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Opera browser to take flight

In-flight entertainment firm taps Opera for next-generation user interface.

Opera Software has inked an agreement to license its Web browser and related software for next-generation, in-flight entertainment systems built on Web technology, the company said on Tuesday.

Under the one-year agreement, Oslo, Norway-based Opera is partnering with Thales, a French firm that makes in-flight entertainment systems for airlines. Thales specializes in video-on-demand and broadband services for Boeing and Airbus aircraft.

Opera worked with Thales last year to add Web browsing capabilities to Thales' TopSeries system, which is already used by more than 15 airlines, including Air Canada and Air France. With the new arrangement, the companies are devising a new user-interface for an in-flight system that will let airline passengers navigate the Web, videos and games on a single screen, said Christian Dysthe, a vice president of sales at Opera.

Instead of relying on a laptop computer, a passenger could browse the Web and check e-mail from a screen in the seatback facing him or her, the companies said. Thales is still working out how to incorporate a keyboard and mouse into the new system, which may not be ready until 2007, said Thales spokeswoman Lori Krams. One option would be for the airlines to distribute keyboards to passengers, she said,

The companies did not disclose the value of the contract.

Some airlines have begun offering passengers a wireless Internet signal so they can access the Web from laptops and handheld devices. But Thales may be one of the first to provide Web access directly over in-flight entertainment systems, which have been used mainly to deliver movies and TV programming, Dysthe said.

Thales selected the Opera browser because it supports multiple languages and can automatically reformat Web pages to fit the small screens typically used for in-flight systems, Opera said.

The Thales deal is part of the browser company's ongoing effort to carve out a niche in mobile Web browsing, since Microsoft dominates the desktop browser market. Last year, the Opera browser was included on 8.8 million phones and other devices running operating systems such as Symbian, Linux and Microsoft's Smartphone, the company has said.