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Opera expands its Linux language range

The Norwegian browser maker releases version 6.0 for Linux, which for the first time supports non-Roman characters, letting it target Eastern European and Asian markets.

Norway's Opera Software is targeting Eastern European and Asian markets with the final 6.0 release of its browser for Linux, unveiled Wednesday.

The new version is the first of the open-source operating system to support the Unicode Worldwide Character Set, which increases support for non-Roman characters--a development particularly important for Asian languages. Unicode will also make it possible to create local versions of the browser for Eastern European countries.

"We've especially seen that Asia is embracing Linux, and with our local partners we aim to deliver the best Linux Internet experience for Asian users," said Dean Kakridas, Opera's vice president of desktop products.

Versions of Opera for Japan and China will come soon, the company said. Opera has been testing the 6.0 version for a couple of months.

Opera, along with the open-source Mozilla project and its proprietary companion software, Netscape Communicator, has been turning the heat on the competition: the dominant Internet Explorer browser from Microsoft. Both Mozilla and Opera are distributed for the Linux operating system, as well as for Macintosh and Windows, while Internet Explorer leaves Linux off the map.

Mozilla, the result of collaboration by developers from around the Internet, is expected to reach a 1.0 release shortly. Its technology could be distributed by Netscape parent AOL Time Warner with America Online's software.

Opera requires people to either pay a registration fee or put up with advertisements built into the browser window. However, it is considered fast and stable, and is available on mobile technologies such as the Symbian OS, as well as on the desktop.

Opera's Windows, Macintosh and Linux versions are not identical. The new Opera for Linux version includes some features previously found only in the Windows edition, such as the ability to carry out particular functions with a single mouse click. This feature is known as "mouse gestures"; most of the Windows mouse gestures have been included, along with some new ones, Opera said.

The software includes a new cookie editor, better bookmark management and plug-in support, and an improved user interface, Opera said.

It is available for free download from Opera's Web site. Registration costs $39, but registered users of the previous release can upgrade free.

Opera 5.0 had more than 1 million copies downloaded and installed, Opera said.

ZDNet U.K.'s Matthew Broersma reported from London.