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Why Doesn’t Opera Have More Market Share in North America?

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I usually have at least three browsers open at any time. One will be a Mozilla Gecko app (Firefox, Camino, or SeaMonkey) and one an Apple WebKit based program (Stainless, Cruz, iCab, Shiira, OmniWeb, or especially since Safari 4 was released, Safari itself). Interestingly, I find I like Safari 4 better on my old Pismo PowerBooks running OS 10.4.11 than I do under Leopard on my Core 2 Duo MacBook where Stainless tends to get the nod.

However, the browser I consistently use more than all of the others combined is Opera, and it’s an abiding puzzlement to me as to why Opera has thus far been unable to carve out a more substantial market niche in North America.

According to NetApplications’ HitsLink Market Share statistics watch for August, Opera now has a cumulative global two percent share (2.35 percent when Opera Mini is included) behind Microsoft’s (s msft) Internet Explorer, Firefox, Apple’s (s aapl) Safari, and Google’s (s goog) Chrome, thanks largely to its popularity in Eastern Europe and Asia, where it has about four percent of the market. Opera claims that in some regions of the globe, such as Russia, Ukraine and parts of Europe, it is now the most popular browser with growth last year of 67 percent and roughly 100 million users worldwide (translation into 39 languages probably doesn’t hurt either). But its penetration in the U.S. and Canada is more like one percent. Indeed, Google’s Chrome, still a beta with no general release Mac version, has now bumped Opera from forth to fifth place in the U.S. browser market.

“The reality is that in the U.S. we have some work to do,” Opera boss Jon von Tetzchner recently told BBC News.

Opera 10 reportedly hit 10 million downloads in its first week, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out in the September Hitslink stats, but there’s no indication that Opera 10 is taking the U.S. market by storm.

Personally, I warmed slowly to Opera, which has been around since 1994, and released its first Mac versions in the late ’90s, at which time it had an interesting interface and some unique features, but was pretty awful performance-wise. However, Opera’s Mac support is now impressively strong, and since the release of Opera 8, it’s been a fixture on my desktop, and most of the time it’s the browser I reach for first for general surfing and a lot of my work-related browsing as well.

Probably one of the things about Opera that handicaps it in North America is that it’s a bit — and in some instances more than a bit — different from other browsers, which is partly why I like it, but North American consumers tend to be conformists, which explains why Windows has 90-odd percent of the desktop operating system market. When there’s the slightest learning curve to scale, many people balk. With Opera, the learning curve is not steep, but it’s there.

Have you given Opera a try? Did you stick with it? Why or why not?

53 Responses to “Why Doesn’t Opera Have More Market Share in North America?”

  1. I have been using opera for years. It is an excellent browser, runs fast, and is full of features. One issue I see many people posting about it is that it is bloated and the interface is too cluttered. I think this is more of bashing than an actual opinion because there is no evidence to support this. Just to let you know, I personally I find the default interface to be perfect. I do not find it more cluttered than any other browser, however if anyone does think it is cluttered it is completely customizable. If you want you can reduce it till its just a single window with a web page and an address bar, or no address bar if you don’t plan on surfing that far. Also, despite being packed with features opera is a small download. Some people are claiming that these features make it bloated, however that is not the case. The download is less than 9MB. Only 1.2MB larger than the Firefox download, assuming you are not planning on using any add-ons. Also the nice part about opera coming preloaded with all the features that it has is that they are optimized to run on opera and use resources well, and when they are disabled, they are not loading or using resources.

    make sure you read up on the many features opera has. one of my favorites is opera link which syncs all my bookmarks, notes, custom searches, etc. or any combination of those with any computer or device running opera.

    It is a great browser, I highly recommend you try it.

  2. Before using opera, I were using firefox as my default browser. Old times I were on windows, then Linux and now on Mac. Now I have opera as my default browser and I still have firefox, chromium, safari which I use. The reason I love opera and I still stick to it is…

    – Thin and looks very light weight to launch and use (eg. New tab opens quickly etc.)
    – Uses less memory (compared to FF) and renders fast.
    – Built-in Content blocking
    – Standard and ACID2 compliant, Fast JS performance.
    – Bunch of great features which I use often like speed dial, opera link, session management etc.

    I still can’t understand, why people do not like opera. Me as developer as well normal web application user, wanted the browser to help me in more productive with less efforts and that’s what I found opera does very well.

  3. I’m brand new to Opera. I figured I’d give it a shot after reading Charles Moore’s column.

    Typically I toggle between Firefox and Safari. Both have their advantages and challenges.

    So two days into Opera I find myself dwelling on what I don’t like more than what I do. For instance:

    I can’t seem to add RSS feeds to my personal bar so I can hover over them and see the articles which is how my FF is configured.

