Opera: fifteen years of stunning performance

Opera Software, a Norwegian company specializing in developing Internet software, is celebrating the fifteenth birthday of its flagship product, the Opera web browser. Opera’s history began in 1994 as a research project at Telenor, Norway’s largest telecommunications company. This project would go independent the following year to establish today’s Opera Software. It has a longer history than the current incumbent on the web browser market, Microsoft Internet Explorer; the Opera project in Telenor had taken place on April 1994 while Microsoft’s web browser project commenced in summer of the same year. With the latest version at 9.64, Opera has come a long way since the early days of world wide web (and dial-up modems) to today’s gigabit Internet.

Although Opera possesses less than a percent of the web browser market on computers, it has seen more success in non-PC devices, including gaming consoles (like Nintendo DS/DSi and Wii), mobile phones, and set-top boxes for TVs. It has survived on the web with its share of healthy innovations on the way, including: in-browser email client, speed dial (ability to access favorite web sites with a single click), voice control, download manager (it even has a built-in BitTorrent client!), mouse gestures (other web browsers support it lately with plug-ins) and tabbed browsing (Opera was the first to support it since 1994). So while the majority of people are not likely to run Opera to access the Internet, but a fair load of convenient functions they use to surf the web owe a lot to what Opera has pioneered in its history of one-and-half-decade.

Still, Opera is an unfamiliar friend even to those who are enthusiastic on fiddling with new software and web applications, given its minuscule foothold in the PC software market. Even Google Chrome, a web browser that is less than a year old, ironically enjoys a larger user base than Opera. It may be argued that Google Chrome could garner so much market share in a short period of time thanks to Google’s enormous funds, but Mozilla Firefox, also a web browser, akin to Opera, constrained by scarce budgets, is threatening Microsoft with one fifth of the web browser market worldwide. Maybe it is the homework Opera should tackle onward: to translate its innovative attributes to a wider mass appeal. Last month, Vygantas Lipskas of FavBrowser.com listed six reasons why Opera web browser so far failed to secure a significant percentage of the PC web browser market; though I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, a few may be acknowledged: some functions not implemented despite community demand, failure to generate viral buzz on the browser, user interface more complicated than competing software, and so on. Opera Software may not need to heed all of it, but it should be reminded that innovation alone is not sufficient to be successful on the Internet.

That said, Opera is one of four browsers I install and use on my computers, next to Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Internet Explorer (I usually use it only for shopping and banking purposes, thanks to ActiveX-heavy transaction modules prevalent in Korea) and Google Chrome (I am far away from developing a fondness for Apple Safari yet). It looks like a more terse, less sociable companion than its counterparts, but does its job successfully, even more admirably than others at times. As little Opera’s chance at procuring a much larger fandom seems to be, I commend it for staying on the forefront of the web, spearheading the innovation of web browsers, ahead of the pack.

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