Opera Preps For More Browser Battles

In an interview, Opera's CEO discusses the Web browser's fight for market share, how important the mobile space is, and why Google's Chrome has been good for Opera.
With Google's Chrome garnering much attention, and Firefox continuing to eat into Internet Explorer's still-dominant market share, Opera sometimes may get overlooked. The company's co-founder and CEO spoke with Informationweek about how Opera is positioning itself for a renewed browser war.

"Our overall philosophy remains the same: We want the browser to adapt to your way doing things instead of the opposite," Opera's CEO Jon von Tetzchner said. This means the company will continue to innovate with its products to make a user's Web browsing more efficient, he said. He pointed to tabbed browsing and memory use as pioneering elements of Opera that have found their way to the competition. He said the latest version has improved speeds, quick mouse gestures, as well as Opera Link, which enables a user to sync bookmarks, browsing history, and notes among multiple devices.

Opera heard many gloom and doom scenarios when Google made its high-profile entry into the field, but results have been positive so far.

"Downloads have gone up 20% since Chrome's been launched," von Tetzchner said.

He attributes this to an increased spotlight on browsers in general, and von Tetzchner said, the more people are talking about browsing options, the better it is for Opera. Overall, Internet Explorer dominates with nearly 70%, followed by Firefox at about 20%, and Apple's Safari has about 7%.

Opera captures about 1-2% of the global market, but those figures vary wildly by region. The company said the desktop market share in Russia hovers around 20%, and it's routinely in the high single digits in some Asian countries. The main challenge is getting end users to realize they can choose a different browser, and von Tetzchner believes that his product is superior once you put it through the wringer.

The company also went to Russia to see why it was so popular there and found that the online community, particularly the developer community, was crucial in the adoption rate. Opera's CEO said it will continue to reach out to developers, and it recently released a debugging tool that could make creating Web apps easier.

The mobile space is a different story though, as Opera dominates the mobile browsing field. The company's Opera Mobile browser is designed for high-end smartphones, and can cost about $24 - although it does come preloaded on devices like the HTC Touch Diamond. The company also offers a free version, Opera Mini, which works on hundreds on different handsets and has more than 19 million users. Opera sees the mobile Web as a vital component of the company going forward.

"If you look at the real world, only 20% have Internet access, and 50% have mobile phones," said von Tetzchner. "There's going to be millions if not billions of people who will first access the Web on a phone, and Opera Mini can help make that happen."

But that mobile dominance is facing some challengers. Besides on-board browsers like the iPhone's mobile Safari, Mozilla recently rolled out its < ahref="">mobile Firefox browser, and the startup Skyfire is turning some heads with its ability to play Flash videos on a mobile handset.

Opera said its lineage, experience, and expertise will help it continue to lead the field.

"Most importantly, there is room for multiple parties on mobile and on the desktop," von Tetzchner said. "People want choices and competition, and we like to compete."

Financially, Opera's CEO said the company is strong. It makes nearly 20% of its revenues by monetizing the search bar on the desktop version, and it also receives revenue from licensing its mobile products to OEMs. It's also seeing a small but growing market for its browser in things like game consoles, Web-enabled televisions, in-flight browsing, airport terminals, and even digital photo frames.

While von Tetzchner acknowledged that there are risks associated with the shaky global economy, he said the company is well-equipped to weather an economic slowdown.

"It's highly unlikely that people are going to stop using the Internet, in fact, that's expected to increase," von Tetzchner said. "Our products have been designed to run on devices that are fast and slow, so even if customers hold off on buying high-end hardware, we feel we still have a lot to offer."