Even Going Public, Opera Committed To Mac Browser Market

Despite numerous delays and the demands for profitability on what is soon to be a publicly-held company, Opera Software ASA is still strongly behind supporting and making its Opera Web browser for Mac OS X, the company has told The Mac Observer. A spokesman said the company is hard at work on version 7 of Opera for Mac OS X for release sometime this year.

On Monday, the Norwegian-based company announced it is going to make an initial public offering (IPO) of stock to the public sometime in March on the Oslo Stock Exchange.

"Opera has come far, and a public listing will give us more flexibility to expand our position as a leading player in the Internet arena," said Opera cofounder and chief executive Jon von Tetzchner.

Employees currently own 60 percent of Opera and will retain a substantial ownership, Mr. Tetzchner said. It is not known what percentage of the business is to be offered, the price range or the timing of the initial public offering. The company hopes to raise between US$10.9 million and US$21.8 million, he said.

Opera: "Weire committed to the Mac platform."

With word that the company is going public comes added responsibilities to be profitable, which has led many to wonder that because of delays in a new version and competition from Appleis Safari browser, the company may be ready to abandon the Mac platform.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Pal Hvistendahl, Operais marketing and communications director, told The Mac Observer. "I know Mac users are skeptical that we are committed to the Mac platform because of delays and excuses as to why we havenit come out with version 7 the way we promised well over a year ago. All I can say is we should have had a better product by now, but itis going to come. I promise."

Opera released Opera 6.03 last August in an attempt to extinguish rumors it was abandoning the Mac platform, and to add support for Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. Despite the update, however, rumors on Web blogs and message boards reflected concern that because of its small market share in Mac browsers, and because Safari quickly became the de-facto browser for the Mac, Opera would simply give up.

Company chief executive Jon von Tetzchner told CNET News in January of last year that abandoning the Mac platform was a real possibility, after Apple released its free Safari browser. "Iim not a quitter, and our company isnit a quitter, but it really is up to Apple," said Mr. Tetzchner. "The Mac platform may not be viable for us any longer."

But Mr. Hvistendahl said the company re-assessed the Mac browser market and feels it has a place. "We think there is room for a browser that has our characteristics... small, fast, feature-rich browser. Weive competed with Explorer and Netscape for years."

"We have to be realistic in saying that Opera for Mac OS X (version 6.3) is not as good as Opera for Windows is, and weire going to change that with version 7," he said. "It will have the same features as Opera for Windows does right now; but our current Mac version isnit good enough. With Opera for Mac OS X version 7, weill have a better product than anyone else, and users will spread the word....On Mac weive failed so far, but weire going to come out with something thatis going to make people go, iWow!"

Mr. Tetzchner said development is on-going, but that he couldnit give a more specific release date for version 7. "Our deadlines have slipped several times, so Iim very reluctant to give any kind of time frame really. When itis done, weill release it. I canit be any more specific on a date, but it will be sometime this year," he said.

So what is causing the delays in releasing version 7 of Opera? Mr. Tetzchner said, "it hasnit been good enough and we havenit had enough good Mac programmers. We feel we have that team in place now, but weire always looking for better people."

Does it cost that much to develop for Mac?

As for added costs that might not look like a good investment of time and money by stock holders, Mr. Tetzchner said that is not an issue with regard to a Mac browser. "I canit go into development costs, but what I can say is that because we develop our browser across all platforms, we can save money and time in development. We have our biggest team working on the core of the browser, so itis not that difficult to take it to another platform and actually it does not cost that much. Desktop browsers are the whole foundation of the company."

Operais browser, praised for being compact and fast, has gained ground as the platform of choice for use on mobile phones and personal digital assistant devices. Since Operais software requires less memory than browsers made by Microsoft and Netscape, it can fit more functions into mobile phones and still offer full-scale Web browsing of standard Internet pages.

"Investors might look at our ibread and butteri as mobile phone browsers," said Mr. Tetzchner, "but the truth is all of our browsers come from a cross-platform icorei that we make that is in every one of our products. Without a desktop browser, thereis no phone browser and the Mac is part of that."

The company saw a 108.7 percent rise in its revenue for the fourth quarter 2003, compared to the same quarter in 2002, it said. Opera reported revenue of US$4.2 million compared to US$2.0 million the previous year.

The Oslo-based company was founded in 1995 by two former developers for the Norwegian telecommunications group Telenor. The company develops browsers for desktop, smart phone, PDA, iTV and vertical markets. Partners include IBM, Symbian, Kyocera, Sharp, Sony, Motorola, Nokia, Macromedia, Adobe, BenQ and Sendo. The company makes most of its money in the mobile phone Internet browser market.

With Opera supporting some eight million users with its Windows, Linux and OS/2 browsers, itis Mac OS X version of Opera makes up less than one percent of the total. The Opera browser for Mac OS X has less than a one percent market share compared to Appleis Safari browser and Microsoftis Internet Explorer browser which are the two most used Web browsers on the Mac platform.