Opera, all prettied up with nowhere to go

Anyone who has read a few of my posts, or even looked at my blog page will know that i am an Opera user. In general i find Opera to be a far superior browsing experience to any other browser at the moment, however, its failures are a reflection of the current market in which it is fighting. It has been a while since i have made significant comment on Opera, or the state of the web, and so i felt it was about time to throw something out there. In a way, this is an open letter to Opera Software, and a comment on the "browser wars".

While people in the open source world have been talking about browser competition for many years, it has only really been affecting the main stream for the last two or three. And while this may have been sparked by the superiority of Firefox over IE 6 in the eyes of many, what has really made the main stream realise the existence of competition is the aggressive way in which Google are trying to push Chrome. So much so, that the market share of Chrome has over shadowed that of Opera. And while Opera may be pleased that the marketing power of Google is helping enlighten many consumers, their desktop growth is not performing as well as it could. They mostly dominate the mobile market, and Opera link has encouraged many users to switch to Opera desktop, but there is still a big chunk of users that seem resistant to desktop browser change. Why? What does Chrome have that has given it 1% market share under 12 months, and Firefox almost an extra 4% in the same period?

Some strong OSS activists might attribute it to the fact that both Firefox and Chrome are open source or at least have underlying open source projects. And while i believe that to be a part of it, there is a lot more there. Both Chrome and Firefox are fast, but the average end user doesn't notice the difference. I feel that Chrome has gained market share through aggressive marketing and a technical user base jumping from Firefox to Chrome ( due to speed and the fact that tabs run in separate process threads ). And, in my opinion, Firefox is still gaining market share due to every security vulnerability found in IE. Yes, my implication is that Firefox is become the Corporate desktop browser of choice. It's a dream to manage on the network ( due to the built in updater ) and it is more secure than IE, so IT managers are more likely to recommend it. This is my general feeling on the browser market at the moment, so where does Opera factor in, and how can they take their rightful place?

Opera has a very odd relationship with the tech community. In this part of the browser conscious market ( maybe 30% of the total market? ), you get the Opera lovers and the people who prefer Firefox. While i fall into the Opera lovers, most of my friends and colleagues fall into the latter category. And being the confrontational, querying mind that i hope i am, i have dug deep ( sometimes into dangerous territory ) about why the aforementioned latter group prefer Firefox. This is what i generally got back:

"Last time i used it, it wasn't very good" or "i've never tried it" - the problem with the "Last time" is that it normally refers to pre-firefox, and although Opera was still great back then, now it is really the most forward thinking of all the browsers. Most of these users, have been impressed with what i have shown them of modern Opera, many have even changed browser. This is a market share that Opera could get if marketing was directed toward this group, but sadly, they are a minority, and marketing engines are always directed at the mainstream.

"It's not Open Source" - this group is also a minority, and while they strike up a point, Opera is not convinced it's a valid one. And i can understand why Opera would want to protect their source code, even if i would prefer them to be open source. Opera are an interesting company in this way. While they feel the need to push open standards and build a strong community, the still feel the need to protect their source, even if it isn't the community they fear. They have the makings of an amazing open source company, without the open source. Maybe there is a compromise to come? Well, at least i have a suggestion which relates to the next group:

"Plugin <x> <y> and <z> are amazing and i can't live without them" - fair enough. I can accept the killer app arguement because i live it everyday. Being a Linux user at home and at work switching between Windows and Mac, i feel the pain related to killer apps. My ideal platform would be a Linux system with KDE Desktop, Visual Studio 2008, XNA Game Studio, and XCode's analytical tools. Every time auto complete with C++ fails in XCode reminds me of the frustration faced by missing apps that you have become used to. So being able to understand the pain, suffering and depravity caused by not having your plugins, leads me to this.

