Opera, the 'third force' in the browser wars, is available for free download from today, with the launch of Opera 5.0. Small but perfectly-formed Opera Software claims 1.5 million registered users, which is low even compared to Navigator's much-diminished market share, but Opera intends to leverage its advantages into increased market share.
So far, Opera has gained users because of speed, its low footprint, its determined adherence to standards and its multi-platform nature. Development is under way for BeOS, EPOC, Linux, Mac (still in alpha) and Windows, and and according to company communications manager Pal Hvistendahl, the company has the capability to port the software to any platform. In the Internet appliance market, he says, "we are currently a horse-head ahead of the others."
Opera's strategy is now to move, according to CEO Jon von Tetzchner, from the position of "an alternative browser for the most Internet savvy users" and to place itself "in the middle of the ongoing browser wars."
In doing so it intends to present itself as a 'neutral,' pointing out that the two big guns, Microsoft and AOL/Netscape, "have focused on strengthening the integration of their browser, portal and ISP services, putting them in direct competition with independent portals, ISPs and content sites." Opera therefore thinks it can be the developer that supports the independents, offering them the ability to provide customised and co-branded versions of the software. According to Hvistendahl, several major deals are in the pipeline.
The free version of 5.0 itself operates in sponsored mode, which entails the user having a single banner ad in the browser UI. This ad is downloaded once a week and cached for later use. But it's still possible to pay $39 for paid/registered mode, without the banner.