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Opera Mini aims at cheaper phones

Norway's Opera Software says its new server-based browser will expand its potential market to 700 million midrange phones.

In an attempt to break out of the niche for high-end phones, Opera Software began limited distribution of a browser for midrange devices.

The company, based in Oslo, Norway, on Wednesday began distributing Opera Mini, saying it would allow "users to access the Web on mobile phones that would normally be incapable of running a Web browser."

With Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser dominating desktop market share--and Mozilla's Firefox making significant inroads--Opera has eked out some success in the market for browsers that work on cell phones and other portable devices.

Opera's bread and butter has been the market for comparatively powerful phones and devices running operating systems such as Symbian, Linux and Microsoft's Smartphone.

Opera said its browser was included last year on 8.8 million such devices, out of a market it estimated at about 20 million. With Opera Mini, the company hopes to start making inroads on the lower rungs of the market, where it sees 700 million phones to target.

Opera Mini "is something you can run on your average phone that is already out there," said Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner. "We see this as a great way to expand the Internet into a new market."

Opera Mini works by shifting most page-rendering responsibilities from the phone itself to a remote server. On that server, Opera "pre-processes" a Web page before sending a stripped-down version to the phone.

Opera Mobile, the company's existing software for the more powerful phones, uses the same rendering or browsing engine as Opera's desktop browser but with a scaled-down user-interface. In both Mobile and Mini, Opera uses a technique it calls "small-screen rendering" to rearrange the elements of a Web page to be readable on mobile device screens.

Mini weighs in at about 60K. Mobile, by contrast, runs between 1MB and 4MB, depending on the phone's operating system and other capacities.

Opera said Mini would work on any phone that supported Sun Microsystems' Java programming language. The new system won't provide full access to some complex Web pages, such as those with advanced security features, but it will offer standard browsing capabilities such as bookmarks and browsing history.

The company said it had introduced the product through a partnership with Norwegian television station TV 2. Viewers will be able to text-message the station to request the browser, which will be included as a download with the station's response.

Tetzchner said he expected Opera Mini to be distributed according to similar revenue-sharing agreements, which let Opera's partner determine the phone's home page. He declined to say when Opera would expand the new browser's distribution.