A Web of unlikely places

Geir Ivars°y in 1993, using a device known as źtelephone╗

Opera is celebrating 15 years of coding — it was in April 1994 that Jon and Geir wrote their first lines of code that was to become the Opera browser. Such an anniversary is an opportunity to revisit the past and chart the future. In the past, Opera's code has given people in unlikely places, often using unlikely devices, access to the Web. What will the future bring? What will a typical Opera user be doing on the Web in 15 years?

Before speculating over that question, it is worth looking back a little more. Making a better browser wasn't an obvious thing to do in 1994. I worked with the Opera founders at Norwegian Telecom and, quite frankly, I didn't believe in the idea of making a better browser in Norway. I thought software was something Americans could create, and that Oslo was an unlikely place for it.

Instead of writing code, I wanted to write specifications for the World Wide Web. So, while Jon and Geir wrote their first lines of code, I left for CERN in Switzerland to work with Tim Berners-Lee. I wanted to ensure that there were well-written specifications, specifications that described rich Web functionality. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) came out of that work.

Five years later, in 1999, I had to admit I was wrong about software in Norway. Geir had just spent three months implementing CSS, and he had easily surpassed Microsoft and Netscape's implementations. Wow. I was impressed. I joined Opera to ensure there were at least one good implementation of W3C specifications.

Oslo, Norway, isn't the only unlikely place on the Web. CERN itself was an unlikely birthplace for a universal hypertext system. And Mosaic, the web browser that changed the web from a research project to an eye-opening experience, came from another unlikely place: Illinois.

Today, Opera's code has found its way into many mobile phones. Opera Mini has made it possible to surf the Web from just about any mobile phone. Opera Mini is a tiny application that runs in the phone, and it connects to server parks that compress Web content to make it faster and cheaper to access Web pages from mobile devices. By analyzing the server logs, we find some unlikely countries; Russia, Indonesia, Ukraine and China top the list of users. The Web is well on its way of becoming truly world-wide.

Opera also has many users in the promised land of software: USA. In January, the Chicago Transit Authority noticed that lots of Norwegians Web users were tracking buses in Chicago online. Is Norway so boring that watching Chicago buses online is good entertainment? Not so. It's more likely that these źNorwegians╗ were Opera Mini users who happened to use Opera's server farm in Oslo. Bits find their way to and through unlikely places.

This trend will continue in the next 15 years. People in unlikely places will have bright ideas and they no longer need a green card to implement them. (But you will need to read and write English.) As such, the Web will — along with the printed book — be the greatest equalizer in human history.

I also think the following will be true in 15 years:

Finally, browsers will know where they are. Even in unlikely places.

howcome 2009-04-28