Opera 11 release keeps browser relevant, innovative

And Opera CTO gives shout-out to Microsoft

Opera 11, the little Web browser that could, was introduced today from Opera Software ASA, tucked away in Oslo, Norway, time zones away from its U.S. West Coast competitors Microsoft, Mozilla, Google and Apple. But in introducing Opera 11, its CTO, Håkon Wium Lie, gives browser giant Internet Explorer credit for not just resting on its nearly 60 percent market share, but innovating again, particularly in IE9.

“Microsoft has made a renewed effort in their Internet Explorer team and the most important change for me at least is that they are serious about supporting standards,” said Lie, referencing HTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and Javascript. Lie believes Microsoft wasn’t as supportive of Web standards when it owned the dominant browser, but thinks that competition from Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox -- not to forget Opera -- has prompted it to fall in line, starting with IE8 but more with IE9, which is in beta.

“I think they realize that Web standards is the future of the Web and Web applications, and unless you have good support for standards you’re not going to be able to compete,” he said.

Opera for desktops and Opera Mini for mobile devices are the fifth and sixth ranked Web browsers, according to Net Applications market share numbers for November, with 2.20 percent and 0.94 percent share, respectively. IE is still number one, though notably it slipped below 60 percent for the second time this year, to 58.44 percent. Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox follows with 22.76 percent, Chrome at 9.26 percent and Safari at 5.55 percent. But even with its tiny share, Opera reports that it’s got more than 150 million users, including 76 million users of Opera Mini globally, up from the numbers Opera reported when I met with them at a conference in San Francisco in October.

Among the new features of Opera 11, Lie explained, are Tab Stacking, which allows the user to organize tabs into groups. An explanatory video compares it to stacking paper documents on one subject on your desk. You can drag tabs on top of each other to reduce clutter on your screen. If you hover your arrow over the stack, an array of small icons appears identifying all the tabs in that stack.

The new browser also improves its Mouse Gestures feature where various functions like opening, closing or advancing from one site to another is accomplished by combinations of clicks and mouse movements up, down, left or right.

Also new in Opera 11 is greater support for browser extensions, which now number about 200, Lie said. Extensions are little browser widgets developed by third parties to provide unique functions; he favors one that gives him a quick look at the local weather.

Also, a new button in the address bar identifies the security status of the particular site you’re going to. Not a first, he acknowledges, but Opera has improved the feature. Opera 11 also hides the http:// string from the address bar as it has become superfluous over time. Lie says Tim-Berners Lee told him that maybe he would have reconsidered including that string in Web addresses if he were to invent the World Wide Web again.

Opera is also staying relevant by keeping pace with industry trends by including Opera pre-installed on a Toshiba tablet computer. And in October, it announced a browser that runs on Google’s Android OS for smartphones.

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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