Opera Tackles Voice Browsing and RSS in Latest Beta Release

The browser maker posts a Windows beta of its next version and decides to retool it into a major update for next year.

Opera Software ASA unveiled Thursday a beta test version of its next Web browser release that features speech recognition, discovery of news feeds and automatic Web-page resizing.

While the next release had been on track to be Version 7.60, the Oslo, Norway, company announced a change in plans. It is retooling the version to be more than an update, which will include a yet-to-be-determined name, said Jon von Tetzchner, Operas chief executive officer.

"We were preparing for the 7.60 release, but as work progressed and we kept adding improvements and functionality, it became very evident that we now have a browser that is so powerful, secure and easy to use that it exceeds the next logical version number and warrants a major release," von Tetzchner said in a statement.

Opera plans to make its newest browser generally available in 2005. While Opera supports Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, the beta is available for Windows only.

Opera is the biggest commercial competitor to Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer, though it falls behind open-source contender, Mozilla, in user share. Opera holds about a 1.3 percent share worldwide, compared to 88.9 percent for IE and 7.4 percent for Firefox and Mozillas other browsers, according to Web analytics provider OneStat.com.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read an interview with Operas CEO.

With this weeks beta release, Opera launched a series of voice-browsing features that the company had promised earlier in the year. Opera is working with IBMs ViaVoice technology group to create a browser that can recognize spoken commands and read Web-page content.

For example, the beta lets users navigate Web sites by speaking such commands as "Opera back" or Opera next link," Opera announced. By saying "Opera speak," the browser will read content and e-mail messages.

Opera ships its browser with a built-in e-mail client. In the Opera 7.50 release, the client added a news reader for RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds.

/zimages/3/28571.gifTo read an eWEEK Labs review of Opera 7.50, click here.

Now, the newest version expands on those RSS features. The browser recognizes Web pages with RSS feeds and pops up a clickable icon in the address bar to let users subscribe to available feeds. Mozilla added similar RSS support with its Firefox 1.0 release.

The beta also includes a feature for rendering a Web page to fit a screen regardless of the screen size. Opera had announced the feature, called ERA (Extensible Rendering Architecture), last month.

The new browser will be a free upgrade for licensed users of Opera 7, the company said. Opera offers its browser either in a free ad-supported version or for without ads for $39.

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