Opera Software ASA is keeping the browser wars of the 1990s smoldering with the beta release of a new version of their Opera Web browser for Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system on Wednesday.
Opera 7 for Windows is both smaller and faster than earlier Opera releases, and constitutes a wholesale rebuilding of the browser, according to a statement released by Opera of Oslo, Norway.
The heart of the new browser from Opera is a redesigned rendering engine that provides improved support for established and emerging Web standards like Document Object Model Level 2 (DOM2), extended Cascading Style Sheets Level 2 (CSS2), and HTML (HyperText Markup Language) 4.01.
"We wanted to make things faster and be able to handle more live content. Opera 7 is very much faster in rendering and it also starts to render things at a very much earlier stage," said Jon von Tetzchner, chief executive officer of Opera.
Other features of Opera 7 include revamped e-mail and news clients, Small Screen Rendering (SSR) technology that will allow Web site developers to see how a particular page would appear on a small-screen device such as a personal digital assistant (PDA) or mobile phone.
Opera's focus on portable devices may be a way to keep the company and its product relevant.
Microsoft is widely recognized as the indisputable winner of the much-ballyhooed browser wars. It's Internet Explorer is used by almost 95 percent of all Web surfers, according to the most recent data from OneStat.com of Amsterdam, a Web research organization. Surfers using the Opera browser accounted for just .9 percent of the total, according to OneStat.
"There is an inherent challenge to companies that are operating system independent to sell a product that comes packaged with an operating system," said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of systems software research at IDC.
"They've got to overcome the idea that 'this product came at no additional cost, so why pay for something to replace it?'"
And, as more and more Web-based services such as online banking standardize on Microsoft's products, the hurdles facing those who use Opera or other browsers only multiply, said Kusnetzky.
With mobile devices the next frontier for purveyors of online content, however, Opera sees a window of opportunity that is not open in the market for desktop applications.
"On the desktop, I don't think we can topple Microsoft in the near future because they control the distribution," von Tetzchner said. "In mobile market , however -- phones, PDAs, even TV -- Microsoft doesn't control distribution. It's a totally different ballgame."
In that market, the leaner Opera 7 has an advantage over Internet Explorer, Tetzchner said. Most mobile devices have comparable computing power to desktop computers of the early 1990s, at most. In addition, the desktop and mobile versions of Opera 7 are identical, making content development for mobile devices using Opera much easier than for Microsoft's mobile Web browser, which is different from the Internet Explorer, according to von Tetzchner.
Opera has made it known that it is looking to develop deals with mobile device hardware vendors to ship a copy of the Opera browser with their devices. So far, no deals have been announced and von Tetzchner refused to comment on any possible announcements, but the built-in small screen rendering features of Opera 7 may win the company a following within the mobile computing development community.
"That idea is definitely there," von Tetzchner said when asked if Opera was courting mobile content developers with the new version of Opera.
Opera is also hoping to capitalize on the growing popularity of the Linux operating system. Opera already has a loyal following among users of Linux and Unix and the company is making efforts to increase its support for different Unix and Linux distributions.
On that front also, Opera will need to find ways to get its browser packaged with operating systems in order to gain market share, according to Kusnetzky.
"If your browser's not packaged with the operating system, then you've got to convince people to download and install it, and there are costs inherent in that, even if they're not licensing costs," Kusnetzky said.