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Rediscovering Opera

A STEADY decline in the marketshare of Firefox has me worried that my favorite browser will one day join its predecessor, Netscape, in oblivion.

According to the latest statistics from the Web analytics company Net Applications, Firefox has lost marketshare consistently since October 2013, when it held 18.7 percent. At that time, Google Chrome was only 15.42 percent, while Internet Explorer—by virtue of its being bundled with Windows—had 58.22 percent.

By June 2014, Firefox had dropped to 15.54 percent, or a loss of 3.16 percentage points from October, while Chrome grew to 19.34 percent or a gain of 3.92 percentage points. Clearly, Google’s browser was growing marketshare at Firefox’s expense.

A number of factors might have caused this turn of events.

Some industry pundits say Mozilla, the organization behind Firefox, has become too distracted with Firefox OS, an operating system designed for smart phones similar to Google’s Android. Others said Mozilla no longer led the way with new technology and a better product. In fact, the latest version of Firefox, 29, looks and feels a lot like Google Chrome—a fact that many longtime Firefox users resented.

Personally, I have always preferred Firefox because of its open source philosophy, the degree to which you could customize the browser, and the extensive variety of third-party extensions that worked with it.

I didn’t like the spare look and feel of Chrome when it first came out, so I was not thrilled when Firefox aped Google’s user interface with its “Australis” redesign.

Another reason I have stuck to Firefox and resisted Chrome is that I already have too many eggs in Google’s basket. I didn’t want to add my browser, too, so that the search giant, which has made no secret about its goal to collect more and more personal data, would have an easier time tracking my browsing habits.

What makes matters more precarious is that Google supplies Mozilla about 90 percent of its income under a contract that makes Google the default search engine for Firefox. The deal, worth almost $1 billion, expires in 2014, and there’s a real concern that Google may no longer see the advantage of a similar deal with a browser with a declining share of the market—and one with which it directly competes.

It might be a little too early to count Firefox out, but Mozilla needs to do something to arrest its market decline and find a way to win back some of the users it lost to Google Chrome.

Of course, one might argue that a browser company can get by with much less than 15 percent. A Norwegian company has been making a speedy browser called Opera since 1997 and has managed to survive with just a little over 1 percent of the market. Given the size of the market, that still translates to more than 300 million users.

Despite its modest market share, Opera was the first browser to introduce tabbed browsing and other innovations such as Speed Dial that its more established competitors have now adopted.

I recently rediscovered Opera, which bills itself as “the fast and free alternative browser,” after setting it aside for a long time.

Opera stopped releasing Linux versions of its browser in early 2013, but ended the drought last month with the release of Opera Developer 24 for Linux, which works with 64-bit versions of the free and open source operating system, including Ubuntu.

“Many of us at Opera use Linux as our primary platform. It’s great to be able to try out the newest developments of Opera on Linux once again,” said developer Arjan van Leeuwen in a blog post.

“Adding Linux to our browser line fulfills an important part of Opera’s vision to shape an open, connected world. We want everyone to have fast and safe access to the web. Adding Linux opens up that possibility to more machines running the open-source operating system.

“Linux is highly secure and performs well, even on machines with limited memory or suboptimal hardware. Not all of us can afford the latest Mac or Windows machines, not all of us want proprietary operating systems, and some of us simply love using Linux. But, everyone agrees that they should have access to a beautiful browser.”

Opera 24 includes features such as Opera Turbo, which compresses pages for faster browsing even on a slow connection, and Stash, which captures a page with one easy click and organizes your pages into a searchable list. The latest version also comes with an improved Speed Dial.

The new release is good news indeed for Linux users who want a fast and modern alternative to Chrome—or Firefox. So far, I like what I’ve seen, but in the following weeks, I’ll be using it more extensively to see how well it measures up to its bigger competitors. Chin Wong

Column archive and blog at: http://www.chinwong.com

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