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Sidney Opera House
I am very fond of Opera. Yes, I love Così fan tutte (and Mozart’s other 19 operas) but that is not what I am referring to. The other Opera in my life is a company in Oslo, Norway that has created browser software which is an alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. The name of the company is Opera Software ASA . Like many of you, I have had a long history with browsers. In the summer of 1994, a team of four brilliant programmers at IBM developed a browser called the "Web Explorer". It was integrated with OS/2 which was the best desktop operating system in the market at that time. It was also integrated with the IBM Global Network which was the best Internet Service Provider at the time. Why OS/2 is not talked about much anymore and the Web Explorer nor the IBM Global Network exist today is a long story. It is a book someone will surely write at some point
Putting history aside, the best browser available today is Opera and using it is a joy because of it’s many innovations. I am very proud that as of this week I will be a member of the board of directors of Opera Software ASA.

Trade press coverage about joining Opera board…

Before I go any further, let me clarify what the ASA in Opera Software ASA means. ASA stands for "Allmenaksjeselskap". If you can pronounce it, you must be Norwegian! ASA is the Norwegian expression for a public limited company. It is similar to Inc. or LLC in the United States. How did I get involved with Opera and what is this all about?

Opera started out as a research project in Norway’s telecom company, Telenor, in 1994, and branched out into an independent development company in 1995. They introduced the first high-quality, multi-platform browser that I had heard about — I believe I learned about this from PC Magazine. I was intrigued by Opera’s vision to deliver the best Internet experience on any device and take a global leadership role in the market for PC desktop and device browsers. I decided to give Opera a try and my first contact with the company was Dean Kakridas who is now Opera Vice President for North American Sales in Austin, Texas. This was five years or more ago. I was greatly impressed with the browser but back then they didn’t have Java support and this was important to me at the time so I didn’t adopt Opera as my full-time browser.

One day a year or so ago I exceeded my tolerance level for "pop-up" windows during the browsing experience. It was getting to be a significant productivity buster. I had tried various "pop-up stoppers" but all of them had problems. Either then didn’t work or they worked too well — preventing important dialogue boxes and applications from working properly. Out of desperation one night I IM’ed my friend Bill Machrone who is vice president of technology at Ziff Davis Publishing. What would he recommend? "Opera is the hands down best solution out there", said Bill. I immediately downloaded the latest release and my browsing life immediately changed. Thanks again, Bill.

Shortly after that I connected with Christian Thommessen, Chairman of Opera. I was VP – Internet Technology at IBM at the time and Christian was planning a trip to the U.S. to discuss Opera software. I made some introductions to help facilitate his trip. I already knew Christian from earlier days when he was an executive at IBM. Christian has quite an impressive background, having spent nearly twenty years in various international management consulting and executive positions. In his early days he worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. in their Copenhagen and Oslo offices and then held executive positions in Norsk Hydro before he left for IBM where he became President and General Manager of IBM Norway and later General Manager for IBM’s Global Network in Europe, Middle East & Africa. Today Christian is chairman and board member in several private and publicly listed technology companies in Norway and is an advisor to the Norwegian government and the European Commission’s eEurope Steering Group. Personal integrity and commitment to charitable activities are important criteria for me when selecting people I get involved with. Christian is chairman of Save the Children Norway and director of the Global Save the Children Alliance.

Christian and I continued to have periodic email communication about Opera and IBM before my e-tirement in 2001. Then last summer we had a discussion about the possibility of me getting involved with the company. I expressed interest and began to get acquainted with other members of the Opera executive team.

In October I met with Jon von Tetzchner who is co-founder and CEO. Jon worked for Telenor Research from 1991 to 1995, when he and his colleague Geir Ivarsøy founded Opera Software. Jon holds a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Oslo. In December I met with Håkon Wium Lie who is the Opera CTO. Håkon is a Web pioneer, having worked on the WWW project at CERN where the Web was born. In 1994 he suggested the concept of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and he later joined the World Wide Web consortium to help develop the CSS standard. In 1999, he was listed among Technology Review’s Top 100 Innovators of the Next Century. Håkon is currently a member of the W3C’s Advisory Board, Technology Review’s "TR 100," and the World Economic Forum’s "Technology Pioneers". Håkon holds a master’s degree in visual studies from MIT’s Media Laboratory, as well as undergraduate degrees in computer science from West Georgia College and Østfold College, Norway. According to Håkon most Americans cannot pronounce his name so he gave up trying. His email address is [email protected].

I am looking forward to my first trip to Oslo to meet the rest of the Opera team and there are many reasons why I am optimistic about the company. It goes without saying that the browser is fundamental in our daily lives — on the PC but increasingly also on the other pervasive devices including televisions and things we hold in our hand. Linux will be what unleashes creativity in these devices and Opera has a very efficient and effective browser for the Linux platform. Many European mobile phones have the Opera browser already and I am hoping for the day when I can have it with the Handspring Treo.

The reason that Opera is so popular, on both the mobile phones and the desktop is that you get significant productivity gains — you can accomplish more in less time. Unfortunately, I think that many people are content with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. After Microsoft eliminated their competitors, the improvements to their browser seemed to have stopped. Kam Thakker wrote to me saying that "most people assume Microsoft writes good software and it would release innovations if there were any to be possible." That is the problem with monopolies, whether they are legal or not. There is no reason to innovate if you don’t have to.

This is not to bash Microsoft but rather to extol the virtues of Opera, even though I must admit that using Opera gives me a liberated feeling. It is so obvious that the Opera developers worked very hard to make their browser empowering for the user. At times  I feel that Internet Explorer is designed to empower Microsoft. Aside from the philosophical aspects, Opera is a really great browser. The immediate benefit is that when using Opera you get no pop-ups. When you install Opera you are asked if you want pop-ups. If you say no, then you get none. None. The other feature I like very much is the tabbed interface. Instead of having multiple instances of IE browsers, Opera has just one instance. Inside of the Opera browser there are multiple tabs across the top — or bottom or left or right at your option. Each tab is a web page that you have loaded. If you happen to re-boot XP (which I do more often than I would like) and re-start Opera, it will re-start where you left off. If you had a dozen web pages (tabs) open before you re-booted then all twelve pages will be automatically re-loaded. This feature alone adds a lot of productivity to my day.

There are many other features I think are particularly good. I have outlined a few of them below…

  • Opera works on the Linux PC’s on my home network in addition to Windows
  • URLs can be entered without having to type in the details: e.g. just type “ebay” and you are there
  • Enter "g thinkpad" in the Opera address bar to search for anything about thinkpads using Google
  • Enter "e thinkpad" in the Opera address bar and a search for ThinkPads is launched at eBay
  • Fast-forward and rewind buttons to the beginning or end of a site to expedite surfing.
  • Highlighting text enables a context menu to search, get definitions, go to a website, or get a translation
  • Mouse gestures to close a web page or move to the prior one saves keystrokes and cursor movement
  • Two-button mouse actions let you go forward-back without going up to buttons
  • Two-button mouse and scroll wheel let you scroll through open tabbed windows
  • “X” and “Z” let you go forward/back respectively without taking hands off the keyboard
  • Many other keyboard shortcuts
  • Customizable toolbar and buttons — takes a simple right-click to get rid of the clutter
  • F8 highlights address bar to type in URL – no wasted motion using a mouse
  • Auto-fill for personal info (email address, credit card number, mailing address, etc.)
  • Really fast rendering and zooming windows. The overall performance of Opera is superior to IE.

Every day I discover new features. Opera is really terrific. Mozart would have loved it!