Sunday, June 8, 2008

Browser Wars revisited - Opera fights back

Opera is a web browser that's been around for a long time. Once ad-supported, the browser went free some time ago and has been adopted by numerous mobile carriers, most in Europe.

With Microsoft ready to unleash Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 in the 3rd quarter of this year , and Mozilla going for the Guinness Book with highly-pledged download day coming very soon (as well as Apple's Safari which has grown as it is embedded in the iPhone), it appears the Opera team wasn't going to standby and watch.

Last week, Opera unleashed version 9.5 beta 2 which unveils a new look, a variety of features (some similar to the latest incarnation of Firefox - 3.0 RC2) and also does extremely well on Acid 3 testing.

Here in the US, Opera has pretty much always has less than 1% of the overall market. The new look could give it a little traction. The browser also had some difficulties with Microsoft's alternative to Adobe's flash, Silverlight, which has been fixed in this release.

Sidebar: Silverlight Version 2 Beta 2 was released Friday, but it is not yet in the Microsoft download center.

The browser landscape as we see it.

There's simply no question that Mozilla is reshaping the playing field with the recent release of Firefox 3.0 RC2. It's fast, loaded with features, highly configurable, and carries very low resource overhead. As far as speed, Safari comes in Number 2 but some security questions have recently been raised about Safari for Windows. Internet Explorer 7 is cool, especially if you add the new (but very Microsoft specific) 3.0 Silverlight toolbar, BUT you will need a machine with decent resources. IE7 will lock-up on some machines running XP2 and XP3 with limited resources.

Opera can now probably capture enough of the market to stay viable. The beta Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 should not be installed on any mission-critical boxes as it is still very much a developer preview (and is somewhat unstable).

Flock is planning to upgrade to the new Mozilla engine after the 'formal' release. The 'social browser' is an interesting alternative and recently added more features.

Is the tide turning in the browser market?. While IE is installed by default on most computers sold worldwide, it appears Firefox has a good chance of grabbing a very significant market share (outside of the blog and tech community) once 'download day' comes. RC2 is stable, uses a completely new engine and .... just works.

(Update: Microsoft Silverlight 2 Beta 2 can now be downloaded here and Scott Guthrie's excellent tutorial is here)