Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner was in town today, so I spent a few minutes with him talking about the browser company he co-founded way back in 1995. With browser battles raging, I wanted to know how this almost historic company was holding up.
Von Tetzchner says the launch of Google's Chrome had the effect of reminding people that there were alternative browser choices, which has accelerated downloads of the desktop product. And on the mobile front, where Opera has two products, the free Opera Mini (a proxy-based browser) and the Opera Mobile app, the success of the iPhone has likewise reminded users of other phones that they might want to browse the Web when they are out and about, leading again to a spike in usage of Opera's mobile products.
The Opera CEO told me his product has, in its long history, innovated on several fronts, such as tabbed browsing and memory use, and that other products are finally beginning to get it right. He also notes that Opera allows users to save browsing history and bookmarks (but not yet passwords) centrally, which makes it easier for them to move between multiple installations of the browser on multiple devices. Other features, like gesture-based control, are only now making their way to mainstream commercial products, like OSX.
Daily Debrief: Opera browser hitting the high notes
Which is all well and good, but not enough to catapult Opera into a No. 1 spot on the desktop, given its historically limited resources compared to Netscape, Microsoft, and Google. On mobile devices it's another story, though: Opera has more mobile users than any other browser.
Opera makes only about 20 percent of its money the old-fashioned way--by monetizing the search bar on the desktop version of the product. The rest comes from its mobile and other versions (like its Wii browser), for which is is paid either a license or a usage fee (running the proxied Opera Mini costs the company money, which it passes on to customers).
I was also reminded that the browser market is globally fragmented. In some regions, such as Russia, Opera Desktop claims market share approaching 20 percent. In other regions, it's less than 1 percent. (Likewise, Maxthon (download) is much more popular in China than elsewhere).
I like von Tetzchner's goal to bring Opera to the world, especially to the 80 percent of the population that doesn't have Internet access. Many people actually have mobile phones that can connect to the Internet, but they're not yet online, and there are no high-priced iPhones in their near future. Opera Mini, which works on lower-powered devices, can help bridge the gap.
I have to admit that I am not an Opera user. At the moment, I am enamored of Chrome's speed and user interface frills. But one thing is sure: I consider myself less loyal to any browser than I did only a year ago. When Opera 10 comes out (next year), I'll give it a very thorough trial.
If you're curious and want to try Opera, we have the downloads.