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1) What would it take for you to release Opera as open source? I know you've already said in the past that open-sourcing would not bring any benefit to you, so I'm just checking whether there's been any change on that front. – I'm sure it would make all the Linux and BSD users happy.
The real question is why, and is it really important. In our world view what is important is open standards. If you have a choice between open standards and open source, our choice would always be open standards. Luckily, most of the time open source companies are actually happy with open standards so that's not really much of a challenge there but what we believe is important are open standards because then you have a choice. That you can switch products depending on your priorities.
And then there is the question of the open community. We have a very open community, we work with people a lot. I think the way we work, as a company, in many ways, is like as if we were open source. Now, people don't have access to our source code but people communicate with us, they give us feedback, they test our products. So we have a very open way of working with people. So then the question is why would we open source and what would be the benefit of that.
Btw, I've done open source myself, I made a project at Telenor Research. I made a program that took FrameMaker content and completely converted it to HTML. And I did that in open source. And it worked beautifully. But at the same time when I stopped working on the project it died. Even though everyone was using it. It was by far the most popular way to get FrameMaker documents into HTML. It was extremely powerful, it could take whole FrameMaker books, including chapters and multiple documents and convert it all – with images, links across documents, indexing – the whole thing was converted to HTML. But when I stopped it then the situation changed.
My impression is that if we were to open source Opera, some people would be able to look at our source code and they could potentially help us. I think still most of the work would be done by us. Just like it actually is with the other major open source projects. If you want to contribute to one of the open source projects it's not all that easy in practice. Because there's someone as a gatekeeper who controls it. So I'm not sure if we would gain that much from it and there would be the risk that people would look at our code and run away with it.
2) Opera always prided itself on being available for almost any device that can access the Internet. So one of the benefits could be that the community would help you with porting and maintaining Opera on different platforms. For example, the Linux distributors would take care of packaging the software for their distributions so you wouldn't have to prepare the builds by yourself.
I actually think we would. The heart of the code is the kernel. And we're working very hard just to make sure that we're always keeping things in line. So the amount of work we spend in taking code and remerging it is tremendous. Because we're doing something like 100 different projects on a lot of different operating systems. And we would like the knowledge from these projects to get in and improve. So the complexity of that is tremendous.
When I was doing open source there were lot of people helping me. I did most of the work but there were some people who were contributing to the code. Most of the suggestions – I wasn't using CVS, I was just hard-merging the code – would've broken the code. This is what we see as well with new programmers as they come in – if you have new people who don't know the code, the chance of them doing something wrong is greater. If you see a symptom and if you don't understand the code, if you haven't worked with it for some time, you fix the symptom but not the cause. So this why most open source projects, when they get to this size, they start having these gatekeepers. And the gatekeeper's job is very very important – to make sure that all of the code is of a certain level. So I'm not sure we would get that much benefit from this. And I think the risk would be bigger.
And, obviously, then there would be a discussion as to what license. We've seen some of the open source companies having big discussions on which license. We could choose a license and then people would be quickly complaining why not GPL, why not GPL version 3 or something like that.
So we will continue to commit to open standards, we will continue to work closely with everyone, we'll continue to work with people doing open source. There's no question about our support for Linux. We work with our open source competitors or sometimes partners in many ways on providing the new standards. Again, I'm not convinced that it would help us as a company to go open source. We have not seen any way that would allow us to do that and at the same time continue to increase investment. It's not like Trolltech.
3) What is your reaction to the news about Trolltech [being bought by Nokia]? What do you think it's going to bring about? You chose the Qt as the widget framework for your Unix versions. Now that Qt is a part of Nokia, do you think there's going to be any change for you?
I don't really see much of a change from that perspective. From what I understand we will be able to continue to work the same way. We work with both Trolltech and Nokia. Nokia is a partner, Trolltech is a partner. Partner buys a partner. I don't think it will change all that much for us. The communication from Nokia and Trolltech is that they will continue to develop Qt on desktop and in general. I don't really see a reason why that change should have any significant impact on us.
