After a limited rollout of free licenses during their 10th birthday, Opera ASA is going all the way and giving out its browser for free.
Note: For the 17% french speakers visiting this blog, Tristan Nitot has an article in french available on this issue.
Of course, Opera 8.5 is free "as in free beer", not "as in free speech", but this still looks like very good news for almost everyone.
- For Opera: it's anyone's guess, probably including theirs, whether the revenue turned in by the builtin search engines features like Shopping or Google will counterbalance the lost revenue from licenses (already allegedly hardly significant on the desktop), and from banner advertising. However, with this new no-cost policy, use rates and market share are poised for a massive increase.
- For web developers: as Opera on desktops has always commanded a limited market share, it was neglected by many web developers by corporate policy, as well as the standards it applied. The expected larger market share to be gained means more standards-compliant web sites being developed to avoid losing market, which means developers no longer spending as long tweaking for one browser's fits.
- For SVG developers: long considered a minor technology for mass audiences because native SVG was mostly available in customs apps, Amaya, specific Mozilla builds, and this little underdog Opera, and required the Adobe or Corel SVG plugin for the major browser, SVG becomes accessible to a larger fraction of the cybernauts, and confirms the future of VML six feet under.
- For users: I've long considered Opera to be the best browser, notably thanks to its impressive speed combined with ergonomics work, which other good browsers from a technical standpoint like Firefox or Amaya can't match. So this foreseeable uptake by Opera on the market means many more users will be sharing the benefits of this experience. And with the expected increase of standards-compliant web sites, it looks like the user will eventually be the biggest winner of all. How fitting !
What's interesting to guess is how the currently rather high esteem maintained by (most of) the Mozilla team regarding Opera will evolve now that both browsers come at no cost : is everything rosy in pax standardica, or will goodwill erode if Opera takes more market share from Firefox than from MSIE, as I'm almost sure it will ?