Opera wins chorus of approval

Opera Mini. Photo: Mobilecomputermag.co.uk

The death of Opera Software has been predicted many times, but the Norwegian internet browser company continues to steadily grow its niche position in a market dominated by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. 

Outside technical circles, few people realize that Europe has a home-grown competitor to Microsoft and the smaller US browser companies. And those who do know Opera wonder how it can survive. “Every time one of the big companies launches something, people say it must be the end of Opera,” says Jon von Tetzchner, chief executive and co-founder of the company. The company is not just surviving, he insists, it is growing. 

Last year, the company saw a 67 per cent increase in user numbers. After the high-profile launch of Google’s Chrome browser in the third quarter of last year, Opera’s user numbers jumped 20 per cent. Revenue rose 117 per cent in the last quarter of 2008.  Opera Software is no newcomer and has proven resilient. It is the world’s oldest browser company, dating back 15 years to its creation in 1994 by Mr. von Tetzchner and Geir Ivarsoy, who were both researchers at the time at Telenor, the Norwegian telecoms. 

The pair set up the company with just $5,000. It now has a market value of NKr2.74bn ($418m) and employs more than 675 people in 10 countries. Now, as people begin to access the internet over their mobile phones, Opera has a real chance to take a leadership position. 

It is an early entrant into the market and has deals with some of the world’s biggest mobile operators, including the UK’s Vodafone, Germany’s T-Mobile, Telefónica of Spain, and Japan’s KDDI to install a mobile version of its browser, called Opera Mini, on their phones.  The company recently signed a deal with Virgin Mobile USA, boosting its push into the US market, where its PC-based browsers have had difficulty gaining market share. In January, more than 20m people used Opera Mini to browse the web from their handsets, up 160 per cent from a year ago. 

The Opera mobile browser is running neck-and-neck with Apple Safari browser, which is installed on the popular iPhone, with each holding a share of about 23 per cent.  Opera has also put a browser on Nintendo’s DS and Wii games consoles, several set-top boxes and on new Philips television sets.  This week, the company revealed that Ford, the US carmaker, would put Opera on to the computers it is building into the dashboard of some of its trucks and vans. 

The company reported strong financial results last year with revenues up 58 per cent to NKr 497.1m and net income has jumped sevenfold to NKr89.9m. Most of this growth comes from the success of its mobile platform.  “The long term prospects for Opera are good,” says Markus Bjerke, analyst at Arctic Securities in Norway. “It has the broadest offering for mobile phones and is likely to continue to have strong market share in this area despite growing competition.”  Meanwhile, Opera is chipping away at Microsoft’s dominance any way it can.

“The internet is too important to be dominated by just one company,” said Mr. von Tetzchner. He is highly critical of many Microsoft practices. He says, for example, that Microsoft causes a headache for web developers by failing to follow agreed standards of internet development.  A complaint from Opera sparked off a European Commission antitrust investigation of Microsoft last year. Google and Mozilla have also joined the fight, and Brussels’s initial findings went against Microsoft. 

Mr. von Tetzchner still believes Opera can gain traction in the US, even in the PC market. He is planning a new marketing push as the “browser wars” hot up.  “I believe it is only a matter of time,” he said. “When you compete against big companies you get stubborn. You never give up.”  

Source: Financial Times

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