Firefox is an open source project under a permissive triple license ( MPL, GPL 2, LGPL 2.1 ), so why not port their plugin architecture, or at least write a compatible plugin architecture. This way there is an available plugin API and the amount of people able and willing to try Opera could potentially double. Yes i can accept that it is a monster of a project to do this, but it is the kind of thing that can be done. This part could even be a community project by providing the community with the function callbacks and class structure available to Opera desktop. And no, Opera widgets are not currently a replacement. They are glorified, separate window web apps. Compatible plugin architectures are a progressive way forward, as can be seen by the amount of abstraction layers in a modern Linux system. Why not? Well, i can suggest a few reasons that i wouldn't want a plugin architecture like that of Firefox ( for example, plugins with that much power can mask malicious software ), but i feel that the advantages in terms of attracting a considerably larger user base would be huge.


  1. I used to be an Opera fan, but what can I say, you said it all...

    The extensions make Firefox king of the hill.

  2. good points.

    but I am not sure there is a way to allow plugins without exposing a great deal of the browser.

    As is Opera is a beauty for me.

  3. I know, I know, Opera is great. But it's not free software and that murders it for me. I find it curious that this doesn't bother you, as freedom comes right after cost in the normal reasons for Linux use.

  4. As you said yourself Opera lacks FFs extensions and community on one hand and Google's support on the other.
    Getting Google to support Opera will never happen since it already has Chrome and will support Firefox for 3 more years, so Opera needs to become open source in order to build a strong community to write high quality extensions.

    I can be considered an open source enthusiast, so I always recommend Firefox to everyone. If Opera becomes open source, I will suggest them to use "Firefox or Opera"

    Opera probably loses about 20 million Linux enthusiasts that spread Firefox to Windows users. Not to mention 200+ million satisfied Firefox users that keep spreading the word.

  5. Something which i think is important to keep in mind is that Opera does have a HUGE community, rivaling that of FF. Which is why Opera could be one of the greatest open source projects if they wanted to.
    As for my reasons, i prefer free ( as in speech ) software, but i'm realistic about it. I would pay for software if i need it now and there is no free ( beer or speech ) alternative that is comparable. And that is how i feel about browsers. I get very frustrated when using Firefox: i can't just perform a search in the main address bar ( i never use the side search bar in opera ), it doesn't remember the URL i typed at home when i get to work, i don't have any custom searches ( like "w keyword" takes me to wiki page ) and if i did they wouldn't be remembered when i changed location. All of these matter to me, and mouse gestures _BY_DEFAULT_ ( i know there is a plugin, but i really hate doing plugin installs... like i also hate using the desktop as a dumping ground ). So for these reasons, i use Opera. Also, i work for a commercial game developer, i can understand the motivation behind closed source, so altho it's not preferable, i do find it acceptable.

  6. There's also a quite strong affective bound which ties Firefox and its user base (at least the older part of it). Firefox is Netscape's avenger, born from its ashes to defy the monopoly of MS IE.
    In the dark times when 98% of people used IE6, Firefox (sonce back when it was called Firebird) was the slick, smart, fast browser for the connoisseurs.
    Add the extensions systems, and here is why competing with Firefox is so hard.

  7. I've posted on the Opera forums about changes to the browser to increase its appeal. I love Opera for many reasons. Among them it handles pdf tabs flawlessly (unlike firefox), it's available for almost all linux distributions and in windows it can read pages outloud (and be voice controlled). But even thought Opera is my main browser at work I have to use Chrome or Firefox for certain reasons. Here are things they should change right away on Opera: 1. abitlity to copy HTML not just txt (when I need to post links from my internal intranet in my emails I have to switch browsers) 2. a less bizantine options interface. Opera is powerful, but boy is the learning curve steep. I used it for months before realizing some of it's unique features (many are now standard in other browsers but were pioneered by opera) like the address bar keyword searching (awsome bar), copy to note, side panel, spell checker, voice options and zoom. 3. Widgets are useless for the most part and should either be removed or like feeds only appear in the menu once you've installed one. A move to an extension framework would be a good idea. It doesn't have to be compatible with firefox, but the widgets are uselsess clutter. 4. A better skin. The new one is god awful and the previous one only slighly better. Looks count.

    Opera is a great browser and it's my default second browser in linux and windows but it's gettingl eclipsed by the extendebility of other browsers. I'd like to see Opera be able to use Chrome's javascript engine and have an some sort of extension framwork like firefox without sacrifying it's speed and compactness.

