September 25, 2003 12:36 PM PDT

Opera's mobile browser gets a tune-up

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Opera Software has updated its Web browser for the Sony Ericsson P800 smart phone, improving the way some complex pages render on the handset's small screen.

Version 6.2 of the Opera browser, released Thursday, refines a software package first introduced to the public in February, and considered by many to be a major improvement to the usability of Web browsing on handheld devices.

Opera started off in the desktop PC browser business but has been aggressively pushing into the mobile market in order to compete with Microsoft's Internet Explorer. IE thoroughly dominates the PC desktop market, but does not yet enjoy the same position in other areas.

The software is available for free on Opera's Web site. Opera is also available for other Symbian operating system devices, such as Nokia and Siemens smart phones, but these have not yet been updated with the latest technology. Opera said "hundreds of thousands" of users had downloaded the mobile browser since February.

The new browser adds improvements to Opera's Small Screen Rendering (SSR) technology, which reformats standard HTML Web pages on the fly so that they can be viewed in a single vertical column, with no side-scrolling needed. Users can now zoom in on pages in SSR mode, and can switch between normal browsing and full-screen modes.

The update introduces options that can be accessed by tapping and holding with the stylus, called long-clicking. The new long-click features include saving an image and options for how frames are viewed. A number of bug-fixes are also included.

Several rival methods exist for displaying Internet content on mobile devices. One method, advanced by the Open Mobile Alliance, has been to promulgate a language for publishing small versions of big Web pages. But that technology, called WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), has failed to achieve the kind of omnipresence enjoyed by the desktop-bred Web lingua franca, HTML.

Microsoft, Palm and Handspring all offer browsers designed to view full HTML Web pages on handhelds, with Palm and Handspring's models relying on proxy servers to do much of the necessary reformatting.

One analyst said Opera's technology was substantially better than anything else available. "I think it's absolutely phenomenal technology," said Michael Gartenberg, analyst with Jupiter Research, when the browser first appeared. "This is the kind of situation where Opera could potentially give Microsoft a run for its money in mobility."

CNET News.com's Paul Festa contributed to this report.

 

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