Opera (browser)

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Corporate logo of Opera Software ASA. Usage restricted. Source (http://my.opera.com/community/gfx/banners/)
Corporate logo of Opera Software ASA. Usage restricted. Source (http://my.opera.com/community/gfx/banners/)

Opera is a cross-platform internet software suite consisting of a web browser, e-mail/news client, address book, newsfeed reader, IRC chat client, and download manager. It is actively developed by Opera Software of Oslo, Norway. Although Opera is closed source, its core layout engine ("Presto") is licensed by business partners such as Adobe and Macromedia for previewing webpages in GoLive and Dreamweaver. Opera has gained a leading role in browsers for Smartphones and PDAs with its Small Screen Rendering technology. Opera is also used in iTV platforms, and a special voice controlled multimodal browser is in co-development with IBM.


History of Opera

Opera 7.5 Beta 1 running on Mac OS X
Opera 7.5 Beta 1 running on Mac OS X

Around 1992, Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner and Geir Ivarsøy were part of a research group at Televerket (the Norwegian state phone company now called Telenor). The group took part in developing ODA, a standards-based system for storage and retrieval of documents, images and other content. The ODA system never got any wide-spread usage despite its effectiveness and has since died. The research group also established the first Norwegian internet server and 'home-page' in 1993, but they felt the current Mosaic browser had a too 'flat' structure for it to be used effectively in browsing the web. In the light of this, the group took interest in building a new document browser from scratch. Inspired by the ODA project, they saw potential in building a browser better adapted to the many-faceted structure of the web. The mother company Televerket gave the group a green light, and by late 1993 the first prototype was was up and running. Televerket faced a challenge though: The tele market was destined for full deregulation in 1998 which meant they would have to prepare for competition; They were not sure if this [browser] program would fit in with their core business. In 1994 Televerket became a state-owned stock company, and J. S. von Tetzchner and G. Ivarsøy were allowed to continue development on their own in the offices of Televerket. By the end of 1995 Televerket was renamed Telenor, and the company Opera Software was created, still in the same offices. Their product was initially known as MultiTorg Opera and was quickly recognized by the internet community for its multiple document interface and its 'hotlist' (sidebar) which made browsing several pages at once much easier.

Opera has always been developed with different priorities from other browsers, the mentioned adaptation to the big internet being the most noticeable. It has also been designed for low footprint and very high browsing speed to make it more suitable for low-end computers. Accessibility has always been important, for users who may have visual or mobility impairments. Voice control over Opera is present in the IBM multi-modal browser (http://www-306.ibm.com/software/pervasive/multimodal/), and is expected later in the standard version of Opera. (Interestingly, J.S. von Tetzchner is the son of prof. Stephen von Tetzchner, University of Oslo, who specializes in child psychology, more specifically mentally challenged children and computer programs/systems that make their lives easier.)

Opera has pioneered many new features later copied by more mainstream browsers. For example, Opera was the first browser to integrate mouse gestures as an easier way to navigate pages. Opera also has several other original features, including multiple document browsing (as well as the more limited tabbed browsing), background loading of pages, batch opening of bookmark folders, fast forward and rewind functions which predict where you would surf next, notes, skins, and session management (save groups of pages to be opened later). Opera saves one of these session files periodically while running, so that in the event of a crash, it is possible to resume browsing exactly where you left off. This feature also preserves the history of each window.

Opera became famous (and somewhat notorious) for its Multiple Document Interface (MDI); that is, all browser windows were opened in the same parent window. A taskbar was later (version 3 ?) introduced to make managing them easier. Version 6.0 brought a major philosophical change for Opera, with the addition of a Single Document Interface (SDI) Mode. Ironically, this happened when many other browsers, like Mozilla and Galeon, started using a tabbed interface (different from MDI in that it isn't multiple actual windows). Opera 6.0 gave the user the choice to use either MDI, SDI or tabbed mode and became thereby the first browser to support all three modes. Opera also has a presentation mode, Opera Show, which allows the use of a single source document for large-screen presentations and web browsing. Opera uses this mode when specific code (CSS) for presentations is in place.

Opera 6.0 supported most common web standards (including CSS), Netscape plugins and some other recent standards such as WAP and WML for wireless devices. However, its implementation of ECMAScript with the HTML DOM left a bit to be desired, especially on highly dynamic pages.

In January 2003, Opera 7 was released. Opera 7 offered a new layout engine "Presto" with greatly improved CSS, scripting, and DOM support, a new skinned user interface and a new and radical email and news client called M2 using a database approach to storage. In May 2004, Opera 7.5 was released, which included a newsfeed (RSS) reader and an IRC client. In August 2004, Opera 7.6 began limited beta testing, which included more advanced XML support, and introduced voice support for Opera, as well as support for Voice XML. Opera also recently announced a new browser for iTV, which ties in to the new fit to width option in Opera 7.6: pages can now be dynamically resized to fit on a certain screen width, which comes in handy with the more limited resolution of TV screens.

