera had developed a number of technologies that gave it an edge over the competition. What it calls SSR, for small-screen rendering, is one of these. It reformats ordinary Web pages to fit the screen width of cellphones, making them much more narrow and making horizontal scrolling unnecessary.

"We give you access to the real Internet," von Tetzchner said. "Most phone browsers don't do that. They give you access to WAP," he added, referring to wireless application protocol, a special standard giving hand-held devices access only to specially designed, bare-bones sites.

Opera's latest mobile product is the Mini browser, which was developed for ordinary cellphones, those without a third-generation network connection or the large internal memory of smartphones or hand-held computers. The Mini browser takes up very little memory, a valuable commodity on a phone.

In addition, Opera is an intermediary between the Internet and the phone, preprocessing the Web pages and shrinking their size before it gets delivered to the phone. The preprocessing fits the information to the specific phone being used, adjusting the Web page to the size of the screen.
High Hopes

"This doesn't only make it load more quickly it also saves money for those who pay high fees for data usage on their phones," said Tor Odland, Opera's communications director.

Opera has high hopes for the Mini browser, having set a goal of 100 million downloads by the end of 2006. So far, Mini has been offered only in Scandinavia and Germany, but it is expected to be available in the rest of Europe by late December or January.

Opera plans to make money through search agreements, selling branded versions to operators and cell phone manufacturers. Financially, Opera appears prepared for battle. Listed on the Oslo stock market, it reported a net profit in 2004 of 62 million kroner, or US$10 million, on sales of 187 million kroner. Two-thirds of the revenue was derived from its mobile products.

"I'm impressed with what they've been doing," said Valdes, the Gartner analyst. "But I think the experience still is unsatisfactory. It's a little like the proverbial dancing dog it's impressive that it can dance, but if you want a real dancing partner, you have to look somewhere else."

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