Opera has many firsts to its name, from tabbed browsing and bookmark synchronisation to pinching to zoom

Remember the high-voltage browser war of the mid-90s between Microsoft’s Explorer and Netscape Navigator, which changed the browser landscape forever? Ironically, both began their journey based on the Mosaic pedigree, but one is dead and the other’s right to remain as the sole option with the Windows Operating System ended by the time the war ended. Of all the browsers from that era, only Opera, the browser promoted by Norwegian telecom company Telenor exists.

The Opera browser is credited with features that were well ahead of their time. For instance, tabbed browsing appeared in Opera well before other browsers had it. In fact, Opera’s initial appeal, especially in a bandwidth-starved world — much before broadband connections became ubiquitous — rested on it being a nifty browser. This was especially critical when the default browser bundled with Microsoft Windows was considered bulky and bloated. Recall that the world was not only short of bandwidth, but a time when computing resources — memory and storage, in particular — were still expensive.

Had a head start

Come to think of it, Opera had a head start on all the critical features that would be needed in small form factor devices such as phones and tablets that became mainstream almost a decade later. Tabbed browsing, which enables the opening of multiple windows, for instance, came with Opera well before Windows featured them. Pinching to zoom, another feature that is ubiquitous in tablets and phones was also an Opera creation. Speed Dial Website shortcuts and bookmark synchronisation were also Opera’s features well before others had them.

300 million monthly users

“If Opera were a country, it would be the fourth largest (browser) in the world, with over 300 million monthly users,” says Sunil Kamath, Opera’s Vice-President, South Asia. “Mind you, all these features that Opera initiated well before others did, were all done for desktop devices, well before mobiles took over our world,” he says.

In keeping with this trend, Opera has a browser that is tailored for specific devices. There is Opera Mini for mobile phones and Coast, a browser tailored for the iPad, which was launched recently. Mr. Kamath claims the Mini “is 90 per cent less bandwidth intensive than any other comparable browser”. But even more significantly, the company with a niche in the browser space, is targeting not only end consumers but also advertisers and telecom companies in a way that nobody would have imagined from a mere browser creator.

Mr. Kamath is offended if asked if Opera is a mere one-trick pony. “We are not only a browser company.” “Browsers are only an aspect of what we do. We also help telecom operators integrate the browser in their main area of business by helping improve efficiencies,” he says. Opera has also “integrated” advertising in its browser, thus unleashing a powerful revenue gathering stream, Mr. Kamath says.

The advertising module is embedded in the browser that is distributed free, points out Mr. Kamath. He says Opera’s acquisitions of Mobile Theory, 4th screen and Admarvel have enabled a tighter integration of the advertising module in the browser. “The strategy is to monetise our user base,” he observes.

Strategy

The other element in Opera’s strategy — far removed from the popular perception as a mere browser company — is its positioning as a service provider for telecom companies. Earlier this year, Opera acquired Silicon Valley-based Skyfire Labs, a company that specialised in video optimisation and cloud-based solutions targeted at the mobile segment. The acquisition brought to Opera Skyfire’s Rocket Optimiser software, which strengthens Opera’s hand in its dealings with mobile operators.

The demand for mobile operators’ scarce spectrum resources varies dynamically, often shifting several times during a day, says Mr. Kamath, Videos, especially those of the high bandwidth kind, require “proper optimising” so that viewers enjoy an “immersed experience”.

Rocket, he says, has the ability to compress the video by an average of about 60 per cent to fit the available bandwidth. The software can minimise delayed start times, rebuffering, and the stalling of video and audio streams that mobile users typically face when downloading a clip of a movie. Another Skyfire application provides operators the option of “personalising” the browser on the smartphone and enabling them gain more revenues.

But Opera is counting on even more. The browser is now embedded in the new generation of devices, ranging from TVs, game consoles, set-top boxes and media players.

"We are not only a browser company. Browsers are only an aspect of what we do. We also help telecom operators integrate the browser in their main are of business by helping improve efficiencies. Opera has also ‘integrated’ advertising in its browser, thus unleashing a powerful revenue gathering stream. The advertising module is embedded in the browser that is distributed free. Opera’s acquisitions of Mobile Theory, 4th screen and Admarvel have enabled a tighter integration of the advertising module into the browser itself. The strategy is to monetise our user base," says Sunil Kamath, Vice-President for South Asia, Opera Software.