Opera ups security on new browser

Opera ups security on new browser

Norway's Opera Software added tighter security against Internet fraud and new voice technology to a browser unveiled today in a struggle to win users away from market leader Microsoft.

Listed on the Oslo bourse since March 2004, Opera hopes the upgraded browser will lift its market share, now 1 percent to 7 percent according to the national market and a fraction of the 90 percent grip by Microsoft's Internet Explorer in the United States.

"Security is very important because that's the thing that makes people switch" to a new browser, Opera's chief executive and co-founder Jon von Tetzchner told Reuters.

"We hope people will switch because of security and stay because of the other features," he said. The security feature for Opera's new version 8 desktop computer browser gives extra information on the identity of suspicious sites.

Opera's upgraded browser also includes technology in which a computer-generated voice can be used to read out highlighted text from Web pages. It is also faster and has more ability to save and search pages.

Opera says it has 10 million users of its previous browsers, but only 100,000 have paid 34 euros (£23.27) for a version excluding advertisements. Most others use a free version.

Opera is often portrayed as a David against a Microsoft Goliath but also faces fast-growing rivals like Firefox, developed by a network of computer programmers, which has gained about five percent of the U.S. market since its 2004 launch.

"It's a little bit surprising that Opera hasn't grown more when Firefox increased their market share so much," said Ole Andre Hagen, an analyst at ABG Sundal Collier.

He said security vulnerabilities for Microsoft had spurred growth for Firefox, despite recent fixes by Microsoft.

Opera's extra security seeks to dampen "phishing" -- jargon for when a hoaxer's Website tricks users into typing out their bank account number or passwords by masquerading as a trusted site, perhaps saying "account update needed."

Opera's solution is for the browser to display the underlying security certificate of each site -- an icon of a yellow padlock on trustworthy sites -- to help users judge reliability. It will also show where pop-ups come from.

"If the site says one name and the security certificate another you might get suspicious," von Tetzchner said. No other browser had the feature, he said.

The new browser also includes new voice recognition software. If a user highlights text, for instance of a news story, a computer-generated voice can read it out.

"We're trying to make the Internet more available for everyone," von Tetzchner said, adding it could aid people with poor sight.

Opera also supplies browsers for mobile phones from Nokia to Motorola. The browser squeezes Web pages into a thin stack to give, Opera says, easier and fuller viewing than on a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) phone.

In turn, the mobile phone technology is in the new desktop browser to give flexibility in arranging slim Web pages.

"We've shipped on more than 10 million (mobile phone) units," von Tetzchner said, adding the browser was installed on at least 2 million phones in the first quarter and last quarter of 2004. "The trend is upwards," he said.

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