    I can’t seem to even turn on a panel for my RSS feeds without first setting up a mail account. What’s the deal with that?

    While those are two small points (and basically the same point), the truth is I need easy access to my RSS which I’m not getting with Opera. Yeah, the interface may actually be cleaner at the end of the day, but so far it isn’t enough justification for a full-blown switch.

    Good day sir!

  4. My main complaint about Opera is the crazy, irrational, impossible to navigate menu system—that’s just one of the things we mean by cluttered—endless and hard to find menu items/settings.

    • Yes, but the point is that Chrome’s beta status on Mac is rather irrelevant to its market share. The text gives the impression that “it’s just a beta on Mac so it’s surprising that Google’s online advertising monopoly lets it push Chrome all over the web so that it gets more users”. That’s all.

  5. “Google’s Chrome, still a beta with no general release Mac version”

    Excuse me, but what kind of BS is this? Chrome has been out as a final Windows version for a long time. Mac is basically irrelevant when it comes to browser market share.

  6. As a windows user I finally decided to give opera a try after having used Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox (as well as Sea Monkey on an old puppy linux machine) and Ive decided I am sticking with it. It is now the default browser on my machine and I must admit I’m really digging the user interface. The bars are compact and the light gray color makes it easy on the eyes.

    Hurray for Opera!

  7. After reading the article I gave it a spin around the block and have kept on both my iMac and MacBook.
    Here is the G&B for me:
    The good
    1) Clean & simple, as with anything new it does take a moment to find your way around.
    2) Fast

    The bad (at least frustrating)
    1) Can not import passwords, I have 100’s
    2) No 1 Password
    3) Can not add Google tool bar
    4) Not supported by some of the sites I use
    5) Widgets…lame

  8. Have used Opera on PC for years and still use it on Mac.
    So configurable and features that I love include mouse gestures, use keys 1 and 2 to flip back and forth between tabs, caching visited pages so that back and forwards buttons respond instantly, zoom control in menu bar, ‘find in page’ in menu bar.
    Yes, I know other browsers have now got some of these, but Opera has had them since day 1.
    Lack of support for 1Passwd is the only real letdown.

  9. Here is a potential reason why it hasn’t picked up in the NA. Not sure whether most firefox plugins are English, but if they are, then that may prevent people from favoring it over Opera across the ocean. So, lack of plugins in ur lang, go with an alternative.

    I often rely on Opera or Omni in the rare cases that FF can’t handle some ad-laden sites, which seem to work smoother in the other browsers.

    I find that printing the rare google map is a lot better handled by safari than FF, so that is when safari gets some viewing time from me.

  10. Opera 10 is really fantastic! You have to give it at serious try before you judge it.
    Safari and Firefox are both very good browsers, but it´s the little things with Opera that has truly captured me.

    Opera Link is awesome. I don´t need to backup or take care of my bookmarks because Opera does it for me.

    Mouse gestures is like crack. Once you try them, you´re hocked!

    Sessions and session restore is great. Pick up your browsing from yesterday as if you never turned off your mac and continue from where you left off.

    Creating custom searches makes everyday lookups easy. Make your own searches for phone numbers, map locations, facebook, wikipedia and Just right click on any search field, and create your own with a custom keyword. I have for instance fb for search in facebook. So in the address bar I type ´fb name´ to search for that person on facebook.

    That´s just four of my favorite features in Opera, and you don´t need to add any plug ins and what not.

    And with the Unite Applications coming in the next release, things are really looking good. The possibilities with Unite is endless!!

    My advise is that you use Opera extensively for a week, and you will understand why Opera has been around for 15 years, and will be around for many more.

    It may sound like I work for them, but I only speak warm of a piece of software that I personally really like.

  11. Yes the ads maybe gone, but the reputation for those ads remains. Yes Opera is now free, but again their reputation for being a paid application remains. I think in the US Firefox captured the rebellious status against IE that Opera never really was able to.

  12. I also use Opera, discovered it quite a long time ago, and I like it although it has some quirks. However, I don’t find it’s interface bloated. All the major functions (find in page, copy an image, search in google etc) work basically the same way as in other browsers. And as for all the extra stuff available in Opera (mail client, widgets, left panel): usually it doesn’t use any resources and you don’t even see it unless you enable it.

  13. Charles W. Moore

    Note: The ad-supported version has been history for several years now. To the best of my knowledge, now that OmniWeb has gone freeware, iCab is the last of the for-fee browser Mohicans. I love iCab (another browser with a non-orthodox feature set, and the latest version 4.7 seems to have been given a shot of potent elixir de lapin — it’s speedy! However, it still requires a $20 registration fee to banish the nagware reminder, which has to be holding it back. Worth a look though:

  14. I find Opera to be bloated, overloaded, overwhelming and ugly. The interface is a mishmash of confusion, and it takes me forever to find what I’m looking for.

