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



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?

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