05:25 PM

I Can See Clearly Now

Pay $20 a month for slow Web surfing that yields unsightly graphics, or even just text? No wonder people seldom use their cell phones for Web access.

Opera Software is trying to get people to change their minds about cell-phone browsing, and it has a good shot at success given the growing following for its free Web browsers. Opera is giving away a minibrowser that works on Java-enabled cell phones--that's most phones made in the last few years, not just smart phones and PDAs--and provides an experience similar (albeit smaller) to the PC.

Cell phones' Web-rendering abilities are limited by processing power and memory, but the Opera Mini works differently. A phone's Java client contacts a server hosted by Opera, which fetches the requested page, compresses it, and sends it back. To get Web access, cell-phone users still need to purchase a data plan from their carriers or pay monthly data-transmission and usage fees.

Count Ben Blount, a student at Georgia Institute of Technology, among Opera's fans. He now has an alternative to his PDA for reading daily news at and Google. Says Blount, "I can browse on my cell phone and not worry about looking for a hot-spot."

Cell-phone vendors are working on better browsing. Nokia plans more phones with QWERTY keyboards, and Motorola is adding a Google icon to phones.

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