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Opera Says It Can Still Compete In Browser Battle

The company's CTO says Opera actually pioneered the tabbed-browser features later included in Firefox and Internet Explorer.
Even as Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer 7 rolls out to users and Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox 2.0 nears completion, rival Opera Software remains convinced it can compete, a company executive said Thursday.

Oslo, Norway-based Opera, which develops the same-named browser for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and other desktop platforms, as well as miniature browsers for mobile phones and devices, owns less than one percent of the global browser market, according to Web metrics vendors. But its low numbers doesn't faze the company's chief technology officer, Hakon Wium Lie.

"We want to increase our user base," said Lie, "and we think we can do it. We just need to educate people about Opera, and show them how Opera compares with the others, especially in security."

That security-centric approach has done wonders for rival Firefox, which has increased its market share from zero to 12.4 percent in two years. But Opera's share has struggled to climb much above the half-a-percentage-point figure in that same period.

It doesn't make sense to Lie. "IE 7 comes out and adds tabbed browsing, but Opera has had that for 10 years." He agreed that ideas should be shared -- in fact, said Lie, Opera cooperates with both Mozilla and Apple, which develops its own Safari browser -- but he'd like his company to get credit where credit is due.

"Credit is due Opera, and we'd like to see that reflected in market share," Lie said.

Lie was particularly critical of Microsoft's IE 7, which he said was "disappointing." The IE development team, said Lie, had been given the short end of the stick by Microsoft. "They haven't taken things seriously, and haven't given the necessary resources to IE 7. They could have built a new rendering engine, but instead they used [the engine that debuted with] IE 4.

"That's like taking an old car and giving it a new paint job," said Lie. Microsoft launched IE 7 for Windows XP late Wednesday.

The reality, however, is that Opera is a minor player in the desktop browser business. Lie acknowledged this as he emphasized the company's progress on the mobile front. "Usage numbers are very different on the mobile side. We're now on 40 to 50 handsets, as well as other devices, such as set-top boxes. Nintendo's new Wii [video game console] will have our browser in it.

"Mobile is a very important part of our business."

Although Lie kept future Opera development plans close to his vest, he did say that the company would explore areas that played to its strengths in cross-platform and cross-device support. "One thing in the future that we'll work on is the ability to take content with you across the range of devices. If you browse an article on the Web on your desktop, you want that article to follow you when you leave the house with your phone to take the bus," said Lie.

"All I can say is that we're passionate about browsers."

Earlier this week, Opera announced an addition that will keep it in step with its rivals. Johan Borg, a developer working on the browser, said Tuesday in a blog that the next edition, Opera 9.1, will include beefed up anti-phishing and anti-fraud features. Rather than simply indicate that a site is secure with a notation in the address bar, Opera 9.1 will also query Opera-owned servers for information on any site visited. Those that Opera has identifies as fraudulent will be automatically blocked by the browser.

The current edition of Opera is 9.02, which can be downloaded from here.

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