Opera Ties Up with Airtel to Enable Instant Internet Activation in India Through Web Pass

Just a few days back, Opera had revealed that its Web Pass initiative had gotten off to an impressive start in Malaysia. Now, it is hoping to replicate the same success story in India. The Norwegian browser maker, which itself has its roots in a telecom company, has tied up with Airtel to introduce its innovative Web Pass feature to India. “Access to the web is a universal right. Partnering with market leaders such as Airtel has offered us the opportunity to help lower the barriers to access the mobile web and empower more Indian users to get online,” said Lars Boilesen, CEO, Opera Software.


Opera Web Pass offers mobile users pay-as-you-go connections that can be activated instantly from the browser itself. It offers a cheap, on-demand, and instant connection to the World Wide Web to a wide section of the populace. For many of Opera’s users, the only way to go online is through their mobile phones. You can read more about how Opera Web Pass helped increase data usage on DiGi Telecommunications networks in Malaysia in my previous article.

Some of the plans that Airtel will be offering are:
i) An hour of Facebook for Rs. 10
ii) An hour of Twitter for Rs. 10
iii) An hour of internet usage for Rs. 20
iv) 24 hour unlimited internet subscription for Rs. 60

Additionally, a weekend surfing plan will also be available for unknown amount. An Opera spokesperson was unable to confirm if the plans were for 2G or 3G or both. All of these plans are billed by the duration of validity, instead of metrics like bandwidth and speed, which will make it simpler for the novice user to understand. Topping up doesn’t require any online payment system, and all purchases made are added to the user’s mobile bill.

Opera Mini and Mobile Continue Growing, Web Pass Gets off to a Good Start

OperaOpera Software has often highlighted Opera Mini as a browser that ‘connects the unconnected’. What they mean is that Opera Mini on mobile phones is often the only way a significant chunk of its users access the World Wide Web. Opera Mini is extremely popular in nations like India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Malaysia, and Kenya, where PC penetration is low, but mobile phone penetration is extremely high. The reasons for this are obvious. Opera Mini works even on low-end phones, and is capable of rendering web pages that these phones would otherwise be unable to render. It also compresses web pages during the data transfer, thus increasing speed and reducing bandwidth consumption.

Putting two and two together, towards the end of 2012, Opera Software introduced a service called Web Pass. Web Pass offered mobile web surfers pay-as-you-go internet connections. Realizing that most people in developing nations don’t have means of online payment like Credit Cards, Opera tied up with mobile service providers to enable instant purchase that would be billed to the user’s mobile connection. Malaysia’s DiGi Telecommunications became Opera’s first partner, which allowed users to instantly purchase data packages. Pay as you go plans included cheap options like Facebook hourly pass (0.15 USD), as well as more full fledged data options like 24 hour internet packs (0.65 USD).

In this month’s State of the Mobile Web report, Opera Software zeroed in on its new Web Pass, and apprently it’s doing quite well. Some of the stats that Opera shared are:

  • Up to 52% of all Opera Web Passes in any given month were bought by returning customers.
  • By incentivizing use through a free Facebook hourly web pass for the entire month of January DiGi managed to increase the uptake of paid web passes significantly. This resulted in an average revenue increase of 56%, and a 65% increase of the average number of transactions per day, compared to the revenues before the promotion drive.
  • There has been a very low checkout-abandonment rate and an overall checkout success of more than 77% among users with sufficient funds.
    The most popular web pass is one that provides customers with time-based, unlimited access to Facebook.

Opera Software also revealed that it gained 8 million active mobile users in the month of January. The total user count of Opera’s various mobile offerings currently stands at 237 million. Opera is also doing fairly well in the smartphone segment, with a 32% of the total users of Opera Mini and Opera Mobile using smartphones to browse the web. These users constituted 32% of the new installs witnessed last month.

Major Developer Exodus: The Untold Story Behind Opera’s Engine Change

As you might have heard by now, Opera Software had decided to dump its own rendering engine in favor of Chromium, which is based on Webkit. While announcing its dramatic shift, Hakon Wium Lie, CTO of Opera, stated that the change will enable Opera to dedicate more of its resources to developing new features. While rumors surrounding layoffs were floating in the air, Opera’s PR refused to comment beyond stating, “We have never had more people at Opera working on our products than right now, and we look forward to contributing to WebKit”. Now, Norwegian IT journal Digi.No has confirmed that leading up to the change, Opera underwent what is probably its most dramatic downsizing operation.


