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Opera preview puts widgets on stage

Second preview of Opera 9 Web browser adds mini-app support, keeps BitTorrent search engine.

Opera Software on Tuesday plans to release a second preview version of Opera 9, the next version of its namesake Web browser.

For the first time, the new version will include support for so-called widgets, Opera representative Thomas Ford said. Widgets are essentially small browser windows that display information taken from the Internet on a user's desktop. The notion is similar in concept to the widget idea that Apple Computer uses in the Dashboard feature of Mac OS X.

"It is really a big jump for us into Web applications," Ford said. "They give people the information they want right on the desktop. Even if it is a Web page, people don't have to go to the browser to see it."

Additionally, Opera's latest preview will include support for BitTorrent downloads, Ford said. BitTorrent is a file-download technology that connects the computers of numerous people who want the same file, instead of drawing files solely from one source. Typically, people who wanted to get downloads using BitTorrent have had to download dedicated software.

Opera will include the official BitTorrent.com search engine in its browser. Any BitTorrent downloads will appear in the browser's "transfer manager," just like traditional downloads that use the venerable File Transfer Protocol, or FTP.

To drive usage of the new widgets feature, Opera will offer about 10 widgets it has developed itself, such as a clock. It will also offer guidance on its Web site for others to develop more of the add-ons. Anyone with regular Web development skills, such as knowledge of JavaScript, CSS and HTML, should be able to create Opera widgets, Ford said.

The second preview release follows the initial one in late October. It will be available for download on Tuesday from Labs.opera.com. One caution: Previews are not free of bugs. "This is for advanced users who want to get a taste of our technology, and they expect there will be some issues with it," Ford said.

The final version of Opera 9 will be delivered in the first half of 2006, Ford said.