Opera Says Shows Not for Sale

Representatives at the browser company deny an impending buyout from Google or Microsoft; analysts say Opera's mobile technologies make the smaller firm attractive.

Representatives at browser maker Opera Software ASA denied that the company is in the process of being sold to either Google Inc. or Microsoft Corp., and said the Norwegian firm has no other acquisition plans in the works. Opera markets an eponymous desktop Web browser as well as several mobile browser technologies.

A number of published reports appeared early Friday that implied that industry giants Microsoft and Google could be engaged in a bidding war over Opera, based in Oslo, Norway. The company called those stories mere rumors.

Eskil Sivertsen, a spokesperson for Opera, said his firm has not received any offers from either Microsoft or Google, and reported that the company was not being actively shopped to prospective buyers.

Sivertsen said Opera has been approached by potential suitors in the past, but that the company plans to remain independent.

Neither Microsoft nor Google officials immediately returned calls seeking comment on the rumored offers, and most media representatives appeared to have left for the holiday weekend.

With all the attention being driven by the buyout rumors, Sivertsen said, the company is happy to gain increased exposure for its products, specifically its soon-to-be-released Opera Mini browser for mobile phones.

"It will be interesting see whos going to buy us next week," Sivertsen joked. "Weve received offers in the past, but were not looking for companies to buy us; this gives us a buzz and we think its great that people are interested and it proves that were doing something exciting."

Earlier this week, Opera took the wraps off of a final preview version of Mini, the official launch of which is due sometime in early January.

Along with the companys Opera Mobile Browser, Mini represents the software makers growing prospects in the wireless Internet market, which is expected to grow substantially in the next several years as more handheld devices capable of supporting Web content and services reach consumers.

Opera Mobile Browser is designed to run on so-called smart phones, or more sophisticated wireless devices that offer sufficient memory to store and run such applications. Opera Mini promises to deliver Mobile Browser technology to most Java-capable handsets, or a far greater number of devices already in the hands of wireless subscribers.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about Operas "Mini" browser for mobile phones.

As with Operas desktop browser, which holds less than 1 percent of the overall market compared with the roughly 85 percent controlled by Microsofts Internet Explorer, according to Janco Partners Inc.s Janco Research of Park City, Utah, both of the mobile browsers are offered to end users free of charge.

However, Opera said it also hopes to begin driving revenues via the wireless technologies by providing a "white label" version of the applications to mobile carriers and content providers to use within their own services.

Researchers said its not too hard to imagine why either Microsoft or Google would be very interested in Opera as the companies push forward their own wireless Internet strategies. Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with New York-based JupiterResearch of Jupitermedia Corp., said he was convinced that a deal was about to happen this morning, but then backed off the notion in light of Operas latest comments.

Gartenberg said Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., would have a great deal to gain if it bought Opera: specifically, the mobile tools, and technologies the company could incorporate into Explorer to help compete against open-source upstart Firefox.

Opera wireless browsers already work well with Microsofts Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system, according to Gartenberg, and he observed that adding the technologies would also allow the software maker to push Explorer to more handsets via Opera Mini.

"[Buying Opera] could give Microsoft a real boost with its mobile technology plans, and [help it] to get Explorer-branded services and content onto other devices," he said. "The Mini platform could be a great way for Microsoft to start to do things with location-based services on devices that may not be Windows-based smart phones; there are a lot more Java handsets out there than smart phones."

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read what Bill Gates says Windows Mobile 5.0 will do for smart phones.

Grabbing Opera would also keep the company out of the hands of Google, which Microsoft is expecting to compete with even more closely as that firm looks to drive its search tools and online applications onto wireless devices. Gartenberg suggested that for the search giant, based in Mountain View, Calif., the analyst said, buying Opera could be a way to help the firm launch "branded browsing experience" on multiple platforms, including mobile devices.

"It would be a lot easier for Google to launch a browsing platform with something like Opera that is already on the [Apple Computer Inc.] Mac OS, Windows, Linux and all the mobile platforms they would want to be on," Gartenberg said. "Building all that technology would be a daunting task for anyone to do, even Google."

Independent technology analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates, Northborough, Mass., said hed be more surprised if Microsoft bought Opera, since it already owns so much browser technology in-house.

Gartenberg said he wouldnt be surprised to see Opera be acquired at some point, as fighting it out alone in the browser business isnt easy.

"Because of the nature of the industry you have to wonder whether browsing is a stand-alone business or whether it should be a part of larger businesses, and someone might put the right offer on the table for Opera," Gartenberg said. "Even in the relatively new mobile space, creating the deals and getting the content relationships needed to promote something like Mini is a challenge for a small company.

"The fact that theyre still in business and thriving is a testament to exactly how well theyve done in the market."

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