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Opera Has No Plans To Go Open Source: Exclusive Interview

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Opera is one of those companies which is leading innovation in the Web Browser segment. Sadly, despite being one of the strongest proponents of Open Standards on the Web, Opera’s own development model is proprietary. We approached Shwetank Dixit, Web Evangelist, Opera to understand Opera’s inclination towards open source.

Swapnil: Do you have any plans to go open source?
Shwetank: Opera does not have any plans to go open source. Open source is a great philosophy, and has benefited many and we have deep respect for it, but its not for each and everyone. In Opera we believe that as great as open source is, its not for us. Unlike other browsers which are usually only on desktop, or at most mobiles (and that too, only one or a few platforms) Opera is on a range of devices, operating systems and platforms. Opera is on desktops (Windows, *nix and Mac), low end feature phones, high end smartphones, tablets, PDAs, gaming console devices and more, with a common ‘core’ engine running in all of them. This means we have to have a very clear vision of future releases, and a very tight control over the development process to ensure quality and timely releases across all of these platforms. An open source project, in which patches and additions are coming from all over the world and various intervals for various things, is not ideal for the way we work.

However, that does not mean that we do not support open source. We have released open source projects in the past and will continue in the future too. OperaWatir and Opera Dragonfly are examples of open source projects by Opera. The open source framework ‘celery’ was started by Opera employees. We encourage you to check out, discuss and contribute to these projects.

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Opera stands much more for Open Standards, and we have championed open web standards right from the start. Standards affect everyone, whether they are open source, open core, or closed source. Thats why we think its essential that people support open standards, and we take a lot of effort to support open standards. Opera is part of various standards bodies like the IETF, W3C, etc (In fact, we have one of the largest contingents amongst all companies when it comes to employees committed to doing standards work in the W3C). All opera technologies like Opera Unite applications, Widgets and Extensions are based on open web standards like HTML, CSS and JavaScript rather than proprietary ones. All this is to ensure a free and open web built on open web standards.

Swapnil: I understand that Opera doesn’t need the community support, do you think this approach has kept Opera away from concerned GNU/Linux users? The close development model doesn’t let users know what the browser is doing to the system or their information. Is it your concern?
Shwetank: We’ve always been quite open about what we new things we’re doing in upcoming versions of the browser, and our snapshot builds are released on the opera desktop blog very regularly. We also interact with the community on the desktop team blog every time we release a snapshot build. According to me, *most* people in the world don’t look through the all the lines in the source code of the browsers they install; they just use them to browse the web. There are other ways indirect ways to determine what and how the browser is changing external system resources pretty easily. Of course, if a piece of software is open source, then determining this is much easier. But we have our reasons for being closed source.

According to Secunia, which keeps an eye on all major browsers (and other software programs too), we are one of the most secure browsers around. Opera in general, also consumes lesser system resources than many other major browsers. So even though we are closed source, it is pretty obvious that on this particular front, we are performing well.

Swapnil: To many it seems Open Source is the development model of future where millions of developers work to improve your product. What do you say?
Shwetank: Open source very well will be the development model for the future for many products and services, but not all. What we believe is that even though Open source project model is great, it just isn’t suitable for us as the way we do development just doesn’t allow it. Unlike other browsers, which are only on desktop, or at most only on mobile (and that too limited to one or two OSs) Opera is not just on desktops (Windows, Mac, *nix) but also on a range of different mobile phones which themselves have a range of different OSs, as well as gaming consoles, tablets, vehicles, etc. A certain core code runs through all of this.

In this scenario, we need to be really sure to have a clear vision of what future releases on each product (Opera desktop, Opera Mini, Opera Mobile and others) need to have on all various platforms. We need to control the development very tightly to ensure timely and quality releases. In an open source project where patches are coming thick and fast from all over the world for various things for various platforms, it will be very difficult to manage all of this across all our properties.

Swapnil: Do you think Linus’ Law ‘given enough eye balls all bugs are shallow’ holds any value for an innovative company like Opera?
Shwetank: To an extent. The challenge first to get enough eyeballs in the first place. If you looks at our desktop team blog, and see the comments we get for various snapshot builds (especially RC Builds) you’ll notice that we get a lot of response from users. This helps in testing for bugs, and discovering new ones. So this law kind of holds as we do have a great base of users who download snapshots, beta, RCs and test them out and even suggest potential fixes.