  8. Everyone is right about the following

    Opera is brilliant

    widgets are useless/pointless (for most users) I hate the real esate it takes outside of the browser personally


    the biggest problem - the steep learning or familiarity curve.

    But I am slightly weary of encouraging them to open it up, as this nearly always decentralises control.

    Have you tried the latest opera10 alpha, I think it does what you need about copying html links (not sure)

    see http://my.opera.com/desktopteam/blog/

  9. i'm glad you mentioned the javascript thing... Yes, Chrome has incredible Javascript speed, and it would be great to make Opera faster, and they are:
    i love the technical detail in that article, and it looks like Opera's new JS engine might just rival/beat that of Chrome ( "between 5 and 50 times faster" ). Should be interesting!

  10. For me, the most anoying thing in Opera is the search dialog (the one that appears when you press Ctrl+F) - once you get used to a search bar (that doesn't cover the browsed web-page), you just can't use the search dialog-box any more... It's just so anoying when something is covering the web-page you are trying to search (even if the dialog-box is 'inteligent' enough to not cover the foud text)...

    As for technical part, Opera was for a long time superior over FF (better supprot for XHTML, SVG, faster JS, etc.), but recently FF is doing a big progress in all that fields, and even surpasses Opera in some (FF3.1 with (X)HTML5 video and audio support, even faster JS engine).
    But this is something normal when there is a healthy competition on the market - the browser makers make their products better all the time.
    That's why I think that Opera Software does the right thing when promoting the browser among "normal" users, when aiming at the remaining market share of IE, and does not fight against FF.

    Just look at IE - the only new things MS puts in subsequent versions of IE are just copies of usability functionalities that are already implemented in FF and Opera. And what about the web technologies? IE still doesn't support SVG, doestn't display web pages served as XHTML (does it even support XHTML, at least 1.0?), not to mention about Web-Fonts and HTML5 audio/video support. MathML, anyone? (which is already well supported by Opera and FF)
    Yes, I know, IE8 uses separate processes for every tab, just like Chrome, but so what? Opera and FF work better than IE even with out that.

  11. at last anonymous. lols.

    Opera cant be that primitive and we all love it.

    Press . on ur keyb or / and a search bar pops up on the lowerleft allwoing you to do a quick search as good as ctrl+F.

    Far more user-friendly than Ctrl+F aand its been around for ages.

  12. It is really really really simple: Open-source Opera, help the community port the most popular Firefox extensions and gain 5% market share within one year. Much of it will be on Firefox's expense. But the rest will be IE's market share and it will be pushed even tighter to the ropes and lead developers to make standard compliant web sites.
    Or keep it closed and have a great piece of software fighting for 1%. And what will happen when the mobile version of Firefox is released(even if it not as good as Opera mobile)?? I wouldn't like to see Opera fade into Oblivion, it was always (and still is) very innovative.

  13. daxpin: thanks, i didn't actually know the shortcut for the kewl find function. i knew it existed but i never use it... then again i don't search on webpages very much ( Generally GMail and Google Reader have all the stuff i need and the Ctrl+F find is not unbearable for the few times i do need ).
    L4Linux: i strongly disagree with you. Opera doesn't _need_ to open source itself. They do however need to use the insanely vast community they do have to help them build something more than a nicely styled javascript widget. Plugin architectures are complicated problematic beasts, but because Opera is still a non-community project, they can build in verification of plugins via there webservers and corporate backing. So they have far more potential as a closed source free commercial product to build a secure open source plugin community than firefox could. This may be a contreversial statement, but there are some severe disadvantages to having a completely open plugins setup where anyone can download anyone's plugins. Opera *could* set up a submission based plugin system and give assurance that the plugins are not malicious or garbage. Just putting it out there, feel free to rip the statement to shreds ;)

  14. no worries anon,

    And I tend to support your proposition that opera doesnt need to open-source itself.

    But any open, control plugin system that doesn't ruin the beauty it is at mo, and of course, less ridiculous as widget will be welcome with thunderous applause within the opera community.

    This is an interesting debate guys,keep it up.