Opera – adding Spice to the mobile Internet revolution

28 Feb

Today seems to be a busy day for the guys at Opera in Oslo, Norway. After tying up with Google to have Google Search as the default search engine for Opera Mini, the company has tied-up with India’s Spice Mobile to embed the mobile browser in the latter’s upcoming range of cellphones. Opera Mini, which works on any Java enabled handset, enables users to browse any website on their cellphone. The browser re-renders web pages automatically to fit a cellphone’s screen and also compresses pages to enable faster page downloads and low data consumption – two major worries consumers have when it comes to surfing the Internet on cellphones.

It is not the first time that Opera has entered into such a tie-up. Late last year, the company had a similar arrangement with Tata Indicom for pre-embedding Opera Mini on Brew-enabled handsets operating on its CDMA network. Motorola had also employed Opera Mini on its Razr2 V8, a handset based on the Linux Mobile platform. Later, Opera entered into another agreement with Motorola for making Opera Mobile – the full browser that enables users to open multiple browser windows – the default Internet browser on the Moto Q9h, a Windows Mobile smartphone.

Ironically, all Windows Mobile devices come with a mobile version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. However, the browser has not found many takers as Microsoft has so far failed to adapt it for the changing Web 2.0 scenario. Opera Software ASA, which started as a research project in 1994 in Telenor, one of Norway’s largest telecom companies, before branching out as Opera Software ASA a year later, saw this as a big opportunity waiting to be tapped. Apart from the deal with Motorola, we are also hearing about the possibility of a similar tie-up with the world’s largest Windows Mobile device manufacturer, which might pre-load the latest Opera Mobile 9.5 on its range of Windows Mobile devices.

In December last year, Opera had also filed an anti-trust complaint with the European Union against Microsoft, which it accused of “abusing its dominant position by tying Internet Explorer to the Windows operating system and by hindering interoperability by not following accepted web standards.” Opera also offers a desktop Internet browser. Many industry pundits saw this move as a strategy that Opera might later extended to cellphones (Nokia’s S60 range of devices, in particular), by citing the Microsoft case as precedence.

However, during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Opera CEO, Jon von Tetzchener, refuted the claim. “Let me first clarify that we didn’t sue Microsoft and have filed an anti-trust complaint. They are not following the open Web standards, which makes it difficult for developers to design sites that work on any browser,” he said.

Tetzchener, who could easily land up in a role of a Viking in a Hollywood flick thanks to his Nordic genes, doesn’t expect the same to be repeated on the mobile front, an industry which is already championing the cause of Open Standards. His calmness can be justified by the mass adoption of his company’s freely available mobile Internet browser that works on virtually any cellphone that can support Java applications.

Ask him the latest figures on the number of users and he fails to recall – the numbers keep increasing by the day. He is busy signing deals with handset brands and OEMs to make his company’s application more readily available to consumers, that is when he isn’t championing the cause of developers and consumers. For the record, the company claims over 35 million users with 1.7 billion page views a month. The browser comes preloaded on over 100 million cellphone units globally shipped so far with 55 new models introduced last year alone. With its latest tie-up spree, these figures can go only one way – up!

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