Opera Software CEO Jon S. von Tetzchner says the ratio of Windows to Linux Opera downloads is eight to one. This either means Linux is on 12.5% of computer desktops (unlikely) or that Linux users are far more likely than Windows users to download Opera.
Note that in absolute numbers Windows is still more important than Linux from Opera's viewpoint. This may change over time, especially now that Opera is releasing its Windows and Linux versions at the same time instead of allowing Linux releases to lag.
"What we've done in Opera 7 is make the code a lot more cross-platform," von Tetzchner says. "That's why the releases are in synch. Now we hope to add other platforms as well -- FreeBSD, Solaris, and the Mac over time."
Von Tetzchner has not noticed any resistance from Linux users to the concept of paying for software. He says, "I think there's not a significant difference in the number of Linux and Windows users who pay. People want choice, and most people are willing to pay for good software. Most of the current Linux users are programmers, and they can appreciate when good programming is being done."
He adds, "I also believe that if Linux is going to be a significant success on the desktop you need applications," and points out that he means both commercial and free software, not just one or the other.
Beyond the browser
Opera and IBM have been working jointly on voice recognition and synthesis. Soon, von Tetzchner believes, we'll be able to fill out Web forms and order goods online with voice technology. But he sees far more than commercial possibilities here. Indeed, the original reason Opera started working with voice recognition was to help people with disabilities get better access to the Internet, not to make money.
"Our focus on people with handicaps is a personal thing of mine that we built into the company. My father is a psychiatrist with a focus on children with handicaps," says von Tetzchner.
Opera is making some of its voice tools available for free download here: http://www.opera.com/products/verticals/multimodal/
Follow the money
Opera Software has swung into profitability several times since the company was founded in 1994. Its current new product push is keeping it from being profitable at the moment but, von Tetzchner says, "We hope to strive for the black this year. We have definitely been increasing our revenues. Overall, last year we doubled our sales."
In descending order, Opera has seen its largest recent revenue growth in the embedded, desktop, mobile, and IT vertical markets. The embedded and mobile markets are the newest on Opera's agenda, and may hold the most future promise, since Opera can now provide decent HTML rendering on small screens, which most browsers can't.
"We can make [a Web page] fit in a meaningful way on a small screen without horizontal scrolling," says von Tetzchner. "People really like it. You don't need WAP or anything like that. It's all client-side, so people doing [Web] content don't need to do extra work."
More Linux in Opera's future?
"What we've been seeing, especially in the embedded space, is a lot of movement in Linux," von Tetzchner says. "We see it from IBM, Motorola, Lineo... We have a strong belief in Linux. Also on the desktop. We hope it takes off there, too."
But, he warns, "At least in Europe, so far we see more Linux desktop talk than action."
In other words, much though von Tetzchner and his coworkers may like and support Linux, don't expect Opera to stop developing Windows products any time in the near future.