May 12, 2004 2:43 PM PDT

Opera parts curtain on next act

Tiny Opera Software on Wednesday continued its campaign to demonstrate the feebleness of mainstream Web browsers, releasing a product upgrade with new features and a customizable interface.

Opera 7.50 includes a lot more than just Web surfing, with a new e-mail client, an Internet relay chat client and support for Really Simple Syndication newsfeeds, rounding out other browser extras.

Opera is taking a different tack from some other browser alternatives to Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer. Recent entries such as Apple Computer's Safari and open-source project Mozilla's Firefox have opted to strip out bulky add-ons, such as Web-based e-mail--a strategy spurred in part by the failure of some full-featured browsers, including America Online's Netscape Communicator.

Opera conceded that its approach was different but pointed out that its new browser is anything but bulky, coming in at a scant 3.5MB. That makes Opera 7.50 quick to download, install and run, according to Jon von Tetzchner, Opera's chief executive.

"We're moving in the opposite direction from Firefox and Safari to a more full-featured browser," he said in an interview.

Tetzchner compared the e-mail client to Google's recently launched Gmail Web-based e-mail product.

"Apparently, Google liked some of our ideas," he quipped, referring to similarities between the way the two applications handle e-mail archives. Both dispense with the folder system prevalent in Microsoft's Outlook e-mail client, for example.

Wednesday's upgrade culminates a major software overhaul aimed at making Opera compatible with multiple operating systems, including Windows, Mac, Linux, FreeBSD and Sun Microsystems' Solaris.

While Windows makes up the lion's share of operating systems running Opera, cross-platform compatibility will make it easier for the company to offer new features to other OS users more quickly than it has in the past, Tetzchner said.

"The decision for various platform releases is now marketing-driven instead of technology-driven," he said, underscoring that the company would not necessarily make simultaneous platform releases in the future.

Opera 7.50 comes as the plucky Norwegian company presses ahead with surprising success against much larger rivals. Although Microsoft commands more than 90 percent browser share with various versions of Internet Explorer, Opera claims to be running neck and neck with Netscape for runner-up.

Opera, which went public in March, last week reported a loss of about $232,000 on sales of $3.2 million.

Tetzchner said Opera's PC browser accounts for about one-third of the company's revenue, with the remainder coming from its non-PC browser for mobile phones and other devices. Opera offers a free ad-supported version of its PC browser as well as a premium version for $39.

 

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