Making Opera #1

I frequently declare Opera my favorite browser, but it is hardly the most popular.1   Here is what I would have the company do to gain browser market share.

Why isn’t Opera any more popular than it is?

  • Regular users don’t know about it or have no reason to switch from MSIE (or Safari).

  • Power users bemoan the lack of Firefox-style extensions.2

  • Incompatibility with some websites, including some Gmail functionality.3

The Game Plan

Like any reasonable plan, this one addresses the root issues.

  1. Make the nerds love it.

    • Create an extension system that is compatible with the Firefox system.  Yeah.  Compatible.  It’ll be hard but we geeks will ooh and ahh over how sweet that is.
    • Release the really, really cool features that Opera has already developed but not released yet.  This includes border-radius (finally), rgba, and CSS animations (which currently only WebKit supports; when used right — and it’s easy — CSS animations can really add a nice touch).4
    • Bring Gears, which amazingly Opera has implemented already in their mobile browser, to the desktop for fun, nerdy, and useful things like Gmail Offline and geolocation.5
    • Have features no one else has.  (Done! No one else has such sublime mouse gestures or perfect speed dial knock-off, for example, or the “trash can” for restoring closed tabs and windows.)
    • Either fix their feed reader so it isn’t terrible or just kill it.
    • Have top-notch standards support.  They were probably #1 until WebKit came out of nowhere and owned everyone.
  2. Axe those compatibility issues.

    • Maybe the problem is Google breaking the standards.  Maybe it’s a fault-tolerance difference instigated by a missing semicolon somewhere.  I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter whose fault it is as far as Opera’s marketshare is concerned; the user sees it as an Opera problem, and they need to take steps to quickly minimize such problems.6
    • Compatibility is a feedback loop.   The more sites that don’t work in Opera (and it’s not many, but Gmail is a biggie), the fewer people who will use it.   The fewer people who use it, fewer developers will test in it and fewer sites will work in it.
    • Display a little notice when seriously standards-ignorant pages are loaded.  Put the blame where it belongs: On shoddy developers (I’m looking at you, ASP.NET toolbags, BlackBoard, and PeopleSoft. And Microsoft).  But do not make this an annoying feature (keep it subtle) and let users disable this feature (forever) with no more than 2 clicks.7
  3. Make the public aware Opera is here and it’s awesome.8

    • Fight Microsoft’s shady business practices. Oh right! They are already doing this, and it is awesome.
    • I’m not a marketer, so I won’t make specific plans here, but the general public should want Opera.
    • That said, if you look at the success of Firefox, a lot of it was nerds who really loved it who then shared it with all their friends and family.  So by winning the nerds’ hearts, Opera will be well on its way to a respectable market share.
    • Copy any Internet Explorer and Firefox features that people actually find useful (perhaps MSIE 7’s fit-to-page printing is an example).

It’s worth a shot!

  1. In fact, betas of Chrome and IE8 were reported to have more marketshare than the latest version of Opera at the time (just under 1%). ↩︎

  2. Note that this is sometimes pointless because many of the most popular and useful extensions replicate built-in Opera features. Adblock / “Block content”, Greasemonkey / user scripts, Add Bookmark Here, Speed Dial, mouse gestures: Opera had them first! ↩︎

  3. Saving events to Google calendars has not worked in Opera for years now (as of March 30, 2009). Line spacing when composing e-mail is off. The new drop-downs for selecting labels is very slow in Opera and only Opera. ↩︎

  4. CSS inventor, Opera CTO, and all-around impressive figure Håkon Wium Lie demoed these features in an unreleased build of Opera at SXSW 2009. Demo slides ↩︎

  5. This is long promised but slow in coming.   Note also that Opera already has plans to implement geolocation↩︎

  6. Google has a very clear obligation to service the Opera users that they steadfastly ignore.   Yahoo has a very clear policy of supporting Opera fully, but Google has none, claiming the effort is not worth it for the “small” number of Opera users.   I have other thoughts:

    • 1% marketshare is a lot when you consider the millions of users Google has.
    • The effort to make pages compatible with Opera is exceedingly minimal, since their standards support is so good.
    • Their logic ignores the feedback loop involved here.
    • With Google’s online dominance and the fact Google now has their own browser, a case could be made that their behavior is now anticompetitive.
    • Opera is the only real browser available on some systems, such as the Wii, the Nintendo DS (I think) and many mobile phones.
    • You can bet they test in Chrome, but Chrome has barely more than Opera’s marketshare. (This is a weak point because Chrome is based on the common WebKit rendering engine.)

    Talking to some Google employees at SXSW 2009, I learned some of them personally test their work in Opera but they echoed the company line that it is unsupported due to the supposed amount of work that it would take for the supposedly tiny set of users. ↩︎

  7. Naturally the setting could also be reversed in preferences at will. ↩︎

  8. Apparently Europe is well aware (comparatively), so I would hope they focus a lot of effort on the Americas — which I think they recently announced plans for, but I couldn’t scrounge up a link. ↩︎

March 31st, 2009
Alan Hogan (@alanhogan).  Contact · About