When midnight rolled around at Operas 10th anniversary party on Monday, the companys chief technology officer, Hakon Wium Lie, challenged chief executive Jon von Tetzchner to make a splash in honor of the browser. He meant it literally.
“We were all on a party boat in the fjord, and Jon jumped in because of the dare,” said Opera spokesperson Tor Odland. “Then, of course, Hakon jumped in, too. Then all the other employees followed them.”
In a much less literal sense, Opera Software ASA, based in Oslo, Norway, invited the world to leap into the fjord Tuesday, with a virtual party that offered live chats with von Tetzchner and Hakon, as well as free downloads of Opera 8, normally available for $39 per license.
Because of the partys popularity, it was extended an extra 12 hours so more people could get the browser, download music made by Opera employees or even create greeting cards for Opera developers.
Opera commands a small market share in comparison to its fellows—less than 1 percent in the United States, according to marketing firm WebSideStory Inc.—but it has a loyal following, Odland said.
The number of free downloads has yet to be tallied, but it will be in the millions, he said.
For some party participants, virtual attendance didnt come as a result of wanting Opera 8 for free, since they already had it. They came, some said, merely to celebrate their favorite browser.
“I cant compare Opera to Firefox, because I downloaded Opera years ago and Ive never looked back,” said security expert Bruce Schneier, author of “Applied Cryptography.”
“Its a great, powerful browser, and I dont need to look around for an alternative,” Schneier said.
Last year, Opera heard that Schneier used its browser and invited him to Norway to speak about security at the companys developer conference. After Schneier arrived, he was treated to a wealth of Norwegian foodstuffs, and a very eager audience.
“Theyre just a really good group of guys,” he said. “And it was amazing to talk to the people who create something I use every day. Its like talking to the guy who built your car.”
Some Web developers have also become devoted to the browser, such as Timothy Luoma, who frequently writes about his love of Opera on his Weblog.
“Opera is designed to give the user control, rather than the Web site,” Luoma said, pointing to controls for anti-phishing, privacy and security, as well as the browsers speed. “Opera has grown without getting bloated. When e-mail was added, I was afraid Opera was going to be a huge, complicated program. Years later its still half the size of Firefox.”
Opera user Mark Schenk said he has grown fond of the browsers multiple document interface, which he finds to be more advanced than the tabbed interface of other browsers. But it is the “little things” that keep him clicking, he said, like keyboard shortcuts, address bar searches and the ability to reopen closed windows.
“Only a relatively small percentage of Internet users enjoy the benefits of Opera, but I hope this number will increase dramatically in Operas next ten years on the Web,” Schenk said.
Schenk could get his wish, with more fjord-jumping parties in the future, as mobile devices proliferate. Opera competes at a low level with Internet Explorer and Firefox for the general browser market, but has found a strong foothold in the mobile market.
“Were the leading browser on the telemobile side of things,” Odland said. “Opera has always been a small browser, and thats perfect for phones and PDAs, so we think were going to have continued success there.”