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Opera has released a desktop version of its mobile browser, so developers can see how their pages will look on a mobile phone and even create a widget or two.

Opera Mobile now runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux desktops, and renders pages just as they would appear on a mobile phone running the diminutive browser. What's more, Opera’s widget platform now also comes in a desktop version.

No one can agree quite what a "widget" is, but to Opera it’s a small application created using AJAX with a few additional APIs (which aren’t yet approved by the W3C). Widgets should be cross-platform, and Opera is hoping to licence its Mobile Widget platform to handset manufacturers just like its browser.

Both applications work well enough; users can change the resolution by resizing the window, and see how effective Opera’s automatic zoom really is. Comparing the experience to a real handset reveals the experience isn't identical. Font sizes didn’t quite match so the zoom level isn't the same, but that would only matter if you were doing pixel-specific layouts.

Opera Mobile, and Mini (which is available for testing as a Java Applet), offer what is arguably the best mobile browsing experience, and cope well with a wide variety of content. There is also Opera Turbo, a service that interprets and encodes web pages for faster transmission.

But while the Java-based Opera Mini enhances a range of handsets, including the iPhone, the "Opera Mobile" version runs natively on Windows Mobile and Symbian handsets. And with Windows Mobile already on the gallows steps the future of Opera Mobile now depends entirely on Symbian.

That may be no bad thing in the long term, but for testing Opera Mini is probably the more important platform.

So this is really about widgets and providing a desktop development for them, which is exactly what Opera has done. The widget client integrates with Opera’s Dragonfly development environment for creating and debugging widgets.

Which is what Opera needs if handset vendors are going to licence its widget platform, and bring in some much-needed revenue. ®

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