Opera Software ASA, in releasing on Thursday the first beta of its updated Web browser, is giving a boost to Mac OS X users by synchronizing its upgrades across all operating systems while also expanding into new RSS, e-mail and chat areas.
With the Opera 7.50 beta, the Oslo, Norway, company has redesigned the browsers user interface as part of an effort to release updates at the same time across Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris and Mac, said CEO Jon von Tetzchner.
Opera typically had released updates for Windows first, and Mac releases had lagged the furthest behind. Before Opera 7.50, Mac users were stuck in the 6.0 series while the other platforms had moved into the 7.0 line. Last August, Opera released a version of the browser that supported the latest Mac OS X, named “Panther,” and announced plans to step up Mac development.
“We didnt think that this was really optimal, so we had been working hard to make them all in sync,” von Tetzchner said.
The revamped user interface provides smaller buttons and reorganizes access to key browser functions into a panel selector that sits across the left panel of the browser. From there, users access bookmarks, notes, the Opera Mail client and a new chat feature.
“We have added functionality while still trying to make [the browser] easy to use,” he said. “Were getting a broader base of users and trying to expand on that with 7.50.”
The Opera Mail client has added support for Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds, letting users subscribe to and read the XML data feeds popular on Weblogs and among other Web publishers, von Tetzchner said. The updated mail client also features faster search capabilities because it now indexes full messages, rather than only indexing the e-mail addresses, he said.
“RSS is something that is gaining a lot of interest, and we thought it would fit well into our product,” van Tetzchner said. “Were trying to give people on the client side a one-stop solution if they want to be using other Internet functionality.”
To that end, Opera is returning to Web chat, providing a chat feature in 7.50 that supports Internet Relay Chat. Opera had supported ICQ instant messaging on Opera 5, but then dropped support following changes made when America Online Inc. bought the chat service, von Tetzchner said.
The latest chat feature does not integrate into any of the largest consumer instant-messaging networks, such as AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger or MSN Messenger, but von Tetzchner said Opera plans to consider ways to add support for other IM services. Opera is one of the only active commercial competitors to Microsoft Corp. in the Web browser market. The company last month went public on the Oslo Stock Exchange and has been aggressively pursuing the mobile browser deals. It also is working on a speech-enabled Web browser with speech technology from IBM.
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