4) When deciding on what features to implement next, do you monitor the state of standard support in other browsers? Do you model your future plans based on what they do, or do you have your own roadmap?
I think that if you look at the history and you do a comparison you see that most of the times we're the ones that first come with ideas. Obviously, if someone says 'these other browsers have this, why don't you have that?' then we have to take that into consideration. But in general we always try to be the first. We prefer to be the innovator rather than the ones who follow. Of course, if someone has a good idea then we would look at that as well. That's the way the business works.
5) The reason why I'm asking this question is that there's been a couple of occasions when there was the same bug or mistake in the rendering engines of Opera and Firefox and once this bug was reported in the Firefox bug-tracking system it got very quickly fixed in Opera. In the next beta-release of Opera, it was fixed. Do you think it's just a coincidence, or do you actually monitor their bugs?
It's a coincidence. You may find that sometimes when people report a bug, they report it in both Firefox and Opera at the same time – especially security bugs. What happens quite often is that if you have someone reporting a security bug they check it in all the different browsers and they report it to all the different vendors at the same time. And then we often don't release anything until, for example, Firefox has fixed it – even though we fixed it quicker. I think there's a good general rule that you announce the issue after you fixed it, not before.
7) You mentioned built-in functionality. As it is, Opera is the Swiss knife of browsers. Apart from the browser, there's a mail client, IRC client, BitTorrent client and what not. So what's next? What other major feature are you planning on adding in the future?
There's going to be a lot more. That's always the case. What we're trying to do is we're trying to look at what people want and need. And we believe that every individual deserves to get their things in there. So we try to do that while keeping the code small. We continue to manage to keep the size of the program smaller than any of the competitors while we have a lot more functionality. So we'll continue to do that. In Opera 9.5 we added things like searchable history which means that you can find any part. If you just search for a word you will be able to find any document that has the word in it. And if you work with a very big disk cache you can potentially keep a month of browsing on your disk or even more and you would be able to find any content that you've browsed. So that's a very powerful feature. We also introduced Opera Link which synchronizes bookmarks between your Opera instances and with web content – if you're using other browsers you can synchronize through that.
We will continue to innovate but a lot of the focus is also just on improving the browser core. I think there's more now happening with browsers than has been for some time, there's HTML 5 coming out and a lot of things happening in general. So just continuing to improve the browser core is very important. It's not only about adding features per se; the requirements on the browser side are increasing. There is an important change with regards to the web. I think the web is becoming more and more powerful. This is, to a certain extent, what Microsoft was afraid of – that the web might become a new platform. There is a significant reason to believe that that may happen. That's why we're fighting for open standards. The web is such an important place, people have access to a wealth of information. It can make a change in countries where information is controlled because you can have access to data from other countries. The web on mobiles can be useful in countries that don't have that many fixed lines and where building fixed lines would be difficult. There we can help people get online through Opera Mini, for example.
8) Are there any plans for a voice-command interface for platforms other than Windows?
For us to do that, it requires partnerships. So we have to convince IBM, or someone else, to provide that because that module is provided by IBM and we don't really have the competence to do that.
9) But would you like to?
Yes. I mean, we would love to provide it on Linux, for example. We can try to convince IBM.
10) Is the default user interface, as seen in the 9.50 beta, going to change before the final release? What kind of feedback have you received regarding the default layout?
In general, positive. It may well change somewhat, we're always taking feedback. But overall the feedback has been quite positive in this regard. We're always trying to find a balance between introducing or changing new things and breaking everything for everyone who has their customary way of working.
11) If you had to pick one feature that, in your opinion, definitely rocks and one that needs a lot of improvement, which would they be?
I think those are sometimes the same. There's a lot of things that can always be improved and I suppose I like being critical with respect to trying to do things better because I always think you can do better. I use Opera extensively for everything. I actually implemented some of the stuff in the original versions, I did parts of the UI so anything wrong is my fault and everything right is the guys doing it. Last time I coded something it took them six months to find the bug that I introduced so they want me to never code again.
