Web Technology

Classics Week #3: Opera vs Reality

This post is part of the Classics Week(s) feature, which will run for three weeks while I’m off overseas. This week’s post was the first to be published after the switch to regular, weekly updates. Here it is again, better than ever!

2009 was an exciting year for the web browser crowd:

  • Google released Chrome.
  • Apple ported Safari to Windows.
  • Firefox picked up a lot of market share.
  • Microsoft actually produced a half-decent version of Internet Explorer.
  • The iPhone and Android finally made mobile browsing popular.
  • Support for HTML5 and CSS3 was way up across the board.

The term crowd is especially appropriate here because it really is starting to get very crowded. For a long time the browser war has been fought largely between two major players at a time (IE/Netscape, IE/Firefox) and all of a sudden we have four major companies with fantastic browsers available to the vast majority of users.

Oh, and then there’s Opera.

Here’s the thing about Opera…

Opera is in serious trouble because it doesn’t have a “thing”:

Internet Explorer’s thing is its existing market share. It has a lot more users than everyone else, so its going to be relevant for the foreseeable future.

Firefox’s thing is its community. Not just its core developers, but the people who create addons or personas or rally everyone they know to go download the latest version on launch day. It’s easily the most passionate user group of the bunch.

Chrome’s thing is its brand. When people think web, they think Google. Google has the best search, the best email, why not the best browser? Users rely on Google for a great online experience, and Google has a lot of high-traffic areas where it can push Chrome.

Apple’s thing is its loyalty. Apple fanboys are a loyal bunch — most of them will stick with Safari on their Mac and many will consider getting Safari for any Windows computers they’re forced to use. Apple also has the iPhone, which gives it a growing space where it has the only browser (not that any iPhone users mind — loyalty, remember?).

What does Opera have? The Wii? Please.

  • It used to be the most advanced browser for HTML5 support, then everyone else caught up.
  • It used to be a major player in the mobile space, then Apple and Google obliterated it.
  • It used to be a fun browser for geeks to talk about, but now the buzz is all Chrome.

Simply put, it’s not enough to be an alternative to IE anymore; users are demanding more from their browsing experience, and they’re flush with places to find it.

Any Opera fans out there?

What’s even worse is that there isn’t really anything you or I can do to help.

Opera’s engine isn’t open source, like Gecko (Firefox) or Webkit (Chrome/Safari), and it doesn’t benefit from a strong plugin community, like Firefox/Chrome. It isn’t an OS-default browser like IE (Windows), Safari (OSX) or Firefox (linux). Even if I wanted to rally some Opera enthusiasts, where would I start? How many people do you know that have even heard of Opera?

I don’t have anything against Opera (it’s a fine browser), it’s just it has fallen behind the times — there are too many better options around preventing Opera from picking up new users, and I can’t think of a single significant reason for its existing users to stick with it.

Do you use Opera? Care to share any thoughts on Opera’s future?

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