    I keep it around to test my websites, and in the hope that one day a new release will be greatly simplified and become a better OS X citizen…it is making strides in that direction but far slower and far more painfully than I expect from well developed apps.

    A line from Burroughs’ Thanksgiving Prayer sums up my experience nicely — “You always were a headache and you always were a bore.”

    • @Maintainer

      How can Opera be “bloated” when it’s a much smaller download than all the other less functional browsers, exactly? “Bloat” is when all the features make the application bulky and slow, but Opera actually has the smallest download size and snappiest UI of them all.

      Ugly? LOL. You are desperate to make up anything you can about Opera, aren’t you?

  15. I love Opera Mini (version 5 is a lot like iPhone’s Safari, need I say more to describe the epicness of it?) and, umm, dislike Opera on the computer. Why? Because it has a c**pload of unnecessary features. For example, whether I use its built-in email client or not, it sits there and takes up space. Or a widget engine as part of a browser?! Sounds almost as random as a video converter as part of a word processor. I don’t say the email client, the widget engine, or whatever feature is bad. In my opinion, it just doesn’t have to be part of a browser! Released as an extension (a la Firefox) or as a separate app, each of them could win many hearts while not clogging up installations of “I just freaking want to surf!”-type users. I prefer Safari and Firefox, as they don’t have anything more than I ask them to. Of course, it’s just my opinion, but I believe throwing everything the developers can think of into the app can just be a successful tactic with the 2.35% (actually even less when counting out the awesome Opera Mini) of users, who either need most of those added features, or simply don’t know about other browsers.

    • Actually, the additional features don’t activate until you actually start using them.

      Opera is a smaller download than competing browsers, so your complaint that “they take up space” is just crazy. Opera uses LESS space than less functional browsers!

      Widgets USE THE BROWSER ENGINE. Of course they need to be part of the browser. But they are running separate from the browser and can run without the browser running in the latest alpha build.

      Opera’s installation is not clogged up. It’s smaller than anyone else, and those extras don’t even appear until you specifically activate them.

  16. i’ve tried and re-tried Opera more times than i can count. the feeling i always come back to is that it’s just a pain in the ass. there are way too many ways to tweak the ui, and none of them feel intuitive. in my mind all the added features, so to speak, don’t actually make it a better browser, they just make it cluttered. i also feel most of the time when using it that the people that made it like to feel superior about themselves or something – i can see them as hardcore linux freaks.
    i’ll keep dipping my toes in the water every now & then, but it’s highly doubtful it’ll ever feature prominently in my daily usage.

    • Great response oliver. At the end of the day, Opera never gave me a substantial *reason* to switch. Opera is simply not better than the leading browsers. I don’t see enough innovation to make the change worthwhile.

    • “all the added features, so to speak, don’t actually make it a better browser, they just make it cluttered”

      Except they are hidden or disabled by default, and you won’t notice them until you actually activate them.

      Opera is far from cluttered. It’s all in your head because of your bias against Opera.

      “i also feel most of the time when using it that the people that made it like to feel superior about themselves or something”

      Not everyone is like you, Mac-fanboy-who-feels-superior-for-using-Mac, duh…

    • manlip – wow. anger issues?

      i’m sorry you seem to have taken such offense at my post, but i have no ‘bias’ against Opera, i just plain don’t like it and am entitled to think so, as you are to think it’s great.
      as for apparently being a ‘mac-fan-boy-bla-bla’, i don’t recall my original post mentioning anything about using a mac. i’ve used Opera on pc’s and mac’s, and have been continually unthrilled by the experience on both. my comments on Opera are about the browser, not the platform.

    • @ maniip – you certainly are quick to resort to name calling. now who’s the one with the bias?

      whatever your predictably original response might be to that, i’ll sign off with this crazy concept – if you hate macs so much, or mac users for that matter, maybe consider reading a website that’s not geared towards that very same market.

    • @oliver, I don’t hate Macs at all. I just find it hilarious that a Mac fanboy bashes Opera users for something Mac fanboys are infamous for.

      Reality is, you are just reflecting your own fanboyism over on other people. Maybe you feel superior for using Mac. I don’t. Nor do I feel superior for using Opera (or Firefox). They are just tools!

    • @maniip – it really pains me to re-enter this debate, but please feel to point out to me and anyone else unlucky enough to be following this, in no uncertain terms the following:

      a) where i bashed opera users
      b) where in any of my posts have i displayed my apparent unquestionable devotion to apple products
      c) where i have been ‘reflecting’ ‘fanboyism’

      When i say, in no uncertain terms, i mean QUOTE ME.