Analysis of Opera's growth

Since its first release in 1996, the browser has been met with limited success. Its availability on many platforms has given users access to a highly functional browser where this choice did not previously exist. Opera Software was one of the first companies active in the area of mobile devices, where it has gained significant market share.

On the Microsoft Windows platform, Opera has not been able to gain significant market share over its gratis competitors, Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. StatMarket is the primary source for international browser usage statistics. On December 4, 2001, StatMarket released data assigning a global usage share of 0.67 per cent to the Opera browser. However, the press release states:

Although still far behind Microsoft and Netscape, Opera's global usage share has more than doubled since January 2001, when it was less than 0.3 percent.
Opera usage share has been growing at a faster rate in certain European countries since January 2001. For instance, its usage share in Russia as of November 29, 2001 was 5.88 percent, up from about 1.5 percent at the beginning of the year, StatMarket reported. And in Germany and Sweden, Opera was at 3.37 percent and 1.8 percent respectively, having grown from a 1.3 percent and .5 percent usage share in January 2001.

With regard to Europe, the differing success mirrors the development of other browsers, for example, according to StatMarket, in October 2001 Netscape Navigator still held about 20% usage share in Germany, whereas its global usage share was about 13%.

Opera can identify itself as Internet Explorer (the default setting) and differing versions of Mozilla/Netscape. Although this has led some counting measures to fail in identifying Opera, one must assume that this detection has improved in the later years.

This differing success can be explained by a variety of factors. A skeptical attitude toward Microsoft, maker of Internet Explorer, is likely to be relevant. Also, in countries with less copyright enforcement, the wide availability of cracks and serial numbers to remove Opera's banners may increase the adoption of the browser by end-users.

The generally low rate of adoption can certainly in part be attributed to the fact that the browser was at first only available in trial-versions and commercial versions, and only became available in an ad-sponsored version as of version 5.02, whereas Netscape and IE do not include permanent animated advertising banners and cost nothing. (This is debatable, however, as Microsoft Windows itself costs money, and Internet Explorer is bundled with Windows.)

The fact that nearly all operating systems, in particular Microsoft Windows, where the largest potential market exists, bundle a web browser (in the case of Unix variants either Netscape, Mozilla or Konqueror, for Mac OSX, Safari, and for Windows Internet Explorer) as part of the package, most users see no need to look for an alternative.

Opera and MSN

The Microsoft-owned MSN website http://www.msn.com/ has caused several problems for Opera users:

In October 2001, the MSN web page was changed to lock out most non-Microsoft browsers, shortly after the launch of Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6. According to initial statements by Microsoft, this was because other browsers did not support XHTML correctly, and users should therefore 'upgrade' to its own Internet Explorer. This issue also affected other browsers such as Mozilla in similar ways. In an ironic twist, Opera issued a press-release describing the problem, coded in perfectly valid XHTML; Internet Explorer was not able to show this press-release. Microsoft subsequently backed down after being confronted with proof that other browsers supported XHTML much better than Internet Explorer did.


In February 2003, Opera Software employees discovered that the MSN home page sent a different style sheet to Opera users than it sent to Internet Explorer. The two most popular browsers, Internet Explorer and Netscape each had their own specific complex style sheets. Opera on the other hand was served a cut-down generic 'site.css', which was presumably intended to be generic style sheet for older browsers. This and the Netscape style sheet both included this code: ul {list-style-position: outside; margin: -2px 0px 0px -30px;} coined at an old Netscape parsing error. Without this code, Netscape would show unordered lists (used for lists of items) with a 30px offset to the right. -30px made these lists look normal in Netscape. Testing showed that Opera was served this [generic] style sheet only when it was possible to discern that it was Opera being used to fetch the page. Opera claimed that this was a deliberate action to make them look bad, Microsoft denied the claims, putting it down to a simple coding error, and fixed the bug.

Regardless of the truth behind the story, Opera went public with the story, and created a "Bork" edition of their browser, which "translated" the page into the speech of the Swedish Chef. This says Opera, was a joke to show how easily a web-page can be changed if one actually wants. In the press-release, they reiterated its mantra that the web should be open to all.

Yet another incident occurred in May 2003, when an apparent coding error at MSN's servers caused Opera users who had altered their preferred languages for websites to get a "server error" message. Although the error also affected users of some old versions of Internet Explorer, Opera makes it easier for users to change languages, so it was speculated that this was another attempt by MS to make Opera look bad. One can of course argue that since it is so hard to change the settings in Internet Explorer, MSN had overlooked this in the testing of its servers. See the CNet news story (http://news.com.com/2100-1032_3-1008869.html).