Digi.no is reporting that as many at least 90 developers were pushed out of the door over the past few months. Several employees took the severance package before Christmas, including Yngve Pettersen, André Shultz and Lasse Magnussen, who were among the first developers to join the company in the 1990s. Pettersen was in fact employee number 3 in the company that was co-founded by Jon Tetzchner and Ivarsøy Geir. After the new year, several more (Digi.No puts the figure at 50-70) were asked to take the severance package. Most of the affected employees were from the Core team. However, a sizable number of developers were also retained and moved to other divisions (mainly mobile). What is not clear is whether these employees were given the option of picking between working on something else and taking the severance package, or were they simply fired. It’s quite possible that veteran developers voluntarily left the company due to the dwindling opportunity to work on core technologies. Opera’s “Open Web” team, which was tasked with promoting web standards and fixing website compatibility issues also probably contributed to the headcount reduction.

Wilhelm JoysAndersen, who used to manage Opera’s core testing team before quitting last year, is alleging that the situation is far worse than being reported in the press. He believes that the number of people forced out might be close to 200. He also claims that the “morale is at rock bottom, with a number of people leaving on their own” and “those laid off are terrified to say anything publicly”. Opera was once known for housing extremely talented engineers, and managed to lead the way in terms of core-technologies as well as user facing innovations. However, there has been a noticeable exodus of talent over the past few years including the likes of Ian Hickson and Anne van Kesteren. Opera has also lost key executives like Chief Development Officer Christen Krogh, and Chief Strategy Officer Rolf Assev. Although I am yet to hear back from Opera’s PR, Opera’s Håvard Moen has dubbed Digi.No’s report as misinformation.

Interestingly, just days before Opera went public with its engine shift, news emerged that Opera co-founder and previous CEO Jon S. von Tetzchner sold large chunk of his shares in the company for between 180 and 200 million NOK (about 32-35 million USD). He resigned as CEO in 2010 and resigned from his post as strategic advisor in 2011. “It has become clear that The Board, Management and I do not share the same values and we do not have the same opinions on how to keep evolving Opera”, Tetzchner had revealed in his parting email. It’s well-known that Tetzchner was averse to the idea of letting Opera being acquired, but he will no longer be able to singlehandedly sway the board’s decision. Looking at the timeline of events from the outside, one can’t help but wonder whether Tetzchner, a man who placed more importance on values and ethos than cut-throat business, decided to reduce his stake in the company because the Opera that he knew and built is gone forever?

Update: Nils Broström, VP of Communications, Opera Software, issued the following clarification:
“Opera has never had more people working on the end user product than we do today. Shifting technology platform means that we can put our clever people on developing end user benefits and innovations rather than developing and maintaining our own core. This required a lot of people, and with our move to WebKit, our aim was to fill as many of these more product related positions by recruiting internally from our core team.

Included in the 90 are people from various parts of the company, including marketing and sales. Opera has worked with each of these to provide and offer severance packages, so nobody has been laid off in this process, but this was of course somewhat emotional for all of us anyway. We never like to see good people leave, but at the same time, we need to make sure everybody works on what we are focusing on in the future, making the best possible end user product. The move to WebKit is an engineering decision, and the reasoning is that we now can focus on what matters most for our users: really good products.

It’s always sad to loose good colleagues. These guys are very talented, and they will be a great asset in the IT industry, either in Norway, or where they choose to work in the future.”

Opera Ditches Presto, Will Begin Using Chrome’s Engine

Opera Software has never had it easy. Opera has always been the browser that is ignored by most, and loved zealously by a few. Yet, not only has it managed to survive for almost two decades, but has also grown into a profitable publicly traded company employing almost a thousand people across the globe. Today, the Norwegian browser firm announced that it has reached the milestone of 300 million users.

Three hundred million is a major landmark for Opera, which had reached the hundred million mark less than three years ago. However, Opera Software can hardly afford to sit back and relish its achievement. It’s desktop market share has practically stagnated, and its head-start in the mobile segment has been practically nullified by the rise of Android and iOS. Realizing the difficult situation it is in, Opera has done what very few fans and followers could have even imagined. It has decided to completely ditch Presto.