      In order to set the record straight, i plain don’t like Opera. This is an opinion that has been reached after trying the program numerous times over many years and many different versions (yes, including the latest), on both pc and mac. I find it slower than my usual browser, it doesn’t work properly on sites it require it to, it has an interface i’m not overly enthused about, and has an extended feature set that i don’t care about.

      In short i don’t like it, and i don’t have too.

    • @oliver

      Are you joking?

      Here’s what you wrote:

      “i also feel most of the time when using it that the people that made it like to feel superior about themselves or something – i can see them as hardcore linux freaks.”

      Again, this is quite ironic, coming from a Mac fanboy!

      Opera is far from slower. It actually has the most responsive UI, and the fastest rendering of all browsers. The UI looks just like any other browser.

      But this is, again, besides the point. You have an irrational hatred of Opera based on your own misconceptions. Fine. But your comment about Opera users is amazingly hypocritical considering your Apple fanboy status.

  17. Back when I was running Windows 95 and MSIE was so unstable that we called it “Exploder” I actually paid $20 dollars for Opera, it was so much better.
    For a few years, Opera came in two versions – a paid version and an ad supported free version, but they dropped that years ago.
    Opera is very big in the embedded market and that’s where they make most of their money.
    I think if I were still running Windows I would use Opera as my default browser. However, on OS X Opera (and Firefox) just don’t integrate well into the system – they show they are multi-platform programs.
    I still keep a copy of Opera around. Sometimes I’ll run into a website that renders much wider than my screen in both Safari and Camino. Opera has a button to force such sites to render in the width of the browser – a feature other browsers still lack.

  18. Gazoobee

    I would say Opera doesn’t have as much market share because it purposely presents itself as an “alternative” browser for a minority market.

    From what I know of friends that use it, and also from Operas own marketing materials, it’s positioned as the browser that does things differently from the regular browsers. It has a unique interface, and just generally operates differently from Safari, FireFox, and MSIE.

    This is a great marketing point, and a good way to survive in a very competitive market, but to then turn around and suggest that it’s odd that Opera doesn’t suck up more of the market is just crazy-talk. It’s purposely designed to be a niche, “alternative” product, for those that don’t like the more standard browsers.

    To gain significant share, Opera would have to look and operate the way the majority of people like their browsers to operate. You can’t be quirky and different and also have the majority market share. Opera the company, is smart to position it’s product this way and no one that uses Opera the browser should be under the illusion that it will suddenly take over from Safari or FireFox in terms of market share. It won’t happen.

    • I’d say you are wrong about Opera wanting to be just a niche browser. Opera makes more money the more users they have. They have 40-50 million users on the desktop right now! Obviously they want as many as possible.

  19. Opera is in the middle of no man’s land. It does not have the 1,000 plugins that Firefox has, while Safari and Chrome are geared towards speed and minimalism.

    It also didn’t help that they initially charged for their browser even though it was revolutionary at the time. Even now they have some interesting features though I doubt it would make me switch from Safari.

    • slinkygn

      Speed and minimalism? For me, Opera always beat Safari on both counts.
      Chrome — OK, I’ll give you speed on that one. But it’s a resource hog. Opera has always been the fast, lightweight option in the browser market.

    • Totally agree with slinkygn, Opera IS fast and lightweight. I started to notice that people don’t even know how Opera looks like, but shout that Firefox/Chrome is better. Ehh..

    • Pixelsnader

      I have not done extensive testing on dozens of pc’s, but on the (relatively low end) pc’s I’ve built for my girlfriend and several relatives i noticed that the latest version goes a lot faster and can handle more simultaneous tabs (O 15+ versus FF 2-3 max)
      even though it has preview tabs, torrent, mail etcetera all enabled by default.

  20. Doesn’t the free version have ads bundled into the browser? It’s been awhile since I’ve looked at Opera. I’m not much of a fan as the UI is not intuitive and the browser doesn’t feel at home on any of the OS’s that it supports, in particular OSX. Opera does everything but does not excel at anything to make it a “must have” product.

  21. Hi, I live in Spain and I have to say that here, in the Western part of Europe, Opera is a perfect stranger, few people know it and less people do use it. People stick with IE or, if lucky, have switched to Firefox, Safari and Opera are generally unknown.
    Personally I discovered it when I switched to mac a year and a half ago and i was looking for new browsers to try with my new machine. Although I knew it existed I had never tried it (mainly because I hadn’t yet owned a computer of my own), and when I did I really liked it and I’ve been using it (along with Safari and Firefox) since I first tried it. After deleting my HD and installing Snow Leopard from scratch I just installed Safari and Opera and I’m really doing OK.
    I think people had to give it a try, and if they actually made the effort of understanding its power many people would choose it as their default browser