Norwegian browser maker Opera Software will release a new preview version of its desktop software this week that will include support for the BitTorrent file-sharing system and lend the ability for users to build customized interface applications also known as widgets.
Company spokesmen confirmed that the firm will introduce a second preview version of Opera 9, its next-generation desktop browser, on Feb. 7, a final version of which is slated to be launched before the end of 2006.
As with earlier versions of Opera, which is credited by some experts as the first application to offer the “tabbed browsing” interface now being picked up in rival software such as Microsofts Internet Explorer 7, the product boasts some interesting technological additions.
Widgets, first popularized in Apples Mac OS X Tiger release, are applications built inside the browser—or in Apples case a computers dashboard—that allow users to create a visual interface for viewing specific information stored on their computers.
In Operas case, the tools will give users the ability to view information such as sports scores or stock prices taken from Web sites in real-time via their browsers, without needing to visit the sites the data is drawn from.
Opera first began encouraging people to build widgets within its software late last year with the introduction of its Opera Mobile Platform, a system meant for developers creating wireless applications to run in the companys mobile device browser.
Company spokesman Thomas Ford said that as with adding the ability for users to create RSS feeds directly in Opera, allowing people to build widgets is part of the evolution of the browser beyond simply allowing users to view Web sites.
“People go online to do specific things and widgets allow them to get to the information they want immediately, rather than calling up Web pages,” Ford said.
“RSS feeds were just the beginning and theres a big push here at Opera into the broader Web applications space, with the browser becoming a platform for those applications.”
Ford said that Opera is hoping to make the widgets capable of working across many different types of devices, from PCs to mobiles and even consumer electronics.
Opera Mobile Platform, for instance, allows developers to build widgets that can work on wireless devices running completely different operating systems, which could help push development across other types of machines, Ford said.
The company is including roughly a dozen widget samples, including a clock, in the browser preview to help customers understand the utility of the applications and begin building their own customized tools.
Ford said that Opera believes anyone who can design or edit a basic Web page should be able to work with its widget development tools.
The spokesman said that widgets are essentially just small Web pages, and the use of such tools in the browser could stand as a solid example of the increasing use of so-called “Web 2.0” applications, or composite programs built from pieces of other applications.
“With all the talk of Web 2.0, the browser has to evolve from a static window through which you merely view the Web into a true applications platform, and hopefully we can help drive the change,” he said.
The company is also hoping that people who build widgets will share their designs with other Opera users via the companys community site.
With BitTorrent, a file-sharing system that has previously drawn the ire of copyright watchdogs, but is being remade as a legal enterprise, Opera said it hopes to improve the speed and efficiency of downloading large files in its browser.
BitTorrent is an open-source, peer-to-peer protocol for distributing files designed to allow people to store and share large files across multiple computers rather than in one place.
Under an agreement established between Opera and BitTorrent, the browser maker has integrated the file sharing system with its desktop application and will also allow users to search BitTorrents content archives.
Once someone has chosen to download a file using the system, Operas Transfer Manager feature will handle the download, eliminating the need for someone to host BitTorrents software on their own machine to access content stored in the system.
Ford said that Opera has heard from some people who still view BitTorrent as an underground network for illegal file-sharing, but he believes that the integration of the system with Operas legitimate commercial browser will help change some of those perceptions.
“Weve had some feedback from people who ask why were endorsing piracy of intellectual property, but we applaud what BitTorrent is doing to legitimize their service, especially since its a file-sharing system that works so effectively,” Ford said.
“Its one of the most important file transfer protocols out there in terms of how it saves memory on the server side.”
Other additions evidenced in the Opera 9 preview will be expanded tools for blocking pop-up advertising, as well as some new content-blocking features.
Ford repeatedly emphasized that the preview is not an official beta, and thus should be viewed as a true test version of the software and not a finished product without potential bugs.
The preview will show up on Operas labs.opera.com site sometime on Feb. 7.