With Opera with perfected the multi-window thing and the sessions and the like. I think that's something that most browsers still do not do by default. I would not be able to work with a browser that does not have sessions. That's one thing.
Single-key keyboard shortcuts. That's something we also have that I consider very important. We turned them off now by default because some people were hitting the keys and didn't understand why – but to me it's part of accessibility. And speed. Both of those. The guy that gave me some input on that is Brian Campbell. He has a muscular disease, he lives in Canada. And he gave me feedback to make sure that the browser would be usable for him. To me that's a very important function. I think it's very effective and I get very annoyed when I have to use a browser that doesn't have that.
Mouse gestures are extremely powerful if you like using the mouse. I use the Mail extensively, I have over 50 thousand mails in my mailbox and I need to be able to find whatever mail content very quickly. I can write any word and find mails that include it. If you send me an e-mail and I want to find all e-mails from me to you I press a key and I'm there. And then I can access all the mails. It's just very very effective. An extension to that is the new functionality with history. It's a kind of a next level with more and more content becoming accessible through a database interface. I think that's natural with the amount of data that we're consuming and keeping track of – you need something like that.
Another thing are the bookmarks. There's something I don't think many people are using which is the alias so you can give your bookmarks your own name. If you write that name you can access that server without having to write the address or go through the bookmarks which is more cumbersome.
Then the zoom and fit to window. Now and then you come to a site where you have to zoom. When I'm on a computer with a smaller display then sometimes a page would not fit on the screen because some web designers had the wisdom to code it for 1024 pixels. I can then fit the page to the window or I can zoom in. when someone enters a very long comment in a forum I can have it fit and I don't have to scroll horizontally.
There is a very long list of functions.
12) What about the ones that you think are lagging behind. What does Opera lack?
Debugging. The debugging tools available for Firefox at this time are better than Opera's. We have to improve that and we have a plan to do so. Like Firebug. We know that developers complain about Opera not having anything comparable. We are working on that, we will improve.
Then there are some people who would like extensions. Maybe we'll add something like that in the future. We are trying to make things easier for developers but our focus has been on widgets and we think that widgets are in some ways more important because they provide you with something that runs cross-platform. It's more of a paradigm shift than just being able to program the application.
Overall, every functionality in Opera can be improved. It's just, as a general rule, we can make it a little bit easier here and a little bit easier there but sometimes it's the small things that matter and not the big things.
13) How do you coordinate your development efforts across the globe? What sort of communication tools do you use in-house?
You would find that we use a lot of the same tools as other people. This is the complexity I was talking about before. When you deliver a hundred different projects a year and growing and you have people in different locations, the complexity of dealing with it is huge. We will use any tools, including meetings in person at times, mail, we have obviously things like CVS, we use Skype, we use chats – it's a combination of a lot of different tools to communicate. We use bug-tracking systems for communication as well. So we have a lot of different systems working in combination to make it possible to work remotely.
14) What is your strategy for local markets? Do you have different strategies developed for different parts of the world? If I were to come to your office in India and San Diego would I see any difference?
There are differences but in the office we try to keep certain things the same. It's not like they have to look the same. If you go to a different offices you would find that they look fairly different. What we try to find is a good working environment. That's what we try focus on in every single place. That includes how the offices are organized, availability of light in the offices, that you're able to sit and work comfortably, that you're able to work with teams, and things like that. And I think the thing that you find the same in every place is enthusiasm. That people are enthusiastic about working at Opera and they like the products they're working on and like getting the products out. And I think that's a very good thing.
Also in countries such as India where we could outsource if we wanted to, in those kinds of countries it is important for us that our office is established there, that it's an Opera entity, the people there are employed by us. It has practical implications but everyone's part of a family. So I think that's an important point of our strategy as well that we don't rely on outsourcing.
With regards to the complexity of the code we have, we need very smart people. That means we're not going after volumes. The important thing is to get the smart people, no to get as many people as possible. If you get a lot people that are maybe not as good at coding the difference between a very good program and a good program is going to be ten to one.