Opera Software have used the above incidents to claim that Microsoft has an anti-competitive agenda because Opera Software, as publishers of the Opera web browser, are a competitor to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. (It is easier to step on small players than bigger ones like Netscape and get away with it.)

In May 2004, an unknown entity made a USD $12.75 million out-of-court settlement with Opera. No details of the settlement were released and no liability was admitted, but Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie said the settlement "Resolved an issue close to his heart". In the light of things and by rumour circulation [1] (http://news.com.com/Microsoft+behind+%2412+million+payment+to+Opera/2100-1032_3-5218163.html?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=news), this was interpreted as proof that the settlement was a result of the before-mentioned MSN case(s) and that Microsoft was the entity paying the money.

See the CNet news story (http://news.com.com/Microsoft+behind+%2412+million+payment+to+Opera/2100-1032_3-5218163.html?part=rss&tag=feed&subj=news)

Notable Opera features

  • Zoom: when viewing a webpage not only the font size but also the images and most other line- or vector-based content, such as Flash and SVG when rendered through web browser plugins can be enlarged or decreased in size.
  • Panels: any web page can be turned into a Panel, a narrow window in the sidebar. Panels can take advantage of Opera's Small Screen Rendering (SSR) feature and eliminate the need for horizontal scrolling. No Javascript is required.
  • SSR or Small Screen Rendering: Opera can dynamically reformat any webpage for narrow tall viewports, such as Smartphones and PDA displays. This can also be used with Panels. The technology is based in part on CSS which means both web-page authors and Opera users can affect the formatting.
  • User stylesheets: Users can add multiple custom stylesheets to leverage the power of CSS, as opposed to only one in the other browsers. These stylesheets can be individually enabled or disabled. This feature can be used to enhance accessibility, or to add the ability to format custom XML on the fly. Opera 7 includes many stylesheets that the user can enable, among them a funny Commodore 64 emulator designed to show the power of CSS.
  • Quick preferences: Common preferences like turning on and off Javascript, Java, plugins and pop-ups can be toggled from one quick menu by pressing F12. This menu also lets the user choose which browser Opera should identify itself as when visiting web-sites.
  • Keyboard navigation: everything in Opera can be controlled with the keyboard only. Navigating inside a web page is very easy with Shift + Arrow keys.
  • Customizability: almost everything in the browser can be changed. Mouse and keyboard shortcuts can be changed with an internal editor, and toolbars can easily be changed by using the 'customize toolbars' dialog. Any button or field can be placed on any toolbar. Menus are defined by simple text files, and can be installed with a single click if the server is set-up correctly.
  • Sessions: State of the browser (all open windows their position, scrolling and history under back button) is saved and restored after restarting or crash of the browser.
  • Innovative e-mail program: Mail is sorted in quickly searchable database-like views instead of typical folders.

Opera for mobile devices

Mobile phones are becoming more data-centric and evolving into what the industry calls "smartphones", while PDAs are becoming commonplace among business people and students. The two categories are converging into a new hybrid, providing powerful computer power and a phone in your shirt pocket.
Most sites are written for, and tested exclusively on desktop computers with large color monitors. Mobile wireless devices typically have much smaller screens, and until today, it has been a challenge to present Web pages on these. Opera's Small-Screen Rendering™ technology intelligently reformats today's Web sites to fit inside the screen width, thereby eliminating the need for horizontal scrolling.
As an example, most news sites have a center column where the main article text is located. This column is usually 468 pixels wide (due to the standard ad-banner sizes) and the text is set to fill this width. This means that to read an article, you would have to scroll back and forth for every line of text.
With Small-Screen Rendering™, the page is reformatted to fit inside the screen width and eliminate the need for horizontal scrolling. All the content and functionality is still available, it is only the layout of the page that is changed. This innovation is the key enabler for surfing on a mobile device.

Opera is available on a number of Smartphones and PDAs including those produced by Nokia, BenQ, Sony Ericsson, Sharp Corporation, Sendo, Kyocera, Motorola, and Psion.

Criticism of Opera

Opera is commonly criticized for being ad-sponsored, whereas some browsers are available for free. This has different concerns with users.

