CNET UK: Opera should give up on desktop browsers

CNET UK's Nate Lanxon tries to makes the case that Opera should give up on desktop browsers. I'll respond to his claims point by point below, but the quick reply is: No way!

The desktop version makes up a significant amount of Opera's income, and it's part of Opera's slogan – "the best Internet experience on any device". While US browser stats may mislead you into thinking that Opera is in trouble, Opera actually has from 5-10% in certain parts of the world, and up to 20% in some countries. Opera's user base is actually growing! A year ago Opera had 20 million desktop users. Now there are more than 35 million users. Last quarter, desktop revenue was up more than 100% as well.

Opera will also not give up on the desktop browser just becase artificial benchmarks show Opera lagging behind. Artificial benchmarks do not show real-world performance, and we are already working on our next-generation JavaScript engine. And since Opera is using the same engine on all platforms, Lanxon's argument is self-defeating. If the current engine can't measure up to other browsers on the desktop, those same browsers would likely beat Opera at artificial benchmarks on other platforms as well.

And while one might think that Microsoft, Google and other giants are going to simply crush Opera, and that more competition will get Opera in trouble, history shows otherwise. As a matter of fact, more competition means more focus on browsers, which has historically shown to benefit Opera.

Now to address his arguments in more detail.

its desktop browser continually fails to attract significant market share.

As readers of this blog should know by now, not only is browser market share impossible to measure in reality, but browser statistics companies have frequently been caught red-handed manipulating their own statistics. But if we were to play along for a moment and pretend that browser share was actually possible to measure, we will quickly notice that the picture is not as simple as Lanxon thinks. Look at Europe, where various stats (that are not Net Applications) often show Opera with a 5-10% market share, even up to 20% in certain countries! US stats providers may show Opera with different and yet low market share numbers, but Opera does have a far higher penetration rate in other parts of the world, and there are more than 35 million Opera desktop users around the world by now.

And if we forget about market share for a moment, the desktop product makes up more than 1/5 of Opera's total revenues. That is a significant portion of our revenues, and they grew by more than 100% in Q4 2008 compared to Q4 2007!

Opera blames Microsoft, citing the anti-competitive nature of tying Internet Explorer to Windows, which is complete nonsense since Firefox is massively popular despite Microsoft's dominant position.

A single anomaly outside the "normal" market ecosystem does not invalidate Opera's claims, which are supported by both Mozilla and Google. Indeed, the EC has come to the same conclusion: Microsoft has broken the law. Does Mr. Lanxon know something no one else knows, since he can claim that the findings of both Opera, Mozilla, Google and the EC are "complete nonsense"?

Mozilla themselves have also clearly explained how Firefox's success does not indicate a healthy market, and how it does not mean that Microsoft did not break the law.

But this week I realised Opera's desktop efforts were utterly futile. I tested Apple's new Safari 4 browser and benchmarked its JavaScript rendering speed — it annihilated Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera and Google Chrome in performance tests.

It's an interesting point, but the argument ultimately fails for several reasons.

First and foremost, a single artificial JavaScript benchmark which does not reflect real-world performance is hardly an argument to stop what we are doing and move on to something else. Even if Opera would remain hopelessly behind on this particular artificial benchmark forever, does that mean we should give up? Of course not. Opera does have other strenghts as well, including the aforementioned real-world performance, which includes both actual site rendering as well as the speed of the user interface, time-saving features like mouse gestures and keyboard shortcuts, and so on.

Secondly, why is Mr. Lanxon assuming that Opera is out of the race? As a tech journalist, surely he should be aware of Opera's new JS engine, Carakan, which is built from the ground up with pure performance in mind, and which should at least be able to catch up with the rest of the browsers that participate in the benchmark race?

Finally, if Mr. Lanxon'x argument applies to desktop browser, why shouldn't the same apply to Opera's mobile offerings, which he seems to be a bit more supportive of? Is Mr. Lanxon not aware that Opera and other modern browsers are using the same engine on all platforms? If so, those other browsers would soundly beat Opera on mobile platforms as well. If Opera's current JavaScript engine cannot keep up with other browsers on the desktop, it would lag behind on mobile phones as well, if you were to run benchmarks with those same engines.

But it's a futile effort, and I think with Google, Mozilla, Apple and Microsoft all on the scene, Opera's battle is more doomed than ever.

We hear this every time a new browser is launched, whether it is for mobile phones, desktop computers or other devices. And every single time, Opera's growth continues, or even accelerates. Indeed, after Google launched Chrome, the growth of the desktop version of Opera actually accelerated, both in number of downloads and active users!