15) A few years back there's been a lot of speculation about a buyout by either Microsoft or Google. Did you ever seriously consider this as an option?
It's not been something we've been looking for. Our focus is to build the company. If we wanted to sell the company, we could have done that ten years ago for a fair amount of money when it was just Geir [Ivarsøy - co-founder] and myself. We wanted to build it and we have no plans to change that. At the same time we are on the market and we may have no choice if all the investors want to sell. But that's not what we're looking for. We want to build the company and get our products out of the door and that's our focus.
16) When do you expect to see a decision in the matter of your December complaint to the European Commission?
That's a good question. We don't know. I mean , we obviously believe that the case with Windows Media Player means that there is something to build on but at the same time I believe the Commission will have to work at the pace that they can. So we're hoping there will be positive things coming out of this shortly and I think in any case there is the positive effect of it that it raised the visibility of the importance of standards. I don't know if there is a direct correlation but Microsoft announced that they would be supporting Acid2 a few days afterwards. Sadly, later on they were saying they will not completely support it but that's another story.
I think, in a way, it's having an impact. Already there's something positive coming out of this. And we aim to continue to make sure that web standards will be the pillar of the web and that you will be able to continue to choose the browser of your choice. Whether you want to use Opera or Firefox or Konqueror or Safari – you should be able to choose the browser as long as the browser follows the web standards and that's the core of what we are doing here which is to provide people with choice. And I think it's working in that respect.
But how quickly the Commission gets to the first level which is basically 'ok, we agree' or the second level which is remedies, that we will have to see.
17) You mentioned that there is a precedent for the Internet Explorer tie to the Windows operating system in the form of the September court ruling which suggests that this part of the complaint could succeed. However, what chances do you think, realistically, has the second part, the part about following the standards? Do you think there's a real chance that the Commission might rule in your favor?
We would not have mentioned that if we didn't believe there was a good possibility of that. We would not have done this. We knew there was also risk that people would give us a hard time on this. But we think the issue is too important to leave it be. We're talking about the future of the web here and I think that's just something that's worth fighting for. We're taking a risk in doing this but I think the benefit to the web as a whole and to the web community is just too great not to try. And to be frank, I would be surprised if we don't get something positive out of this.
18) Which of the two of Opera's main revenue models is more profitable? Desktop or embedded?
I would say they're equally important. Currently if you look at it, slightly over 20 per cent of our revenue is coming from the PC side, the rest is coming from embedded. At the same time they're tied because our desktop browser functions as a showcase of our technology. And, btw, the desktop revenue has been growing faster over the last year. So I think both of them are extremely important and we see it as a whole. We get this question all the time: 'why don't you just drop desktop and focus on mobiles?' or something like that. And the way we see it, there's only one net, one web. What we're trying to do is provide you with a good web experience from any device of your choice. You want PCs, fine, you want mobiles, television, media players. We're trying to get you online to your favorite content and services. That's our goal. We have the benefit that we can deliver that on everything with the same code. So we don't see this as a competition, we see the two models helping each other. When we get the users to desktop it helps mobiles and vice versa.
19) While you do hold some Opera shares, it's not a majority. Would you be willing to share a bit of investment wisdom? What sort of companies do you invest in? Are you a conservative investor?
I have all my investments in Opera. I was one of the two founders of Opera so when we started I had 50 per cent. After a while we got other investors, we gave stocks to the employees, we gave options to the employees and my share has been going down. But it's not because I've been selling, it's because there have been other people coming in.
Maybe it's not a very smart investment strategy that I put all my eggs in one basket but that's the way it is. All my investments are in Opera and I don't have any plans to change that.
20) As you were there at the very beginning of Opera. In retrospect, what would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now?
There are always things that you can do better. When we started the company we were coming straight from Telenor Research, we were computer scientists, not really businessmen. So there are always things that you can do better but you don't always know. I'm very happy that a certain amount of things didn't happen. I'm happy we didn't sell the company, I'm happy we didn't get investors in very quickly – and we were fairly close to doing that and I'm very happy we didn't. Some of that is based on pure luck but I'm happy none of that happened. There are always things that can be improved but I have to admit that my focus is more on the future than on the past in general. I try to learn from the past but I don't really dwell on the past.
