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Opera scales up to 7.1, vows Mac update

The Norwegian browser maker releases a new version of its software for Linux and Windows, and rescinds its previous threat to drop development of a version for the Macintosh.

Opera Software released a test update to its Web browser for Windows and Linux, and pledged to continue developing its Mac version.

The Oslo, Norway-based company, which commands only a sliver of market share but has gained some prominence for surviving first Netscape's and then Microsoft's stranglehold on the market, released a test, or beta, version of Opera 7.1 with new features that it said would speed surfing and ease customization.

Opera typically releases its Mac version separately and later than its other browsers, but this time the delay was ominous to Mac users.

That's because in January, after Apple computer released a beta version of its own browser, Safari, Opera threatened to halt development of its Mac product and urged Apple to prevent that cessation by licensing Opera's code. Apple on Monday updated its test version of Safari.

"The Mac platform may not be viable for us any longer," said Jon von Tetzchner, chief executive of privately held Opera, at the time.

Apple subsequently characterized Opera's remarks as "sour grapes."

Tetzchner on Monday said Opera had decided to stick with the Mac after all, citing new ease of development for multiple platforms with the company's rewritten browser code base, and what he called market demand for the Mac product.

"We are continuing to work on the Mac version," said Tetzchner in an interview. One of "the benefits we're seeing from the new engine and from the new way of doing things is that it's not that difficult to maintain an extra platform. We still believe that people on the Mac platform deserve choice, and they deserve quality. So we want to provide it to them."

Tetzchner declined to say when a new Mac version would be released. But he did say that the product was already up and running in the Opera offices.

Opera's Mac browser is more than a generation behind the new Windows and Linux releases. The last update, in December 2002, was Version 6.

Version 7 browsers, by contrast, are built on a completely rewritten code base that Opera first announced in August 2002. The version 7 rewrite improved support for various industry standards and improved speed, according to the company.

The new release brings Opera's Linux product up-to-date with the new generation of browser code for the first time. The last Opera for Linux was version 6.12.

New to Version 7.1 for Windows and Linux are several features that Opera says will speed Web surfing:

• "FastForward" is a toolbar button that expands on the "Forward" feature introduced in Opera 7. FastForward gives the user a spontaneously generated list of links associated with the present page.

• "Rewind" take the surfer back in order of Web site, rather than Web page.

• "Slideshow" assembles the image links on a given page and lets the user click through them one to the next.

• "Notes" lets the surfer write notes about a Web page or cull clips from it so that subsequent references to the note automatically call up the page's address.

The new release also improves on the interface to older features, including the cookie manager, mail client and password manager, and it expands ways to customize those features.

Opera is available for download from the company's Web site in both an advertising-supported version and one that costs $39.