Microsoft and Opera are taking radically different approaches to support for older versions of their respective browsers, for different reasons.
To support or not support older versions of a product? For
Microsoft and Opera, that's becoming the question.
Opera introduced its Opera Mini 6 and Opera Mobile 11
browsers March 22, just in time for last week's CTIA conference in Orlando, Fla. As with any browser upgrade, the two newest
additions to Opera's software family boast faster performance and tweaks to the
Opera Mini 6 has been designed for Android, BlackBerry, Symbian
and J2ME devices, while Opera Mobile 11 is intended for Android, Symbian,
Windows 7 desktops, and the labs releases of the MeeGo and Maemo platforms.
There's fully optimized pinch-to-zoom now, along with the ability to post
information on social networks via a built-in "share" button.
Opera also took care to optimize its Mobile 11 browser for
the rapidly growing tablet segment. "It's a bit shinier," Opera co-founder Jon
von Tetzchner told eWEEK during an interview at CTIA.
Despite Opera's focus on this newest advance, von Tetzchner
also suggested that the company would continue to fully support older versions
of its browser, the better to run on the more antiquated machines that continue
to hold a robust presence in some of Opera's key markets, including Africa and
parts of Asia. The lifespan of many devices used worldwide, he added, tends to
greatly exceed that of their counterparts in the United States.
Part of Opera's development process, he said, was to give
"the best of care onto all devices as soon as possible."
Opera's full-throated support and maintenance for older
versions of its products stands in sharp contrast to the behavior of one of its
key competitors, Microsoft, which is desperate to kill off the aging Internet
A new Microsoft-build Website, "The Internet Explorer 6 Countdown,"
uses data from analytics firm Net Applications to break down IE6 usage around
the world. Despite its tiny market share in countries like the United States
(2.9 percent) and Canada (3.3 percent), the browser holds a substantial portion
of the market in much of Asia, including China (34.5 percent), South Korea
(24.8 percent) and Japan (10.3 percent).
"The Web has changed significantly over the past 10 years,"
reads a note on the Website. "The browser has evolved to adapt to new Web
technologies, and the latest versions of Internet Explorer to help protect you
from new attacks and threats."
Despite Microsoft's push, however, a number of users rely on
IE6 as part of Windows XP, another legacy platform the company wants the world
to abandon in favor of Windows 7. Some enterprises and small- to midsize
businesses also depend on IE6 for older proprietary applications.
In its place, Microsoft is recommending that people upgrade
to Internet Explorer 9 (unsupported by Windows XP), which the company insists
sets new standards for security and speed; the browser leverages the user's CPU
pages and rich content more quickly. Microsoft also stripped down IE9's browser
interface down to a translucent frame with some minimalist widgets, the better
to bring Web content front and center.
The Internet Explorer franchise continues to hold 56.77 percent
of the browser market, according to Net Applications, versus Opera at 2.15
percent and Opera Mini at 1.12 percent. Opera's market
share has remained relatively steady over the past year, in contrast to
Microsoft's noticeable decline in the face of fierce competition from Firefox,
Chrome and other competitors.
Will Microsoft's philosophy-killing off older versions of
its Web browsers in the name of security and speed-help or harm it with regard
to market-share? It's difficult to predict the answer to that question. But
it'll be interesting to see if the opposite tactic-continuing to support older
versions of products, with an eye towards developing markets-eventually pays
off in higher market-share dividends for Opera and its ilk.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.