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Opera to unleash ‘full web’ browser for smartphones

7650, P800, Linux...

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Opera Software has developed a 'secret sauce' implementation of its browser intended to bring the full web experience to smartphones (with Nokia's Series 60 and Sony-Ericsson's UIQ platforms among the early targets. And as a consequence, Opera CTO Hakon Lie told The Register earlier today, WAP will become redundant, and will die.

Oh yeah? So how do they do that then? Well first, via what the company calls "Small-Screen Rendering technology" Opera reformats the content of the page so that it is presented in a "one-dimensional" form (no, we're not going to have an argument about that - you know what they mean) so that you can scroll up and down rather than combining 2D scrolling with zooming in and out. At the same time you can still zoom in and out to get an idea of where you are, or to just plain read text better.

Of itself, this approach clearly isn't enough, no matter how intensely proud Opera might be about having figured it out. Improving bandwidth for mobile data (which will be even more improved as and when the networks deign to give us even a tenth of the GPRS capacity we need) might well mean it's easier to download huge web pages, but then - as users of small footprint, low-resource devices know all too well - your phone falls over.

So the amount you download has to take account of the hardware's capabilities, and this is where the other clever (clever if it works as promised) stuff comes in. The browser uses "qualified guessing to distinguish what is important from what is unimportant," says Lie. So it will try to figure out whether an illustration is simply there for decoration, or whether it is part of the meaning of the page. It's also possible (as has been the case with Opera for some time) to just shut off illustrations, but that of course means you'd be unable to see how impressive Opera's qualified guessing was. Or not.

Ads also contribute to page size and level of functionality, and while Opera doesn't want to get into blanket ad-blocking (as it's going to want to sell this browser to the operators, that, says Lie tactfully, "is a decision for the operators") the company is definitely on the case as regards ad handling. For example, you'll maybe have noticed that page loading of some sites (yes, The Register at peak times, we admit it) is impacted by the performance of external ad servers. Lie says Opera tries to distinguish between internal and external here, so external links (which doesn't just mean ad servers) have less chance of slowing the whole thing down.

One important point here is that provided it works as specified, the browser removes the need for the external provision of reformatting systems or portals that take web pages and rejig them for small footprint devices. These systems (something of this sort is used by Danger, for example) can be quite good, but they can limit the extent of your browsing, and they tend to lock you into specific service providers.

Can you get it yet? Well, yes and no. Opera admits it has the browser running internally on Nokia 7650s, and that there should be no problem retro-fitting it onto the handset you've already got. However The Register's initial attempts to obtain the code have been rebuffed on the basis that the UI isn't up to snuff yet.

It will however be so Real Soon Now. Lie won't name names, but says he expects to see it on handsets in Q1, and that it's likely to be available factory-fitted, through networks, as part of Symbian designs, all of the above. Presumably if you try hard enough you'll also be able to just download it, but we'd guess you might have to pay.

There is also a Linux version which should play on the various Linux PDAs there are around, and Lie suggests we could also see it on other Linux devices like set-top boxes. There's probably no great need for it on larger PDAs and hand-helds whose screen size is great enough for cursoring and zooming to be acceptable - Lie reckons about 150-300 pixels is the cut-off point for where it makes sense. ®

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