Opera vs Reality

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 a major player 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, a fantastic email client, why not a great 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?).

Opera has nothing. 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. 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.

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 they don’t have the extensibility of Firefox or Chrome. It doesn’t have the de-facto standard advantage in Windows (IE), OSX (Safari) or linux (Firefox), and even if I wanted to rally some Opera enthusiasts together, 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 that it’s no longer relevant — 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.

Any Opera fans out there?

Do you use Opera? Do you have any thoughts on Opera’s future? Be sure to leave a comment.

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5 Responses to “Opera vs Reality”

  1. David Says:

    Opera is the browser that’s used on the Nintendo Wii and DS. I bet they’re making some pretty good money from that. Otherwise, I know of no-one who uses Opera as their primary browser.

  2. dan Says:

    That’s true, I should have mentioned that. There is some staying power in the DS and Wii, but there was a time when Opera was a legitimate choice as a primary browser! Those days are long gone now.

  3. Eric Lawless Says:

    Opera did made an attempt at something unique, with their Unite web-server-in-browser thing (http://www.opera.com/press/releases/2009/06/16/) but I don’t think that succeeded wildly. It’s a shame, Opera’s a perfectly fine browser but I think it’s forever stuck relegated to places like the DS, or nowhere at all.

  4. Oren Says:

    The mobile argument is very apt. it coincides with opera on the desktop becoming free. that’s their “thing”. or was. I’m not sure where it is now, other than the nintendo sandbox..

  5. dan-menard.com» Blog Archive » Classics Week #3: Opera vs Reality Says:

    [...] 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 [...]

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