Page last updated at 08:48 GMT, Friday, 18 September 2009 09:48 UK

Opera browser bids for America

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

opera
Opera 10 was downloaded 10 million times in one week alone

The founder of Opera has said despite its 100m worldwide users, they have a big job ahead conquering America.

In the US, the latest figures by Net Applications showed Opera is 5th in the market with a 2% share behind Microsoft, Apple, Google and Firefox.

But Opera claimed in other parts of the globe it is the most popular browser of choice with growth last year of 67%.

"The reality is that in the U.S. we have some work to do," Opera boss Jon von Tetzchner told BBC News.

"I have to admit, we want to get a market share in the U.S. as well and I am convinced we will. We are seeing a nice response to Opera 10 coming out. But at the end of the day, a user is a user and we are happy to get anyone online whether that person is in Europe, India or America."

He pointed out that in places like Russia, Ukraine and parts of Europe, Opera is the number one browser, and that in other markets it comes in at number three - ahead of Safari and Chrome.

After less than a year on the market, Google's Chrome managed to unseat Opera and claim 4th place in the US.

"You have to crack America if you really want to go mainstream," said technology analyst and blogger Robert Scoble.

"The American market is probably the most important out there. If you don't get this market hot and bothered about you, it's hard to get any other market hot and bothered about you."

'Buzz'

In terms of pure numbers, Mr von Tetzchner said Opera has 40 million users on desktops, 30 million on mobile phones and the rest on other devices like Nintendo Wii and DS gaming systems.

Its latest version, Opera 10, hit 10 million downloads in its first week.

Jon s. von Tetzchner opera ceo
Mr von Tetzchner said "for us, the important market is the web"

Despite its seeming popularity, why has Opera not achieved that name recognition factor among ordinary everyday users, especially here in America?

"That is a good question and it is one of the things we are trying to find out," said Mr von Tetzchner.

"In some markets things take off and I guess we haven't managed to push the right buttons here yet. I am hopeful that with Opera 10 and other products, that will help in the U.S. It's a question of getting the word out."

One suggestion from Frost & Sullivan principal analyst Ronald Gruia is for Opera to really set itself apart from the competition.

"They get an unfair rap because it's a good product in a crowded market with some big competition. It really has to show the value differential and get that across to a number of different channels like users, software developers, manufacturers and even influencers.

"They have to create that mindshare that Apple has done with the iPhone and they really need an evangelist to push their image and get some buzz going," Mr Gruia told the BBC.

Mobile leader

Mr von Tetzchner said on a recent visit to Silicon Valley that the company is making a concerted effort here with its mobile browser.

This week it launched Opera Mini 5 with the claim that it will improve the web browsing experience on smartphones.

opera mobile
Opera claims to be the market leader on mobile

It will support tabbed browsing where users can view several web sites at the same time, speed dialling to get users to their favourite sites more quickly and a password manager for email and social sites to let users log on with just one click.

"We are number one on mobile," said Mr von Tetzchner.

"Here the mobile issue is more complicated. You need to have a data plan in the U.S. to get going on the mobile whereas in a lot of other countries you just download a browser and get going.

"That barrier to entry means we have to work through the operators a lot more than we do in the rest of the world."

Technology analyst Mr Scoble offered one explanation for the success of Opera's mobile offering: "The reason they are number one is because Nokia's browser sucks," he said.

"That is why Opera has such a large mobile market share. If Nokia had actually built a great web product, Opera would be dead."

'Eradicated'

Despite its seeming image as the scrappy underdog, Opera has been around since 1994 outlasting the likes of Netscape and Mosaic.

IE8 Web Slice
Microsoft is said to be near a deal with the European Commission

Today industry commentators say the choice among browsers has never been greater - a far cry from the early 1990's.

"What would have been a really bad scenario was before Firefox came along, we were seeing Netscape going away and Mozilla not really gathering much speed and us.

"Microsoft was looking like it would kill every browser vendor in the market. Netscape had 90% of the market and Microsoft basically eradicated them," said Mr von Tetzchner.

The European Commission has been investigating Microsoft for possible anti-trust violations over its practice of bundling its Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating systems.

The inquiry was prompted by a complaint filed by Opera.

"We saw a significant risk that this would lead to the destruction of the web and then having another web that was Microsoft-controlled.

"We believe the web is worth fighting for because it is something that brings value to people's lives. Keeping it open and standardised, so people have a choice, I think is extremely important," said Mr von Tetzchner.

It is understood that the EU is close to resolving the case with Microsoft, which has proposed giving users a choice of browsers.

"I think that is a good solution," said Mr von Tetzchner.



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