February 11, 2003 8:15 AM PST

A better browser for cell phones?

Beginning next week, people who use Sony Ericsson's P800 mobile phones can download a browser from Opera Software that will let them see bulky Web pages on their tiny screens.

The deal between Sony Ericsson and Opera commercializes the browser maker's Small-Screen Rendering technology introduced in October.

For the past few years, cell phone makers have hyped services that allow mobile users to access the Web on their cell phones. But those services have failed to catch on because of the technical difficulty of rendering Web pages designed for 17-inch desktop displays on cell phone screens that are no bigger than a business card.

Several methods already exist to render big Web pages for small screens. One technology pushed by the Open Mobile Alliance is a language designed for creating small versions of large Web pages. Another method simply lets cell phone users scroll their screens using HTML, the Net's main language for creating Web pages. The shortcoming of this strategy is that customers must scroll vertically and horizontally to read an entire page.

Opera, based in Oslo, Norway, touts Small-Screen Rendering as a breakthrough because its browser reformats the design of pages made for desktop displays to fit on a smaller screen. This, the company said, eliminates the need for horizontal scrolling.

The commercialization of the small-screen technology could herald a new battle in the long-dormant browser war, which essentially ended when Microsoft's Internet Explorer began dominating rival browsers such as Netscape. Mozilla.org, another rival to Microsoft's IE, is also aimed at capturing the small-screen browsing market. Mozilla.org is an open-source development project funded by AOL Time Warner.

Sony Ericsson said Opera's browser supports nonstandard HTML, JavaScript and frames for its P800 model.

The company is a 50-50 joint venture formed in 2001 between consumer electronics giant Sony and cell phone maker Ericsson. So far, it hasn't had much effect in the marketplace and has struggled financially, prompting a recent cash influx from its parent companies.

Browser software for the P800 can be downloaded free of charge from the Sony Ericsson Web site beginning Monday, according to the companies.

 

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