Opera Bets on IPO To Fight Microsoft for Market Share

Privately held Norwegian technology company Opera Software, maker of the increasingly popular Opera Web browser that serves as an alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, has announced its intentions to offer an initial public offering next month.

The company, which also reported fourth-quarter revenue growth of more than 100 percent over the prior year, said its technology and commercial initiatives have advanced to a point at which they warrant an IPO. Opera indicated it will use the anticipated listing gains to push its browser further into the consumer and mobile markets.

“After developing and refining the technology and commercial side for nine years, Opera Software is now ready for public listing,” said company CEO Jon von Tetzchner. “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.”

Opera, which reportedly expects to generate between US$11 million and $22 million through the IPO, said the offering will be managed jointly by Enskilda Securities and ABG Sundal Collier.

Top Alternative Browsers

Opera is among a group of leading alternative Web browsers that have gained popularity and prominence over the past several years. Opera’s success — which still pales in comparison with the number of Internet Explorer users — can be attributed to partners such as IBM, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Motorola, among others.

The company also has earned credibility on the Internet by focusing fervently on cross-platform development, offering versions of its browser for Windows, Linux, Mac, Symbian, Solaris and other operating systems. In light of its reputation and increasing popularity, the company said its board of directors decided to apply for public listing on the Oslo Stock Exchange after reporting that its 2003 revenues were up more than 50 percent from 2002.

Opera Software is headquartered in Oslo, Norway, and runs development centers in Sweden and sales offices in Austin, Texas. The international following that the company enjoys, analysts said, is a result of its reputation for developing a fast, flexible browser that consumes less of a memory footprint on user computers and mobile devices. Also, the company has continued to innovate on the browser front. Opera was among the first browsers to use mouse gestures and tabbed windowing.

Explorer Gets Lost

Security holes and a growing number of browser-based vulnerabilities have encouraged some users to migrate from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to alternatives such as Opera and the open-source Mozilla browser.

Ken Dunham, iDefense director of malicious code, told TechNewsWorld that once users secure Microsoft’s Internet Explorer by locking down settings and implementing workarounds, that browser is often practically inoperable for many Web sites. He said that because of widespread exploitation of active scripting components and so-called zero-day attacks that pounce on reported weaknesses as quickly as they are made public, he strongly recommends using alternative browsers, such as Opera, when feasible.

Microsoft’s new monthly patching policy, announced last year, also has hurt Internet Explorer and helped alterative browsers gain market share. With the new monthly patching system, disclosed vulnerabilities have tended to linger longer before Microsoft makes updates available, and the company has said it will issue no major updates for Internet Explorer for at least two years. These factors have contributed to the proliferation of alternative browsers.

IE’s Installed Edge

Nevertheless, Internet Explorer — recently updated by Microsoft with an out-of-cycle patch to address several security issues — remains the primary browser for millions of users. The browser also maintains a formidable position because it is bundled with Microsoft’s Windows operating systems, which dominate the consumer and corporate marketplaces.

Gartner research vice president Richard Stiennon told TechNewsWorld that although Opera and Mozilla are compelling alternatives to the security strife that can come with using Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s browser likely will remain the leader in the corporate world.

“It’s a large download and a huge task for most users,” Stiennon added, referring to the process of downloading and installing alternative browsers such as Opera and Mozilla.

The analyst said that enterprise computers running Internet Explorer are less at risk while waiting for a patch because of the security measures most companies already have in place — at the firewall or gateway levels — and also because most corporate users have more conventional browsing habits than home users.

The question remains whether Opera, which offers both advertising-supported and advertising-free versions of its browser, will be able to continue increasing its market share. Many Opera users swear by the browser’s features — such as the built-in pop-up blocker, cookie manager, password wand and interface customizability — that distinguish Opera from the sparse Internet Explorer.

But features and innovation, Microsoft has demonstrated in the past, can easily be beaten by tight control of the desktop.

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