By Grant Gross
With the beta release of their browser for Linux, the folks at Opera Software hope to get input from the Open Source community, and ultimately, hope Opera will hook Linux users enough that they're willing to pay for it.
The Linux version of Opera, a browser which has won over some Windows users with its speed and small size, was released as beta last week, and is available for download at the Opera site. In addition to multiple bug reports on the Opera for Linux discussion list, the browser has also been getting some positive reviews. One user wrote: "It was worth waiting for; I love it! Great work, folks! I've decided that I will *definitely* be purchasing the commercial version when it is released."
Opera Software CEO Jon S. von Tetzchner , in a phone conversation from Opera's headquarters in Norway, said the company plans to charge $39 (U.S.) per copy of Opera for Linux -- the same as other versions of the browser -- once the commercial version is ready sometime around Christmas. But users can test the browser to see if they like it before paying, and von Tetzchner hopes to get a trial version of Opera into as many Linux distributions as possible.
Although he recognizes that some people in the Linux community want software to be free, von Tetzchner said he's confident enough Linux users will want to pay for more browser options to make the project worthwhile.
"I think it's really a question of what people want," he said. "If they like our browser, they'll be willing to pay for it. That's the case in Windows, and I think that'll be the case in Linux."
Opera, which is not an Open Source company, decided to work on a browser for Linux because of internal supporters of the operating system, von Tetzchner said. "We also think Linux has a great future, and we want to be there when it happens," he said. "We think Linux has a great future in the embedded market, but we're also rooting for Linux in the desktop market."
The company also feels a kinship with those in the Open Source community who advocate following sets of standards to develop software, he said. Opera has worked hard to stick to the HTML standard, which eliminates the problem for Web site developers of making pages "best viewed" with one of the popular browsers.
"Using Opera, you know exactly that your pages are best viewed with any browser," says the Opera features page. "You will soon use Opera as your standard reference browser to make sure that your pages are open to all, and not just to those with a specific browser. And above all, it saves you valuable time when developing your pages."
"I would expect that you find Opera is significantly faster in downloading pages," von Tetzchner added. "Our aim is to make Opera for Linux a very stable browser. People shouldn't be expecting their browser to be crashing all the time."
Some users lukewarm
While some Linux users are impressed with Opera, others are lukewarm. "I think if the user is a fan of MDI interfaces (a la most of Microsoft's applications where you have one window for the application
and other windows within it) then Opera's organizational model will be appealing," said Isaiah Weiner, a Linux tech support specialist from Raleigh, N.C. "Otherwise, Mozilla is certainly a wonderful alternative."
From a licensing perspective, Weiner has this to say about Opera: "Mozilla certainly offers more freedom for the user, having the source available. Opera keeps control in the hands of the author, and is not consistent with what Linux traditionally offers."
Ray Hartman, a Web researcher from Spokane, Wash., supports the Opera project; in fact, he sent Opera a check for its Windows version a couple of days ago. Hartman prefers Netscape for most browsing; although Opera is "blazing" fast, it's not robust enough to deal with some "Web crap," he says.
"But Opera's persistence in producing a Linux Web browser is worth
plenty," he says. "Linux cannot survive as an independent OS without an independent Web browser! I see my support of Opera as part (like using Mozilla) of my Linux support. It's worthy of my support, my practice time and
my dollars. I can only hope it will earn my trust as well."