The challenge we have is to then prioritize various issues we discover, listen to user feedback in the process and then work on it to make sure issues are addressed in the new version.

Swapnil: However, I do understand Opera has a decent mobile market where users don’t much care what is running on their machines as long as they are capable of doing it. But with the Android become more and more popular what USP Opera has over default browsers and open source Firefox?
Shwetank: Opera Mini is the most popular mobile browser in the world. On many mobiles, it is available by default. But on many others, people actively download and install it on their mobiles. Opera Mini, because of the way it works, provides a web experience which is faster (and if you’re on a pay per kb plan) cheaper on your mobiles. People also seem to love our interface, and especially our tab implementation.

With Android bases smartphones coming up, we see this as a big positive. People on smartphones are more likely to surf the web using their devices. We’re working towards making Opera Mobile the best mobile browser for smartphones, with better standards support, UI and performance.

Regarding Firefox, they still are just on one or two platforms. Opera on the other hand, is on a range of different devices and platforms. The question becomes: What USP do these other browsers have over Opera Mini/Mobile?

Swapnil: What is the status of the Open Source project started by Opera?
Shwetank: Opera Dragonfly ( http://www.opera.com/dragonfly/ ) is our most prominent open source project as of late. Opera Dragonfly is our developer tools and is available on bitbucket as an open source project ( https://bitbucket.org/scope/dragonfly-stp-1/ ). Patches are welcome! Opera Dragonfly has come a long way since its alpha release in 2008, and now is available opera users through the ‘right-click->inspect element’ option. Opera dragonfly has also been implemented in Opera Mobile, and one of its coolest features is that you can use it to do remote debugging for testing on mobile devices. An additional tool to it is called ‘Dragonkeeper’ ( https://bitbucket.org/scope/dragonkeeper/ ) which is a tool to translate Scope Transport Protocol to HTTP, which is useful in development for Opera Dragonfly. Its also open source and found on bitbucket.

The future plan for dragonfly includes more feature additions, bug fixes and a complete UI overhaul. We recently posted on labs.opera.com about the UI refresh and are getting positive feedback from the community on it.

Just recently we also released OperaWatir ( http://operawatir.org/ ), which is a great tool for doing automated tests for the things that require some sort of user interaction–clicking links, filling out forms, etc.. You can make ruby scripts which can, for example, goto a page, enter something in the search box, press enter and more. Its a very exciting testing tool, and its available as an open source project on GitHub ( http://github.com/operasoftware/operawatir ).

Swapnil: Opera started before Firefox and Chrome, FF is now one of the leading browsers. It’s open source nature made it popular among Linux and Windows users. Opera was once preferred browser on Fedora machine (I remember using it during my LINUX For You days) but now Firefox is everywhere. Don’t you think opening Opera will make like GNU/Linux fav and same users will install it on their dual boot windows or mac machines? Firefox has lately been criticised for getting slower, don’t you think this is right time for Opera to shake the market?
Shwetank: Ultimately, people care about good software, and sometimes its just a matter of preference too. Making Opera open source might make some more people install it on a few more machines, but ultimately its the quality of the software which makes people keep using it every day. And as I said previously, to ensure quality and timely releases for all our platforms, we have to work in a such way in which the open source project model cannot be incorporated properly at present.

A lot of people in the open source movement are also supporters of open standards, and we always see them having a soft spot for Opera because of that, and is one of the reasons why a lot of open source enthusiasts and Linux users still use and support Opera. The philosophy of Open Source and Open Standards are very much related. We in Opera, have been the fiercest and most loyal supporters of Open Web Standards, which we espouse whole heartedly, at the same time having deep respect for the open source movement as well.

Swapnil: What kind of market trend do you see for Opera browser?
Shwetank: I think in a few years time, we will see many more people accessing the web using devices other than their desktops and laptops. Web usage through mobile phones, tablet devices, gaming consoles, etc will be much more prevalent. Since Opera is on so many devices and platforms, we see a tremendous opportunity for the future. At the same time, we are working on adding the latest standards support to our rendering engine, with even further strengthening of our support for HTML5, CSS3, and other new web standards. We are working on making Carakan, our JavaScript engine, the fastest in the world. As usual, our focus on speed and security will remain, and we’re also looking towards making some interesting UI enhancements to our various products.

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