The Norwegian company is the main independent commercial browser company to have persevered throughout the years that Internet Explorer secured its hold on the vast majority of Web surfers' loyalties. The small company now sees America Online's as a good sign for its own future.
"It is wonderful seeing that more and more users around the world are tempted to try Opera's Internet experience, and especially pleasing to see that so many American users are discovering that there are alternatives to Microsoft's old browser technology," Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner said in a statement.
Opera's ambitions, like those of most other small companies that run in Microsoft's wake, extend well beyond the PC platform. The company also produces stripped-down versions of its browser for handheld devices, interactive TV and embedded markets such as automobiles.
Its primary thrust has historically been in the PC market, where it has advertised its browser as considerably faster and less taxing on system resources than is Internet Explorer.
Unlike competing companies, Opera charges for the full version of its product, although a banner ad-supported version of the program is distributed for free.
According to Web consulting company OneStat.com, which monitors worldwide browser share, only about 0.6 percent of surfers currently use Opera, compared with more than 95 percent for various versions of Internet Explorer, about 2.5 percent for Netscape Navigator and about 1.6 percent for Mozilla, the open-source version of Netscape.
Those figures for Opera may be substantially undercounted, however, since many Opera users configure their browser to identify itself as Internet Explorer in order to avoid Web site configuration problems.
The company said most of its users are concentrated in Europe, the United States and Japan.