Mr. Lanxon should keep in mind that increased focus on browser choice and alternative browsers actually benefits Opera! It means that more people realize that they have a choice, growing the market for everyone, which leads to new opportunities for Opera.

It should take its clearly talented teams of developers and shift its focus to the mobile world where it can really thrive. It should focus on the types of devices it's already winning with — the Nintendo Wii for one, and even the Archos handhelds — and claim a dominant position.

That too may be in vain, what with the aforementioned behemoths all working in that space too, but I feel if Opera has any chance of success, it's there, and not on the desktop.

I think Opera can do good things on all platforms. And indeed, this is one of Opera's strengths: Opera is available on more platforms than probably any other browser.

Opera's vision:

Our vision is to deliver the best Internet experience on any device on all major platforms.

It should be obvious that PCs are part of this vision, and there's no reason why Opera should undermine its own strategy by limiting platform availability unnecessarily.

And while giants like Google and Microsoft may seem "scary", one must realize that they have their own bottom lines to think about. So OEMs and operators may actually find their revenue streams threatened if they rely too heavily on either of these companies. Indeed, Apple has already managed to force operators to their knees, allowing them to eat a huge part of the pie.

Opera, unlike these "behemoths", is an independent company which focuses on browsers. This means that Opera is not a threat to its customers and partners, and better yet, by choosing Opera, you can get the same browsing experience on any platform and device. You won't have to tie yourself to a single platform (iPhone, Windows Mobile, Android, and so on) to get a great browsing experience!

OEMs and operators can continue to deliver on the platforms that are best adapted for each product, and by choosing Opera, they get access to a whole family of products and services that can help you get your products to market faster, at far lower cost, and on just about any platform.

And finally, the market is huge. There is room for both behemoths and smaller players in the browser and online services markets. In the future, anything with a screen will be expected to have a real browser. Creating your own browser, even based on existing code, takes a long time, and is expensive. Google spent more than two years working on Chrome before it was announced.

And then there's the maintenance, including future updates, security issues, and so on. It might be a better idea to simply get a company which specializes in browsers to do the job for you. It could save you a lot of time and money in both the short and long term, especially if you have multiple platforms.

So there will definitely be a lot of business opportunities for Opera and other browser companies. The market will be huge, and the behemoths will not cater to everyone's needs.

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25 thoughts on “CNET UK: Opera should give up on desktop browsers

  1. On the one hand: "But if we were to … pretend that browser share was actually possible to measure …". On the other hand: "… there are more than 35 million Opera desktop users around the world by now."If browser share is impossible to measure, how do you know there are more than 35 million (of we) Opera desktop users? Can't have it both ways, surely?

  2. Excellent points, haavard. That kid cnet blogger showed that he really had no idea how and why Opera operates.BTW, "opportunigies?" I thought all Opera people would be using the Opera 10 builds ;P

  3. Digital music and portable media expert Nate Lanxon wrote this article in his sleep, didn't do an ounce of research, or attempt to use his brain to reason with the facts. Just one fact would have convinced him ohterwise of his claim–for example, Opera's profits have never been higher, so whatever they're doing, it must be working. The goal of Opera isn't necessarily to be #1, but to just be profitable and open the web. I worry that his articles on mp3 players wouldn't be any better…..

  4. I don't know why, but i think that Nate Lanxon will never pick on Opera in this manner. The response from the community was just great.I've been a proud Opera user for many, many years. And this won't change for anything! 😀

  5. The whole thing is ridicolous, there are browsers out there with even less users than Opera, I am thinking about Linux only browsers here. And they stil more than manage to survive and put up a good fight against the big two.Nothing the guy said makes sense, surely choice is good one would have thought.

  6. Opera actually has more than 35 million desktop users. If all of them are using the built-in Google search, Opera is making money from each and every one of them.

  7. But this week I realised Opera's desktop efforts were utterly futile. I tested Apple's new Safari 4 browser and benchmarked its JavaScript rendering speed — it annihilated Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera and Google Chrome in performance tests

    If he's truely unbiased, honest etc., he should run JS benchmarks every month to see who's winning and switch to new browser leader immediately. That's how real ricers do things! Poor thing…Originally posted by haavard:

    If all of them are using the built-in Google search, Opera is making money from each and every one of them

    And some other browsers users, who are too lazy to google themselves and follow links I give them (-:E

