With all of Microsoft's riches and power behind it, Internet Explorer has dominated the Web browser market since Netscape's defeat in the late 1990s. But as CTO of Opera Software, Wium Lie's job is to figure out how to incorporate the best technology possible in his company's software--and in this, he's stolen a beat on Opera's much bigger rival.
For much of the last year, Microsoft has banged the drum for the arrival of Internet Explorer 7. In the meantime, Wium Lie says Opera has been able to move faster than Microsoft on sundry browser issues such as tabbed browsing, speed, privacy and security.
At last count, Opera had only about 1 percent of the Web browser market, so Microsoft's not exactly quaking in its boots. Still, Opera executives say the future will be increasingly dominated by browsers found in non-PC devices, especially on the proliferating number of handheld gadgets combining computing power with telephony.
Wium Lie, who works out of the company's home base in Norway, recently visited San Francisco, where he caught up with CNET News.com editors to discuss the state of browser technology.
Q: What is the latest target date for Opera 10?
Wium Lie: I can't give you an exact date just yet. We're releasing things all the time. We have some things that are going in there, and there are others things we don't know whether to include. I think you can expect things like phishing to be a focus. But whether we wait for Opera 10 to do that or do an update on Opera 9, I don't know.
In terms of downloads, where are you now with 9?
Wium Lie: We have about 10 million users worldwide, and that's about 1 percent of the market. But what's been a focus for Opera for a long time, of course, is the mobile world. Other browsers leave their users behind on the desktop, whereas we can take them along.
You can start, for example, reading a CNET article on your laptop in the morning and then, as you run out and catch a bus or subway, you can continue reading that article on your phone; the data can follow you. We're not quite there yet, but that's another point that's going to be a focus in our development--to try to synchronize data between the mobile world and the stationary world.
As you think about Opera going mobile, there's always the size issue regarding PDAs. How do you get around that?
Wium Lie: Yeah, for example, it's very hard to type on these small units. The keyboards are getting better, but it's still hard to type a URL on a mobile unit. But you probably typed the URL that you're going to go to on your desktop, so what would make sense is for those URLs, those things that you've typed, including your passwords and shortcuts and history--all that to be transferred automatically to your cell phone so you don't have to do the typing again.
We have the site, Myopera.com, where our users can publish their photos and do a bit of blogging, etc., and we can see that as being a storage point for all your settings, so that is going to then follow you.
Why do you think Opera offers a better solution than Internet Explorer on mobile devices?
Wium Lie: Microsoft has mobile browsers in their mobile platform as well, but it's a different code base. It's not IE 6; it's a totally different product, really. They have a big, loaded code base. They cannot possibly code it into something meaningful for the mobile platform, whereas Opera never had the resources to hire hundreds of programmers.
We're very focused on maintaining our code base so that it can go into all these wonderful new units that are coming out and as the Web moves to new applications, we want to make sure that these applications run on mobile units as well.
How many people does Opera now employ?
Wium Lie: Three hundred people in total.
As a technologist, can you give an assessment of the job that Microsoft has done with IE 7?
Wium Lie: It's like you have a used car--what are you going to do with it? Are you going to get rid of it and get a new one? Or are you going to give it a paint job? I think (what) Microsoft has done here is given it a paint job.
It's the same formatting, and it's a Trident engine which, when introduced in IE 4 in 1997, was wonderful. It gave us many things that hadn't been seen on the Web before. And they have introduced things like XHTTP request, for example, so I don't think everything Microsoft does is bad.
But I do think now would have been the right time for them to say, "We haven't maintained this browser for five or six years, and we should really give it a good update." But they haven't.
The chrome around it has changed. They now have tab browsing. Well, Opera invented tab browsing probably 10 years ago, and now it's here with Microsoft. They've fixed some security issues. They've fixed some longstanding bugs, but only a subset of them. These bugs have been reported for years and years, and I think it's been huge cost to the Western world with all these Web designers having to deal with bugs in IE 6.
They had to work long hours to make sure it renders in all versions of IE and also with the standards-centered browsers like Firefox and Safari and Opera. It would have cost Microsoft only a tiny amount of development resources in 2001 and 2002, but they left the problems linger.
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