A Norwegian maker of Internet browsing software hopes to imitate the success of the Firefox browser by using the same business tactic: giving the software away.
Opera Software ASA in Oslo already distributes a free version of its Opera browser. But this free software contains embedded advertisements that run along the top of the screen. An ad-free version of the program used to cost $39.
But Opera chief executive Jon von Tetzchner decided that the price tag was preventing Opera from reaching a larger audience.
''I think a lot of people have been wanting to use Opera, but they've been held back by that," he said.
Meanwhile, the free Firefox browser, released last year, developed a large following among people who had grown tired of security problems in Microsoft Corp.'s industry-leading browser, Internet Explorer. As of July, Firefox had about 8 percent of the global market for browsers, less than a year after its release, according to the Internet monitoring firm NetApplications.com. By contrast, von Tetzchner estimates that only 1 to 2 percent of the world's Internet users run Opera.
Opera now aims to catch up with Firefox by making its browser totally free, with no purchase price or embedded advertising.
''Our goal is to become on the desktop the number-two browser," said von Tetzchner.
The company expects to recoup its revenue losses through the Internet search window built into each browser. Opera has deals with search giant Google Inc. and other online search companies. If an Opera user runs a Google search and is directed to Google advertising, Opera will get a cut of the ad revenues. Von Tetzchner said this advertising revenue could generate more than enough income to compensate for giving away Opera, if the company can persuade millions more Internet users to adopt the browser.
Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc., a technology consultancy in Wayland, said Opera's plan has a fighting chance.
''There is potentially a business there, even though it's odd at first blush to consider that there's any room for a browser," said Kay. Because Opera's two chief rivals are also available free of charge, Kay said Opera will need a strong marketing campaign and a clearly superior product to persuade users to switch.
Hiawatha Bray can be reached at email@example.com.