November 12, 2002 4:28 PM PST

Rebuilt, faster Opera browser debuts

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Web browser dark horse Opera Software has released a stripped-down, rebuilt beta version of its browser software, in its latest bid to chip away at Microsoft's dominance.

The company's browser, which it has long-claimed that it loads pages substantially faster than Internet Explorer, has been almost completely rewritten to speed page loads even more and to support a wider variety of Web standards.

The beta release has been eagerly awaited by the company's small user base but is unlikely to make much of a ripple in the wider Web market, analysts said.

"No one told these folks that the desktop browser war has been over for a few years," said Michael Gartenberg, research director at Jupiter Research. "But it's nice that they don't seem to care."

While Opera has picked away only a tiny share of consumers from Microsoft, its programming experience has let it write what analysts view as a very promising browser for small-screen devices such as mobile phones.

Open-source browser Mozilla has also continued to pursue development efforts. Each browser had about 0.8 percent market share in September, according to Web research firm OneStat.

Opera's new browser is focused on the company's strengths: speed and conforming with evolving Web standards that allow more user interaction with Web pages.

The company's programmers rewrote the browser technology that renders code into its visual Web representations and helped add speed, executives said.

"These guys have done this a number of times before, looking at how to make it faster," Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner said. "They've been working on ways to make it more effective. It is increasing the speed of pages quite a lot."

The software has a new, more customizable look, although most of the basic interface has been kept in only slightly modified form. It includes new e-mail- and newsgroup-reading technology, as well a feature that allows browsers to see how a site would look on a mobile device using the Opera browser.

As before, a free version of the software that displays banner ads will be available, or an ad-free version can be purchased for $39.

One of the complaints from users of the software has typically been that it can't read all pages well. Many software developers write their code to conform to Internet Explorer, rather than broader Web standards.

Tetzchner said his team of programmers addressed some of these problems, but that there probably will be a few pages that could continue to have difficulties. Opera isn't tailoring the software to function with pages that work solely with Windows or Microsoft's ActiveX technology, for example. The company doesn't want to support exclusionary coding, the CEO said.

"We do our best to make sure that (these sites) work as well as they can, but there are situations we don't want to go into," Tetzchner said. "Sometimes people take (Web development) shortcuts, and we don't want to encourage that."

 

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