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The little browser that could

Opera – Mobile, Mini, and full-featured – is on a mission to deliver one web everywhere, from your phone to your car to your TV.

BY  Samantha Perry , 3 January 20120 comments

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The Opera browser is something of a niche player in the browser market, holding less than three percent of market share. It doesn’t have the instant brand recognition of a Firefox or an Internet Explorer, for example. It does have some 200 million users, though. And it’s on a mission.

At a press day held recently in Oslo, Norway, the company shared details of its grand plan to deliver one web everywhere.

First off, the company announced and debuted new data usage monitoring in Opera Mini 6.5 and Opera Mobile 11.5 Android versions.

“A dedicated page, easily accessible from the help menu inside the Opera Mini and Opera Mobile browsers, keeps count of how much data you are spending and saving in total, or for a specific timeframe like a trip abroad with roaming,” the company says. Very useful, particularly for those of us subject to high data charges.

It also announced other upgraded features, including a bookmark import function, updated Opera Turbo (which compresses web pages for faster surfing on slow connections) in Opera Mobile, letting users take advantage of data savings when surfing on mobile networks, and support for inline video on Honeycomb for Opera Mobile. Then there’s what it calls “several under-the-hood improvements including a fresh update to the Opera Presto rendering engine, improved network performance, HTML 5 micro data and smaller JavaScript engine memory usage”.

Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie took attendees through a standard he intends to introduce that will enable browsers to render web pages the same way books or magazines are read, so instead of scrolling vertically to read more, you’d scroll left or right. He says it will be critical for tablets, and that the company is keen to help work out how this can best be used for publications.

Christen Krogh, Opera chief development officer, talked attendees through developments that will see applications delivered to your TV in the same way they arrive on your phone, via the browser.

Krogh gave attendees a preview of the functionality to expect in Opera 12, currently available in alpha, which features a totally redesigned browser.

Says Krogh: “We’re also experimenting with how to connect the browser firmly to the underlying devices’ APIs. Most PCs have cameras, so why shouldn’t the browser connect to it? Why shouldn’t you do real-live image manipulation in JavaScript? You should be able to take and share pics.”

Krogh says the main changes are internal, however.

“We’ve revamped almost everything under the hood. The JavaScript module has been revamped, reduced in call size and improved in speed. We’ve revamped HTML parser completely. Whenever the browser goes to get a web page, it resolves the address, connects to the server, gets the page (in the page is the HTML markup), then builds up a tree structure to work out what’s being placed on screen. Part of the HTML 5 spec is to specify how browsers behave when they encounter HTML – not just the end result but the semantics.

“Opera 12 will feature that, supporting HTML 5.”

HTML 5 is something Opera doesn’t get enough recognition for, given it proposed the standard.

The browser as the OS

The standard, says Krogh, is all about “making it easier for developers to make something more akin to applications using the web. Modern browsers have built-in capabilities that enable a new category of applications – in-browser games. We believe that 2012 will be the year of the browser game. If we can get these off the ground, the threshold for making social games is much lower. They’re not dependent on Flash or the platform (you don’t need to think about developing drivers).”

While what it actually does is develop the Opera browser, what Opera also does is enable 110 million consumers to see advertisements via a cloud-based advertisement solution delivering ads from 7 000 unique sites and applications managed by customers that generate over 21 billion impressions per month generating $100 million in revenue, says Mahi de Silva, EVP, Consumer Mobile and Publisher.

“As we’ve expanded our customer base to publishers, developers, advertisers and brands, we’ve focussed on three value propositions – reach, relevance (target, segment and engage users) and results (being able to drive monetisation backed with robust data and analytics),” he says.

Opera Mobile, for example, has over 140 million users per month, generating more than 80 billion page views, consuming over 12PB of internet data, downloading 45 million mobile applications and generating over $1 billion per year for mobile operator partners in data usage. Perversely, Opera helps its users deprive operators of some $10 billion in revenue through its data compression technology.

Buyout

The company also, it says, “encouraged the European Commission to investigate Microsoft’s anti-competitive bundling of IE with the Windows operating system last year, resulting in the release of the ‘Choice Screen’ across Europe, reaching 200 million internet users on the continent.”

Opera’s founders refused a large buyout offer made by an American company back in the late ‘90s because they believed they could be a big success. That seems to sum up the attitude of the company – a bit quirky, a little bit maverick, a lot of heart.