Presto is Opera’s layout engine, and one of its prized creations. It has served Opera well. It allowed Opera to promote web standards, push for a faster surfing experience, innovate with advanced developer features, and earn additional revenue through licensing deals. However, it was also turning out to be Opera’s biggest drawback. Developing and maintaining a rendering engine is an extremely complex task. The fact that there are only four modern rendering engines – Trident (Internet Explorer), Gecko (Firefox), Webkit (Safari), and Presto (Opera) — exemplifies this. The fact that Presto had the least market share often meant that developers didn’t test their websites on Presto. The end result was annoying compatibility issues in Opera. Opera Software tried long and hard to tackle the compatibility issue. It created dedicated positions called “Web Opener” to promote cross-browser development practices, and in extreme cases, even fixed website bugs on its own through browserjs. However, with Webkit becoming a de-facto standard in the mobile space, and gaining momentum rapidly in the desktop market, Opera was fighting a losing cause.

This is not the first time Opera is making a big, bold move that few could have predicted. Back in 2005, Opera went from being a shareware to a freeware on the back of a search deal with Google. The move allowed Opera to break out of its niche, and increase its user base from hundreds of thousands to millions. Now, Opera is taking another bold step. Will it work? Or is it too little too late for the browser that seems destined to be forever the little guy.

I believe that Webkit offers Opera a way out that didn’t exist earlier. It’s a shared code base that is being used and improved by multiple entities. Switching to Webkit will free up valuable resources for Opera, as it will finally be able to stop worrying about website compatibility. It will also save Opera the effort of duplicating cutting edge standards that other browsers have already implemented. Yet, I can not help but wonder, how things would have turned out if Opera had open sourced Presto earlier.

Through this year, Opera will be transitioning to the the Chromium rendering engine, and V8 JavaScript engine. We have already seen an experimental browser called Opera Ice, which utilizes Webkit. At this year’s MWC, Opera will be exhibiting another new Webkit based Android product.

While the move to Webkit is undoubtedly the right one for both Opera Software and its users, it’s hard not to feel a tinge of sadness to see Presto go. When it was released, it was the fastest and the most standards compliant engine in the market. It did a lot of good things, for Opera as well as the web. Hallvord Steen fittingly paid homage to the mere bits and bytes that was Presto.

Its software personality was one of surprising brilliance combined with equally surprising shortcomings. It was resourceful, forward-looking and often ahead of its time yet at other times neglectful of even long-stated needs and requirements. It had some hissy fits and temperamental interaction with other software, especially certain plug-ins. Nevertheless it carried out great work and brought the company that cared for it 300 million users, over the years being ported to an incredible number of platforms.

Opera Announces New Webkit Based Mobile Browser – Opera Ice

Big news coming out of Oslo, Norway. Opera Software, the browser firm behind Opera Mini and Opera Mobile, is working on a new mobile browser called Opera Ice. Ice is being billed as the future of web browsing, and will be shaking things up in more ways than one.

Technically, the biggest difference between Ice and other Opera products will be its engine. Opera is one of the few browsers to have its own rendering engine, which is called Presto. The other layout engines are from Microsoft (Trident), Apple (Webkit), and Mozilla (Gecko). We might have several dozen browsers spread across numerous platforms, but all of them use one of these engines. Opera’s engine has been a source of pride for it, and has allowed it to shape web standards and lead the way with innovative features. However, it’s also the least popular of the existing engines. Since, no two engines are completely alike, this often means additional headaches for Opera in terms of website compatibility. Desktop websites have traditionally been optimized for Trident, due to Internet Explorer’s dominance. Mobile used to be a segment where Opera ruled the roost. It’s still a major player with more than 215 million mobile users. However, Webkit has emerged as the leading mobile browser engine. Google Chrome uses a modified version of Webkit, and the default Android browser as well as Chrome for Android uses Webkit. Apple’s Safari for iOS also obviously uses Webkit. Moreover, since Apple strictly restricts third-party layout engines on iOS, all iOS browsers are forced to employ Webkit. A a result of Webkit’s dominance in mobile browsers, mobile websites are invariably solely optimized for Webkit. Perhaps not wanting to play the catchup game all over again, Opera is ditching its venerable browser engine for Ice.