Google adwords

In December 2000, Opera changed from a 30-day demoware business model to offering a freely downloadable version of the browser that displays banner advertisements. The banners can be removed by paying a registration fee. Google AdWords, contextual text-based ads were added with the introduction of Opera 7.20. Adwords display content targeted to the current page by use of Google's relational databases. When browsing with adwords enabled, Opera will send to Google the address of the page visited so that Google can return a related ad. For example, a user browsing a page about pianos may be presented with a link to a Google adwords (http://www.google.com/ads/) customer selling or servicing pianos. If the page is not already in Google's index, it will attempt to index the page, although Search engines, including Google, will not index a page if a Robots.txt file is used. To ensure a secure browsing experience, Opera will detect and not send these kinds of information to Google:

Usernames and passwords in the format http://user:pass@www.example.com
URLs with CGI arguments (E.g: http://www.example.com?formsdata)
Forms data in POST requests
Secure pages (E.g: https://bank.example.com)
Other protocols than HTTP (FTP, NNTP, etc.)
Internal IP addresses according to RFC 1918 (E.g: 10.*, 192.168.*, 172.16-172.31.*)

When Opera is in fullscreen mode (Accessed by pressing F11), neither banner ads nor Adwords are shown.

A theoretical privacy issue has been brought up by the use of these ads. Pages thought to be "secret" may be indexed by Google when the URL of the page is sent by Opera to retreive ads for it, simply by being visited by a user using a Google ad enabled Opera browser. However, it is unclear if pages indexed in this way appear in the public Google index, and it should be noted that this problem is not limited to Opera. For more information on how AdWords are used in Opera, see: http://www.opera.com/adsupport/index.dml. For some users' concerns about Ad words, see details on Adsense spidering (http://www.sidhe.org/~dan/blog/archives/000267.html).

Version History

Series Time Frame Summary
1 1994-1995 Though not publicly released there are screenshots of the then-called MultiTorg Opera, including many features that are still present in Opera's current form. In server logs across the web evidence of a Multitorg Opera 1.0b4 can be found.
2 September 1996-February 1997 The first public version of Opera was version 2. The oldest version found is a Norwegian demo version of Opera 2.0 which was included with a [Norwegian] computer mag called GIGA. It will only load local pages but many of Opera's key features are already visible.
3 September 1997-December 1999 The Opera 3 series saw Opera evolve from a marginal browser to a powerful browser, with the peak reached in version 3.62. This version is often taken as the standard to which future versions of Opera are compared. It featured good CSS1 support, and this browser can still view the web in a surprisingly good way, considering its respectable age.
4 March 2000-June 2000 Opera 4 was the first browser based on a new cross-platform core (QT), which facilitated the release of Opera for different Operating Systems and thus speeding up Project Magic. The core supported more standards such as CSS1, CSS2, HTML4, XML and WML and a new integrated e-mail client was included. The O4 browser was meant as the leap towards the larger public. Unfortunately the earlier versions were very unstable and buggy and didn't do Opera's reputation much good, though the later maintenance release 4.02 is generally seen as very usable.
5 December 2000-July 2001 The 5 series saw a change from a paid-only to an optional new ad-sponsored version instead of the 30-day trial period. Furthermore Opera 5 was more stable than Opera 4, and during the maintenance releases it gained new features such as the integrated Instant Messaging, mouse-gestures, hotlist panels and the integrated search. The 5 series ended with the 5.12 release which is still used by many today.
6 November 2001-October 2002 The Opera 6 series introduced the long-awaited Unicode support (although not yet bidirectionality). Also a new SDI/MDI interface was introduced, facilitating the transition from the SDI-browsers to Opera's MDI-interface, and allowing Opera to be ported to the Macintosh operating systems. During the later bugfix releases the kiosk mode was enhanced, the integrated searches became editable and a lot of printing problems were solved.
7 November 2002-Present Opera 7 was released in early 2003. It features a brand new rendering engine under the name Presto, which has enhanced and expanded support for standards, and now includes support for the W3C DOM. Also new is the Small Screen Rendering technique for handheld devices and other narrow screens. The entire interface was redone, making use of a custom cross-platform skinning system which significantly reduced resource usage compared to version 6, and the entire UI is now configurable. The combined SDI/MDI interface and features such Fast Forward, Notes and Slideshow are also new to this version, many of which have since been copied by other browsers. Also new is the second generation mail and news client, called M2. Based on a powerful filtering system with mail organizing abilities it aims to make managing of mail easier than with any other browser. Since the interface as well as the rendering engine are now native to Opera, Opera 7 can be delivered identically to all operating systems.

Latest release versions of Opera

Note: Versions may be slightly different between languages; these numbers are for the English (US) version. Language versions only differ by the language file. Release versions are available at: http://www.opera.com/download/

Latest preview versions of Opera

Early test versions (internal alpha versions) of Opera are tested only by Opera employees, before Internal betas for the desktop platforms (Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OS X) are tested by a select number of people called 'the Elektrans (http://my.opera.com/community/dev/elektrans/life/)'. Technical preview versions are released in Opera's beta newsgroup, forums (http://my.opera.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?s=&forumid=31) and the mailing-list, so the public can test and discuss new features. Opera's download page only offers release versions and public betas.

See also

External links

Official Opera Software links

Other external links