Facebook's rumoured bid for Opera Software: analysis

By Graeme Burton
30 May 2012 View Comments
Opera 10 beta is very polished for a beta release

Rumours are rife that Facebook, the social networking giant, is planning a bid for Opera Software, the producer of desktop and mobile web browsers, which claims some 220 million users.

This follows reports that Facebook is developing an Android-based mobile handset, codenamed "Buffy". (Which "vampire" it may be designed to slay we'll leave to your imagination.)

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Analysts in Scandinavia that follow Opera have put a valuation of between $1bn (£640m) and $1.35bn (£860m) on the Norwegian company – as much as twice the company's recent value.

However, Opera's founder, Jon von Tetzchner – who also holds a 10.9 per cent share of the company – may be a reluctant seller.

"I want Opera to focus on growth and delivering good results; there are big opportunities for Opera... We have promised 500 million users by 2013 and I think that's a good goal and the firm should keep going for it," Tetzchner told Reuters. But, he added: "I am not pushing for a takeover."

Opera Software was originally started as a minor project in Norwegian telecoms company Telenor. It was spun-out of Telenor in June 1995 and listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange on 11 March 2004.

Google's success with Chrome, which is now competing neck-and-neck with Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), has focused renewed attention on the importance of the web browser – and not just for internet companies. Safari is core to Apple's ecosystem of software and hardware platforms, for example.

Facebook is notably weak in current mobile offerings – where Opera has a strong technological and market presence – but could customise the browser to make Facebook easier to use on mobile platforms. It would also make it easier for Facebook to make money from advertising and services on smartphones and tablet-style devices.

The picture becomes less clear if Facebook launches its own handset based on Google's operating system, which, it has been suggested, might be planned for 2013. A Facebook phone would be a fascinating prospect – especially for ambitious muggers.

Opera Mini and Opera Mobile are popular browsers for small-screen and mobile devices. Opera Mini is particularly popular in emerging markets, due to its ability to compress images to the size of device screens before download, drastically increasing performance and making the most of tight download limits in many markets. It does this by parsing pages via Opera's servers.

Indeed, Opera reaches across more platforms and devices than any other browser, including Windows PCs, Apple Macs, Apple iOS-based iPhones and iPads, Google Android, Symbian smartphones, Nintendo games consoles and Linux.

Opera has been able to support a wide-range of platforms since the release of Opera 4.0 in 2000, when it developed a cross-platform core that can easily be ported to run across multiple operating systems and platforms.

It has also been one of the key innovators in browser development since the launch of Opera 2.1 for Windows in 1997.

It was the first browser to offer tabbed browsing, an integrated search bar, RAM caching for extra privacy, web-page zooming, private data management, private web browsing, pop-up advert blocking, navigation via mouse gestures, fast forward and back buttons, widgets for in-browser apps, the ability to save sessions and the "speed dial", enabling users to visit popular web sites with one mouse-click.

Of additional interest, it also eschews the data-gathering practices that other browsers, such as Google Chrome, engage in.

However, Opera is also a close partner of Google, which is the default search engine for all flavours of Opera, and a move by Facebook may invite a response from Google, as well as Microsoft – not to mention potential investigation by the European Union's competition commissioner.

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