  8. I was naive to think that CBS takeover would fix CNET which was becoming more and more of a joke every single day. It didn't and as CBS is not a strategic ally for MS, I don't understand why.CNET is in fact a failed TV startup which was saved by MS in early days and became a website. That old Yellow layout was reminiscent of its own TV days. If there wasn't MS to save them, there wouldn't be CNET. Basic as that. That is also why I have no clue why they still try to trick users with their pro MS agenda and fail miserably, becoming a more joke every single day. What has CBS to do anything with MS?They tookover techtracker, a widely known successful company which could stand to dotcom crash, a money making business which owns versiontracker , de facto Mac download site and turned it into a mess. Opera OS X developers should know what I talk about.Taking this story serious would make sense in 1990s, hey days of CNET but not now. Especially not the UK version which is always shadowed by British style sites like The Register.How come you start an article like that and don't understand the very basic fact that Opera is THE multi platform browser , running very same core on a Quad Xeon or ARM 200 mhz processor? It does explain a lot, even technical users can easily guess why Opera can't rush ''If it compiles, ship it'' type of javascript accelerator. Even Mozila guys with a different philosophy has to do way more tests and coding compared to Webkit/Safari guys.

  9. @haavard: If we choose any of built in engines (yahoo,ask etc) over Google, Opera still makes money right? Just in case 🙂

  10. I'm not sure about that, actually. I would assume so, but then again, Wikipedia is in there, and I doubt that we make money from that.

  11. i am not very much concerned about market share. what i know is that it's lovely to use opera.

  12. leo_khan, when you come across a site not working in Opera, you'll get concerned sure enough.

  13. leo_khan, when you come across a site not working in Opera, you'll get concerned sure enough.

    You can usally get around it by the browser masking

  14. anti-plings that does not change the fact that Microsoft abused their position and they know they did for years, event Live mail still breaks in Opera it has been years and they still did not fix it, bork bork bork

  15. anti-plings writes:well, now the end of the legal battle is there – IE is not going to be bundled with Windows 7 in Europe. Does that rally help anybody? Or what, you actually expected them to include Opera into Windows?As far as the browsing experience, get real – I use various browsers on various platforms and I always have the same experience – I type in web address and see a web page. All browsers do that, sometimes some of them (including Opera) do not show certain pages correctly, but otherwise, it's a totally same experience. A few tweaks to the buttons, bars, and what not do not really change anything.

  16. ms-sucks writes:@anti-plings"well, now the end of the legal battle is there – IE is not going to be bundled with Windows 7 in Europe"WRONG!Microsoft tried to pull a quick one on the EU and announced that they would remove IE without being ordered to do so. The EU did not accept.Typical of Microsoft to always offer less choice when they could have offered more.

  17. The only problem I see in Opera is the fact that so many companies (and their websites) do not support it or support it but barely. So may be (I'm not into company-politics at all) Opera should think of a different way to make it work. Opera is multiplatform and all in all is stable on all platforms it can run on (on some more, on other – less). It has a long history behind its back. Most inovations (I've used a lot of browsers!) come from Opera. Things that appear as addons and later enchancements in other browser are long known and a standard in Opera. Removing IE from Win is a mistake since many things won't work at all without it. It's just part of the system. Not something that you can put in or out whenever you want to. This will lead to severe problems and I doubt (seeing the history of Redmond) that they will sit down and work all the problems that come from that. It's time-consuming, it's costs money. I use Windows only when I have to. I stick to Linux most of the time. But claiming that a company broke the law for having her OWN browser in her OWN operating system is rediculous. What monopoly is that? Redmond didn't make its system popular. It's the user that counts. We made it popular. It's never happen (I know "Never say never!") that there will be one and one only OS. People have different needs. One can't please all mankind. The same goes for browsing experience. Some people look for speed, others for a shiny GUI (it's like buying an expensive watch just to be cool), third look for secuirity etc. I do believe a company can live without being soooo popular. The thing is – it's better to have a small circle of loyal users than a big bunch of users who change their mind every hour. 😉

  18. Originally posted by rbaleksandar:

    Removing IE from Win is a mistake since many things won't work at all without it

    IT can be done, Windows did not at first come with IE, but would be hard to change nowOriginally posted by rbaleksandar:

    so many companies (and their websites) do not support it or support it but barely

    Most are still stuck from the first browser war, tho can contact a site and ask them to stop the browser sniffing

  19. Originally posted by rbaleksandar:

    So may be (I'm not into company-politics at all) Opera should think of a different way to make it work.

    Opera is doing a lot of different things. This is a nice starting point if you want to learn more about compatibility, which is not the topic of this blog post.IE will not be removed from Windows. Yes, Microsoft did break the law, not by bundling IE, but by undermining competition by abusing their dominant position in the desktop OS market. But that is also an off-topic discussion.

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