2010 has been a great year for Opera Software. Earlier in the year, we saw Opera Mini for iPhone dominating the App Store charts soon after its release. Opera also expanded to the Android platform and launched Opera Mini followed by Opera Mobile in the Market. On the desktop front, Opera kicked off the year with the launch of Opera 10.5 and finished it off with Opera 11.
Opera Software was formally founded in 1995 by Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner and Geir IvarsÃ¸y. After nearly 15 years at the helm, Tetzchner stepped down as the CEO of the company earlier this year. Recently, Tetzchner was in India to meet with the fans. During his visit, he was kind enough to answer my questions in an email interview.
JVT: When it comes to extensions we believe as a company that it is important to ensure that the browser that you get out of the box is rich and has a lot of functionality. With focus on web based extensions we feel that there is a closer match with our focus on standards, and we felt the time was right to launch extensions with Opera 11. We have also focused on features such as widgets and unite – which allow developers to develop on the outside of the browser, which we have found to be important for sustainability of the web as we know it.
Me: Are you using any extension? If yes, what is your favorite extension?
JVT: Personally I am not using a lot of extensions, I have tried a number of them but for the most part I feel my needs are covered with all the other functionalities that Opera has to offer.
It has to be said that extensions are about the long tail that people need.
Me: In spite of being (arguably) the most innovative browser, Opera has had little success in expanding its desktop marketshare. Currently about fifty million people browse using Opera on their computer and this number has remained stagnant for a while. In fact, the Q3 2010 report suggests that Opera lost some users during this year. Why do you think that Opera is struggling to get a significant number of new users?
JVT: Opera during the last few years has had a significant growth in number of users. We now have over 150 million users worldwide across our desktop and mobile browsers. The growth in past one year is very promising and we hope to continue this trend by coming-up with innovative features and products.
Me: If you were asked to use any browser other than Opera for 24 hours, which browser would you pick and why?
JVT: There can only be one browser for me i.e. the Opera browser
Me: Do you subscribe to the notion that in the future the browser will make operating systems irrelevant?
JVT: I would not say irrelevant the operating system continues to be important.
I always ask a question during my talks how many native applications are you using on your PC?. The fact that typically 5% or less are using 5 applications or more indicates that already the browser is the most important tool on your computer and most of the time is spent in the browser. We are seeing that the browser has become the most important aspect of the computing experience.
JVT: Clearly what we have seen is a continuous fall in the number of Internet Explorer users and users have increased for competing browsers including Opera.
Me: One of the things Opera complained about is Microsoft’s reluctance to support web standards. What is your impression of Internet Explorer 9? Do you think Microsoft has made amends?
JVT: We are seeing Microsoft working hard on improving their standards support and we applaud that. They are still trailing the competition but are moving in the right direction.
Me: In 2004, Opera extracted a settlement out of Microsoft for deliberately crippling MSN on Opera. Unfortunately, the practice persists till date with the big three (Google, Microsoft and Yahoo) often using browser sniffing to offer an inferior version of their products to Opera users. Why do you think this is the case?
JVT: First thing on the settlement there was no settlement. Microsoft fixed their site. This is where we had the Bork edition of Opera and we got them to fix their site.
I think browser sniffing is a bad thing in general. But we are also seeing that more of the sites are focusing on web standards and that will continue.
Me: Your vision of One Webhas won. WAP is dead, and mobile web usage is exploding. What’s next for mobile web?
JVT: Exploding some more.
I think in many ways there are so many people who do not have Internet access today. There are two billion people with internet access and there are one and half billion phones. The trend that we will see is that mobile users will most likely outnumber PC users in a year’s time. This will have a significant impact on the web as we know it and a very positive one.
Going ahead, please look out for Televisions, Set top boxes, cars and other devices getting online as well.
Me: The Register claimed that Opera holds the web’s most valuable secretthanks to its massive data cache (due to the combination of Opera Mini and Opera Turbo). Is Opera looking at ways to monetize this information?
JVT: We value our customer’s privacy extremely. So overstepping any kind of boundaries there is out of question.
We are clearly looking at ways where we can help enable relevant advertisement on the mobile through our purchase of AdMarvel. We announced the Open Mobile Ad Exchange and as part of that we can target people. But we don’t want to target anywhere not close to comfort. Typically the kind of targeting will be based on device type and location on a very broad scale.
Me: What is the Opera BreamUI mentioned during Capital Markets Day?
JVT: If you look at the different Opera versions on different phones you will see a lot of similarities. It’s because the user interface is written in the Bream language, allowing us very quickly to deploy Opera on new platforms.
This allows us to spend more time on making a great user experience and less time on actually develop specifically for one platform.
Me: Opera also has some interesting offerings for connected TVs. How is it different from the new Google TV? How has the reception been from the device manufacturers?
JVT: The response has been great. We have been signing up a lot of device manufacturers including brand names such a Philips, Toshiba, Lowe, etc. We are also working closely with the operators and are seeing significant increase in deployments. We believe that in the next few years internet technologies on television will become a big hit.
Me: Earlier in the year, you stepped down as the CEO of Opera. What prompted the change? As a co-founder what are your current responsibilities within the company?
JVT: I have run Opera for 15 years. I think it is important that for a great company you have to be able to handle change. Personally I wanted to focus more on the tasks that I like and slightly less on the tasks that I like less. So I decided that I wanted to have Lars, whom I trust, to take over the role as CEO.
Me: Soon after Lars Boilesen stepped in, Opera India was practically shut down, and the entire engineering department was axed. Even more surprisingly, the entire thing happened in a secretive manner without a public announcement. What went wrong?
JVT: The decision to close an office that and let people go is always a tough one.
At the same time, it is difficult to maintain and control a faraway office as it requires quite a lot of resources. The assessment from the team was that they wanted to reduce the complexity of operations that arrive from having multiple offices and they moved the work to development centers closer to Oslo.
Obviously it was not an easy decision to make.
Me: Were any other Opera Software offices downsized/closed?
JVT: The company is continuing to grow. For the India office, rationale was about moving this operation to Poland to reduce the complexity.
When it comes to others the rationale was that we are doing more standardized products and less custom work.
Me: What is your perception of India with respect to its engineering talent pool?
JVT: India certainly is a great resource of engineering talent. We have a number of Indians working in our global offices handling important portfolios.
Me: Opera Software is more than 15 years old. Looking back, is there anything that you wish you/Opera Software had done differently?
JVT: There are always choices. But I think it is important to not dwell on hindsight but still try to use the learning’s from the past while moving forward. And that’s what we’ve tried to do. All the choices we made that in hindsight we wished we had done differently try to rather use that as a positive impulse for moving forward.
Me: What does the coming year hold for Opera?
JVT: The goal for Opera has to be to continue the great growth that we have been seeing all around during the last couple of years. We have tripled our overall user base combining desktop, mini and mobile. In the beginning of 2009 we were 50 mn users and now we are 150 mn active users. So it is a significant growth, a growth that I believe is important to continue to have and even increase. To do this we need to focus on the end users, providing them with better user experience.
Focusing on improving the product for end users on different devices in different markets.
[Hat-tip to Choose Opera for the lovely Techie Jon image.]