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Almost two years ago, the Norwegian browser firm Opera ripped out the guts of its product and adopted the more standard WebKit and Chromium technologies, essentially making it more like rivals Chrome and Safari. But it wasn’t just Opera’s innards that changed; the browser also became more streamlined and perhaps less… geeky.
Many Opera fans were deeply displeased at the loss of what they saw as key differentiating functionality. So now Jon von Tetzchner, the man who founded Opera and who would probably never have allowed those drastic feature changes, is back to serve this hard core with a new browser called Vivaldi.
Old meets new
Vivaldi doesn’t mark a return to Opera’s old internals – it uses Chromium as a base and has a user interface that is itself unusually built using web technologies – but it does bring back features such as tab stacking, an advanced bookmark manager, keyboard shortcuts and the ability to start with multiple session windows.
Opera used to be “more feature-rich, for a crowd of users that want more from their browser,” von Tetzchner told me:
After I quit [as CEO in 2010, then fully in 2011], Opera changed their philosophy. They made kind of a browser that’s more in line with most of the other browsers and doesn’t have a lot of features. The focus is in a way on making the browser disappear, and I think there’s a lot of people that want something different.
While these users could install Chrome with “30 extensions” to get all the functionality they want, von Tetzchner argued, now they can install Vivaldi and get everything in the main package.
Based on the quick play I’ve had with the first Vivaldi technical preview, publicly released on Tuesday, there’s more to it than just reviving the old Opera feel (though that’s a clear aim). For example, the HTML5-based UI allows the browser to rather neatly adopt the color scheme for the page being visited. The use of web technologies for the front end also makes it easier to launch cross-platform – the technical preview is available for Windows, OS X and Linux right from the start.
The “sister service” to the browser, the Vivaldi.net community suite, already launched quietly about a year back. This was in many ways a replacement for the old, ditched My Opera community, and it provides blogging and forum functionality.
“We believe it will be the natural playing ground for those that are using the browser, with a free mail service and a place you can put your photos,” von Tetzchner said, noting that the mail servers are based in Iceland. “It’s not really a commercial site; we haven’t spent a lot of time marketing it. But we will add more functionality and change it gradually.”
Von Tetzchner told me more new browser features will be revealed by the time Vivaldi reaches its first full version (WebRTC will likely be supported, for instance.) A mobile version is also in the works, though von Tetzchner wouldn’t say more on that subject than “We’re going for a browser that has more functionality than what you’re used to, but also has more different ways to do things – the principle of that will be the same on mobile as it is on desktop.”
The Vivaldi team numbers around 25, a “substantial part” of which is the technical team, and more than half of which are former Opera workers. Von Tetzchner is personally funding it all for now, but the browser’s business model will be the standard affiliate-deal affair.
Will Vivaldi be big? It’s hard to say – Opera itself hasn’t broke past a market share of a few percent for many years, apart from in the feature-phone market. But Vivaldi does seem to combine a fresh new look with an impressively old-school appeal to the power user, and it may well find its niche. Perhaps not everyone does want the browser to just disappear into the background after all.