February 24, 2003 7:00 AM PST

Opera won't perform on Microsoft phones

There has never been much of a relationship between the small Norwegian browser company Opera Software and software giant Microsoft, but what little there was is over, says Opera.

Opera, which recently launched its Small-Screen Rendering technology designed to make it easy to read standard Web pages on "smart phones," last week said it would never offer a version for Microsoft-powered devices such as the Orange SPV.

The announcement means that users of Windows-CE based phones are likely to be confined to using Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, which many consider inferior when it comes to smart phones and personal digital assistants.

Opera's mobile browser, which is available on the Sony Ericsson P800--a smart phone based on the Symbian operating system--and on the Linux-powered Sharp Zaurus PDA, uses a rendering technique that stacks the elements of a Web page vertically, meaning that a customer only need scroll vertically to see the whole pages. Graphics are automatically reduced in size by the rendering technology, and tiny graphical elements are eliminated altogether.

"We think the browser will be the winner application for smart phones," Pal Hvistendahl, communications director, told ZDNet UK. "But we don't want Microsoft to win in this space, so we will never do a Windows CE port." Hvistendahl said that although there is not yet a port for the Palm operating system, Opera may do one if there is sufficient demand.

"We think that in a little over a year we can get Opera on a lot of phones," said Hvistendahl. "Right now we're working to make the footprint smaller."

The antagonism between Opera and Microsoft is well documented. Earlier this month Opera released a new version of its desktop Web browser that turned Microsoft's MSN Web site into gibberish that was inspired by the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show.

The "Bork Edition" of Opera 7 was Opera's response to what it alleges are dishonest tactics by Microsoft to make Opera look like it is displaying pages improperly when people view MSN. This latest spat came after a similar incident in October 2001 when Opera won a publicity coup after Microsoft was exposed for blocking Opera and other non-IE browsers from access to its MSN site.

Hvistendahl said all versions of Opera display Web pages properly so long as such tactics as those used by MSN are not employed. "Most sites are not written to standards--they use what we call street HTML," he said.

"To make a browser standards-compliant is easy, but to make one that can render all sites is very difficult. The mobile version of Opera renders cHTML--for I-mode compatibility--as well as WAP 2.0 and the current HTML so it can render pages written to be viewed on a desktop. Support for the Netscape plug-in API means it can work with Flash, PDF, streaming video and other widely available plug-ins."

Opera is now talking to mobile phone makers and to operators. The browser is only available either bundled on or as a download for specific devices, but when the Nokia 3650 mobile phone hits the market, the company plans to release a freely available version for download.

Unlike the free desktop version there will be no ads.

ZDNet U.K.'s Matt Loney reported from London.

 

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