The change in browser engine will also help Opera to get into Apple’s iTunes App Store. Opera already has Opera Mini for iPhone and other Apple devices, but Opera Mini isn’t a complete web browser, and is ill-suited for modern, dynamic websites. “Opera mini is great, but it is not a fully-fledged offering like Chrome or Safari. There are too many sites it doesn’t work with,” noted Opera’s CEO Lars Boilesen.

Engine isn’t the only thing Opera Software is changing in Ice. It introduces a new paradigm for web browsing that is better suited for modern touch-enabled devices. Ice gets rid of the chrome entirely, and makes use of the full screen space to display content. This lends a web-app like feel to the web pages. Ice doesn’t look or feel like anything we have seen before from Opera Software. Opera’s products have never been about minimalism. They have been power horses, which offered gazillions of features to please the power users. With Ice, the priorities have changed. In fact, Opera is even going so far as to get rid of tabs. Internally, the browser will maintain tabs, but it will be abstracted from the user. One existing feature that will still be present in Ice is speed dials. However, Opera is ditching thumbnails for icons in Ice. Web search will also be retained in Ice. However, it will be completely redesigned to show live previews of results from various sources as you type your query. Check out the video embedded below to get a glimpse of Opera Ice in action. It was recorded during an internal all-hands meet held before Christmas, and was obtained by Pocket-Lint.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about Opera Ice. I love the idea of a browser designed from the start-up for touch; however, I am also worried that Opera might end up hindering usability and productivity by taking minimalism too far. I will reserve my judgement for now, since we don’t have enough information. However, I really hope that Opera nails it, and will definitely be taking Opera Ice for a ride, when it shows up next month.

E-commerce Websites Gain Popularity Among Indian Mobile Users

Opera Mini usage in India has exploded over the past year, thanks to partnerships with major carriers like Airtel and Vodafone. In fact, India now has the highest number of monthly Opera Mini users worldwide. So, in this month’s State of the Mobile Web report, Opera Software decided to zero in on Indian users. State of the Mobile Web is a monthly report published by Opera Software, which utilizes data gathered from its Opera Mini servers to identify and analyze broad trends in mobile web usage.

While usual suspects like Facebook, Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, and Yahoo continued to be favorites among Indian users, Indian news and ecommerce websites experienced strong increase in popularity. The top five websites category in India were — News Portals, E-commerce, Social networking, Education, and Travel. In particular, the growth of e-commerce suggests that more and more Indians are getting used to the idea of buying stuff online. While e-commerce services took off in the western countries over the past decade, they struggled to break through in India, where users were often coy about buying stuff without seeing it. This seems to be finally changing, as e-commerce and classified websites made up 14% of total visits in India. Top five e-commerce related websites in India were — quikr.com, amazon.com /amazon.co.uk, flipkart.com, alibaba.com, and snapdeal.com.


For a detailed zone-wise breakdown of top mobile websites in India, head over to Opera’s State of the Mobile Web Report.

Opera Mini for iOS Updated to v7.0.5

Opera Software has updated Opera Mini for Apple devices, keeping in mind the recently released iOS 6. Opera Mini is among the most popular mobile browsers with about two hundred million users spread across various platforms including J2ME, iOS, and Android. It was the first non-Webkit based browser to be allowed into the App Store.

Opera Mini redirects web-traffic through its servers where the pages are rendered and compressed. The client simply displays a static representation of the pre-rendered webpages. The advantage of this arrangement is that it can result in up to 90% bandwidth saving and increases surfing speed on slower networks. However, this also prevents rich modern web apps from working on Opera Mini.


Opera Mini 7.0.5 includes a bunch of iOS 6 related fixes and integration with the iOS 6 Facebook framework. Other changes mentioned in the release notes are:
– Improved performance when saving large images
– Fixed freeze after sharing via email
– Fixed video playback on youtube.com (iPhone and iPod)
– Performance and stability fixes
– Added support for iOS 4.2

Opera Mini 7.0.5 is a minor incremental update. However, if you are planning to use Opera Mini on iOS 6, you will get better mileage with the latest version.

[ Download Opepra Mini for iOS ]

Opera Software Q3 2012 Financial Results: Mobile Drives Growth as Desktop Stalls

Opera Software has released its financials for the third quarter of 2012, and they look pretty good. Revenue grew 40% year-on-year to 56.4 million USD. However, due to a significant increase in expenses, net income fell to 6.5 million USD from 9.9 million USD in Q3 2011.

