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Commentary: Opera trumpets IBM relationship

The Opera-IBM deal is the latest milestone in the software company's two-year successful run in establishing itself as the leading alternative browser maker.

Opera Software's deal to supply IBM Net appliances with its browser software is the latest milestone in its two-year successful run in establishing itself as the leading alternative browser maker.

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Opera finds footing in browser war
Opera's software targets people who do not want to download a 20MB browser from Microsoft or AOL Time Warner's Netscape, those using an alternative operating system not supported by either company, and people using the increasing number of devices that can't support a large piece of software within its limited memory resources.

Although other software companies (including Microsoft, with its Microsoft Mobile Explorer browser) have attempted to wrest control of the embedded-browser market, it remains highly diversified, with suppliers including Openwave, Nokia and Ant.

In the past year, Opera has focused its resources on negotiating deals to provide a browser for a variety of devices ranging from network appliances to cell phones. In this market, Opera has little competition from Microsoft, which provides browsers only for its own operating systems, or Netscape., which does yet not have a stripped-down browser that would fit into these devices.

We expect the market for browsers such as Opera's to grow dramatically during the next three to four years as more devices reach the marketplace. Further, we do not anticipate that a single software company will dominate the market, which is driven by the code a manufacturer places in the device rather than consumers' preferences that can influence free browsers such as Internet Explorer or Netscape.

Indeed, we believe many embedded-systems developers will choose a supplier they feel they can work with to modify the basic browser to best work in their own devices, thereby increasing performance in a potentially limited device. This bodes well for suppliers such as Opera, which, with flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of their clients and their singular focus on this product area, make it a partner potentially superior to larger rivals.

Nevertheless, we do expect to see Microsoft and Netscape become more aggressive in this market during the next one to two years as the number of devices increases dramatically.

Companies and consumers should not focus on the branding of browsers in devices. On wireless and other portable devices, the browser acts solely as a window into the Internet or embedded applications. People should focus on what services and applications are delivered through that window. As long as the browser is compatible with the services being delivered, they should not care which browser is placed in the device.

META Group analysts Jack Gold, David Cearley, and William Zachmann contributed to this article.

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