21) On the other hand, what do you think was a really good strategic decision? One that you would like to point at.
I'm very happy with our choice to do the cross-platform thing. We made a number of choices over the years when other people thought we should have done something different, including the investors. For example, the investors wanted us to do WAP. We said we didn't believe in WAP, we believed in one web everywhere, so we added support for WAP standards in Opera but we didn't go and make a WAP browser. For a while there was a lot of focus on push technologies – the browser would no longer browse, you would watch the web on television. We didn't believe in that, we didn't implement that. You can now do that with the browser but we didn't think that you would like to passively watch the web. Except when you choose to watch a movie but that's another story. We didn't believe in passive browsing and so far that's been right.
We made choices in platforms that didn't play out. For example, we chose to support the BeOS platform, a beautiful technology platform, which didn't work out but we're happy that we did. We chose to do Symbian very early. Before Symbian was founded we did Psion. People were telling us we were crazy to be doing this but I'm happy we made the choice. So there is a lot of decisions that we've done over the years. To do Linux and Mac. We should've done even more but we didn't have the resources to do it. It's always a tough thing when you don't have a lot of money. We were growing, we didn't have a lot of money to spend. Even though we wanted to put more resources here and there we didn't really have a choice. Now we have more and we're adding more people and that's a good thing.
22) Is the Prague Opera branch going to be just another development team, or do you plan to start some activities specifically for the Czech market?
In the beginning we want to build a technical team here. We're also hoping that by doing that we'll increase awareness of people here about Opera. And I think over time we may well have people focusing on the Czech market in particular. But the first step is to build a technical office. It's like that in all the places where we go. We start either a marketing or technical team and then after a while we grow it to be both. So that's what we're hoping to do here as well. I would not be surprised if we have some people more on the marketing side inside one year.
Tor Odland: It's so centrally located, the Czech Republic. We're already in Poland but that's definitely a development office. Maybe this one will be as well but we're keeping our options open.
Jon S. von Tetzchner: Sometimes it's a question of what people show up. We will always want smart people and we will try to hire them wherever we can.
23) The demand for developers in the Czech Republic is quite massive. What do you plan to offer to your prospective employees?
There's a fair amount of people that get attracted to Opera. The main point being that a browser is the most used application in the world. If you're working on an Opera product, you're working on something that will be used by hundreds of thousands or millions of people. You'll be getting significant feedback and I think for every programmer to work on that kind of thing is a dream job – if you're really interested. If you just want to code and get paid for it, then you would go somewhere else. But if you wanna code on something that actually makes a difference, on a product that is used by a lot of people, on a product about which you get feedback. In some ways I think that a lot of people like what we stand for, that we're focusing on open standards, on the availability of the Internet to as many as possible people out there. They're part of that by getting into Opera.
24) Apart from Prague, Brno in Moravia is also a popular destination for development centers, mainly because of its technical universities. Why did you choose Prague?
It was basically decided by the people. The group of people that are here now come from Oslo. This the way things typically work for us. We have 44 nationalities working at Opera. And now and then we make a decision that we want to open a new office. What we usually do is that we send people – or they even request to go to a place. And I think this was the most natural place for them to go. Prague is very central, it's also a very beautiful city, it's easy to get here. There are direct flights from Oslo, I think that's a good thing. I guess it's not that difficult to get to Brno but this is a natural hub in many ways.
25) I know you are very fond of swimming in cold waters. Would you consider going for a swim in the Vltava river that runs through Prague?
It's not a trick question.
Do people actually do that? It's not like it's toxic or something?
Well, it's not the cleanest river in the world but you can swim in it.
I had a friend who, when he was getting married, swam in the Akerselva which goes through Oslo. And he was swimming through a tunnel, totally dark, without anything. And there were things moving, probably rats. So, swimming in Oslo, which is what I was doing, was definitely very cold but also clean.
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