Is Opera Winning the Browser Wars?

The Opera browser may be out-competing both Firefox and Internet Explorer. It’s true that in June they had only 1.8% of the desktop browser market. But when I read Opera’s API for the Wii Remote, I had a moment where I had to simply sit and stare, wondering if Opera’s developers are laughing at Microsoft fighting Mozilla over the same old territory while Opera is conquering the New World.

The Nintendo Wii has sold over 9.27 million units, which have access to the Wii “Internet Channel”, exclusively powered by the Opera browser as a free download from from April to June 30th. The download now costs 500 “Wii points”, the equivalent of $5. And this past June, Nintendo released the Opera browser for the Nintendo DS, its handheld device. Game consoles are a profitable market; casual gaming is on the rise among all age groups, advertising is penetrating games as never before, and we’re seeing more possibilities for real-world/virtual world interaction as communications platforms connect with the real world and each other.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that more than 15 million cellphone users have downloaded the Opera Mini browser. Opera is the default browser on over a dozen miscellaneous internet devices and counting. Opera also produces an Opera Mobile browser for the Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile smartphones, and recently announced an agreement with Chinese wireless service provider KongZhong to develop a browser for Chinese users, sharing “advertising revenues, search- related revenues and other revenues from “KongZhong Opera””.

I’m personally a big fan of Firefox, both for the software itself and the principles on which it’s built. There’s no doubt that the competition it’s brought to the web browser market has given entrenched companies a good kick in the ass. The upcoming Firefox 3 is certain to continue that trend(and Firefox’s capture of market share). And Mozilla is one of the biggest drivers of innovation in social software. But while Firefox blazes new trails on the desktop, I wonder if it is Opera that will give us wider windows to the online world from places other than our desks and laps.