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3/11/2004
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Free Software Attracts Investors In Norwegian IPO

Opera, the company behind the Opera Web browser, raised $34.7 million and will trade on the Oslo stock exchange.

Thursday marked the first day of public trading of Opera Software ASA, the company behind the free Opera browser.

The Norwegian supplier of the Opera browser, now used in cell phones because of its speed and small footprint, concluded a rare initial public offering for a maker of free software on Wednesday and raised $34.7 million. The company will be traded on the Oslo Stock Exchange after seeking to sell about 12.5 million shares at a price of about $1.43. The demand for the stock--560 million shares were subscribed for, meaning that the stock was oversubscribed by a factor of about 20--fueled a strong secondary sale of more than 11.8 million shares by existing stockholders, according to Pal Hvistendahl, the company's marketing communications director.

"The interest in our IPO is an endorsement from the marketplace that Opera's technology is playing a significant role in the evolution of the Internet," chairman Christian Thommessen said in a statement. About 83% of the stock sale was to international institutional investors, he added.

Opera Software was started in 1995 and its browser, first released in 1996, was adopted by a limited number of highly technical PC users. The browser has slowly spread beyond programmers and technical users to a wider audience and is now being adopted for high-end cell phones.

"Mobile phones are very important part of our outlook," said Live Leer, product line manager, desktop, for the 142-employee company. Opera said recently that its browser was being installed in the Kyocera Wireless Corp.'s ZTE V91 and LU PS-900, available in China. The phones feature screens suitable for browsing Web pages that have been reformatted for cell-phone display.

Leer said Nokia, Sony, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Sharp, and other manufacturers were partners engaged in putting the Opera browser into existing or future products. Opera is working with IBM to build voice recognition into a browser and has access to IBM's voice libraries for future voice applications on cell phones, Leer said.

The Opera browser includes a zoom-in function that lets the user enlarge the text or part of the page being examined. It includes tabs for pages viewed, so that a user can go directly to a page previously examined without clicking backward through a series of pages.

"If you're researching something, you can refer back to a previous page" without a lengthy series of clicks on the back button, Leer said. The company is also targeting PDAs and TV set-top boxes for its browser, she added.

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