Over the past several years, Opera’s real strength has been the mobile segment. Opera Mini has been the real growth driver for the Norwegian firm. This trend continued into the recently concluded quarter. Opera finished the quarter with more than 207 million users of their mobile products alone. Opera Mini’s astronomical growth has slowed down a bit over the past few quarters, but it is still expanding its user base at a fair click. Year-on-year, Opera Mini’s user base grew by 112%. The growth was primarily driven by partnerships with operators like Airtel, Etisalat, MTN and Vodafone. Opera’s revenue from mobile consumer and mobile publishers and advertisers grew by more than 400%. Perhaps most crucially, Opera exhibited strong growth in Android with 300% year-on-year increase in users. As more and more people move away from feature phones to smartphones, Opera will have to keep on innovating to grab a slice of the smartphone segment.


Opera for desktop on the other hand, remained to be an area of concern. Opera exhibited practically no growth with just 2% increase in user base year-on-year. Currently, Opera for desktop has 55 million active users. Opera admitted during its Q&A with the investors that it’s not happy with the desktop growth and the impact of Opera 12 was less than expected. Opera Software promised strong products at the beginning of 2013, which suggests that Opera 12.20 will be released within a few months. Although, Opera didn’t manage to expand its reach, revenue from desktop increased quite nicely from 13 million USD in Q3 2011 to 19 million USD in Q3 2012.


Opera Mobile 12.1 for Android Features Improved Security and Web Standards Support

Last month Opera spruced up Opera Mini for Android. Now, they have updated its full-featured sibling – Opera Mobile for Android. The changes are not massive, as indicated by the point increment in version number. However, they are still significant enough to make updating to the latest version worthwhile.

Opera Software now deploys four separate version of Opera Mobile, tailor made for ARM v5 and v7, MIPS and X86. Only the version that is suitable for your phone or tablet is automatically downloaded and installed, which means that you should notice a reduction in the amount of disk space consumed by the new Opera Mobile.

Most of the other new improvements are inspired by the work that Opera Software has been doing on its desktop browser. Opera Mobile now supports SPDY protocol, which enables faster browsing on compatible websites. Gmail and Twitter are two major services currently supporting SPDY. Support for websockets is also in, which means that web applications leveraging sockets for two-way communications will now work on your mobile phone as well. Other new web technologies supported includes CSS Animations and Flexbox, HTML5 Drag and Drop, and the HTML5 Clipboard API.

Finally, Opera Mobile 12.1 for Android improves security by adding support for fraud detection. Opera will now warn you before opening webpages that have been marked as being suspicious or used for illicit activity.


Opera Mobile lacks the inspired user interface of Chrome for Android; however, it is a great browser in its own right. If you can get past its ageing interface, you will appreciate its speed as well as the bouquet of unique features like Turbo.

[ Download Opera Mobile ]

Opera Mini for Android Updated with Smart Page

Opera Software is promising to make your Android smartphone even smarter with Opera Mini 7.5 for Android. The new Opera Mini for Android introduces ‘Smart Page’, which we had seen earlier in Opera Mini for J2ME, S60, and BlackBerry.


Smart Page acts as a new personalized home page, which gives you a birds-eye view of what’s happening. “There are just too many social networks, and I’m a busy man! Now, thanks to the Smart Page I can get all the updates at a glance, even from my favorite Danish newspapers. This is a real time saver!” remarked Lars Boilesen, CEO, Opera Software. Smart Page features three main categories of content:

  • Social tab: This section allows you to get a glimpse of your Facebook, Twitter, and vKontakte streams at one place, without having to visit several webpages.
  • My News: This section highlights latest news pulled from different sources. Opera Software claims that Opera Mini learns your preferences and interests from your browsing habits and showcases news that it believes you will be interested in.
  • Suggested links: This section features a list of relevant links based on the region your Android phone is located. Some of the suggested links can be sponsored links from Opera’s partners.

Opera Mini’s initial claim to fame was its ability to compress webpages to reduce bandwidth bills and improve surfing speed on slower networks. Opera Mini 7.5 stays true to its tradition and is both light and fast. After using Chrome for Android, I can’t help but wish that Opera ditched its practice of having a consistent interface across platforms, and instead went with a more native appearance. However, Opera Mini is still one app that I will always have on my phone, simply because it can be a huge time and money saver when you are travelling or don’t have access to fast internet.