In April 2005, Jon S. von Tetzchner, co-founder and then CEO of Opera Software, promised that he’d swim across the Atlantic Ocean from Norway to the US if the latest version of the company’s Opera browser crossed one million downloads in four days. Opera is a pioneering Web browser available for PCs, mobile phones and other electronic devices.
Unfortunately for Tetzchner, that figure was reached comfortably, and Opera’s communications department urged him, “as any respectable CEO and gentleman”, to stand by his word.
“Do you know how that one ended?” he says, smiling. “The guy who got me into this problem—Eskil Sivertsen, the public relations (PR) manager—was supposed to be my guide. So he was on this tiny inflatable raft with a map and compass.” The boat, named Phantom, was punctured a few hours into the marathon swim. “He couldn’t swim, so I had to rescue him and bring him back,” Tetzchner says. The company issued a irreverent press release detailing these turn of events, ending with a statement by Sivertsen: “I owe my life to Jon, and I can only hope that he doesn’t fire me for ruining his dream of swimming to America.”
Tetzchner was in India this week as a speaker at a Delhi summit on the future of the Internet. He spoke to Lounge on the future of the browser and how stoves can also be connected to the Net. Edited excerpts:
How important is India to Opera? A lot of the new mobile brands here, such as Micromax, are bundling Opera Mini with their basic handsets.
Omnipresent: Tetzchner sees the browser spreading everywhere. Pradeep Gaur / Mint
India is important. It’s our No. 3 country for Opera Mini, and it’s growing faster than anywhere else. The user base here, especially on the old Symbian Series 60 phones (used by Nokia), is huge. Phones like the Nokia N70—they seem to live forever.
We’re happy to co-operate with the new brands. I bought this really unique phone for my daughter—the Micromax Bling? The um, girly phone. It’s actually a really interesting design. Indian manufacturers are coming with these innovative devices, and they’re becoming Internet-friendly at a great price point.
Do you think the move towards apps and app stores reduces the importance of the browser?
On the PC side, we’ve actually seen a gradual move away from apps and towards the Web. We don’t have a problem with apps, but we see problems for the developers. Suppose a developer wants to reach as many people as possible. If you analyse the market—to reach a sizeable number, you have to develop an iPhone version, then Android, Windows Phone 7 and the BlackBerries. So the cost of delivering services and data is too high. It doesn’t scale.
There’s been big discussions in Norway, with people who make apps saying “we can’t make money from this”. You can make small money, which are also the guys who get a lot of media coverage, but it’s difficult to build a large business.
That’s where the Web comes in?
Yes. From this perspective, what we need to make it easier for developers is that we need one platform. But you don’t want one platform like Windows, because that stops innovation. What you want is a compatibility layer—and that is the Web. No one owns the Web, and all the competitors sit around the same table and quarrel about the next set of standards. That’s good. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.
You’ve talked in the past about Opera being available in all kinds of devices. Where all do you see the browser being embedded?
Everywhere. This year, televisions are seeing a lot of activity, especially in Europe. We’re already present in cars and trucks, in photo frames, media players, gaming consoles, shops and retail systems.
In the future, I believe even your stove will be connected. We built a fridge version of Opera for an IBM project a while ago, and a stove makes sense. You have guests for dinner and you’d like to “enable” a timer remotely and have a camera monitor your steak while you’re driving home. If it starts to burn, then you...well, panic and call someone to fix it.