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Jon von Tetzchner, CEO, Opera Software

Jon S. von TetzchnerJon von Tetzchner really knows how to make a splash over browsers.

The CEO of Opera Software, which just released version 8 of its Opera browser Tuesday, is so confident about the latest version, he's ready to take a plunge in the Atlantic to make his point.

During a recent company meeting, Opera said if the download numbers of the new Opera 8 Web browser reach one million within the first four days of the launch, von Tetzchner will swim from Norway to the U.S. And he'll only need one stop-over for a cup of hot chocolate at his mother's house in his home country of Iceland.

The move comes in the wake of Opera's swamped servers after this week's release. After quelling the folks who had to wait in line for the latest release, the company upgraded its servers -- and along with them, apparently, the CEO's confidence that they'll hit one million downloads.

Von Tetzchner recently took some questions from about the browser, Web standards and, of course, improving the surfing experience.

Q: Of all the features in version 8, such as voice commands and support for Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) , the small screen rendering (SSR) technology, what are you most excited about?

A lot of that depends on who you ask. We put a lot of focus on security in this release, such as displaying a security certificate when accessing secure sites. Now, when you go into a site, and you're wondering, "is that a site you can trust?" you have an extra security level with more information in the URL field about the site's certificate.

This allows people an extra way to check if a site is for real, so they can guard against phishing attacks. It's more difficult to spoof somebody if there's no certificate present.

When you can go to a site, such as a banking site, and fill out the details of an account, you can also check, does it match the certificate? The likelihood of getting an illegal certificate is more difficult. So you get that extra bit of information in the URL field. This is quite new for any browser. There's been a lot of focus lately on the phishing threats. People wouldn't enter their banking information if they knew it wasn't a secure site.

Q: What was behind the thinking on this Extensible Rendering Architecture (ERA) feature? That is, what problems with past surfing experiences were you looking to address?

To a certain extent, the interesting part of what we do in the mobile and enterprise space is to help desktops. In this case, we did small screen rendering for mobile devices. It takes multiple columns and makes it into one. That makes sense on mobile screens.

But in other cases, like smartphones, you have a little more space. Does SSR become the optimal solution that makes everything into one column at 400 pixels width? Is that the optimal screen solution? Then we did TV screen rendering with 500 pixels and big screens. But you have to have something that's very readable. So out of all this, we combined it into ERA.

It looks at your screen and makes the best of it, so you don't have to scroll horizontally, which, from a usability standpoint, is something people don't like to do. All the studies show this. People get used to scrolling vertically, but feel that having to scroll horizontally is a sign of bad design. With ERA, we can handle any screen size. And the good part of all of this, when Web designers design for Web pages, they can do it all for one screen.

We've worked with the W3C and analyzed Web pages for 12 years now. That teaches you a few things. And we are using our knowledge to make the best of it. This was always the intention of the Web. You gave a description of a page and the browser had to decide.

Q: What is your issue with the Wireless Access Protocol ?

People tried [to use the protocol] to make a separate mobile Web, and it's a mistake. It's not the same as the Web. So you have to make two [browser] designs that are not totally compatible. We think you should use Web standards and use different [style sheets] for different standards and sizes. We think more designers are using style sheets. Over time, we'll be seeing more of this. We think the chicken-and-egg problem has been solved in this regard -- that is, too few browsers using style sheets because they use the WAP protocol, which is a closed garden that offers a limited browsing experience.

Q: Which brings us to the SSR usage question.

It's already in more than 10 million devices with Opera, many of them in Europe. But it's taking off in Japan as well, where they're using it as a sales argument. KDDI and DoCoMo are also positioning their products with Opera browsers [on their mobile devices].

Q: How about in the U.S.?

We've had talks in the States, talks with PalmSource for example. We've spent a lot of resources on talking with Sony, Motorola, Nokia. We hope to do more in the States.

Q: Can you tell us about the browser's native support for SVG?

What it gives you is scalability, because the graphics are made with lines and polygons, not just points. So when you scale, it does so in a beautiful way. That's a big point. That means SVG is great for mobile devices. And the nice thing about SVG support is that it supports the W3C standard.

When you combine that with other Web standards like Document Object Model, , HTML and CSS, you get some powerful things you can do.

That's the path we're on, and this is the first step toward that vision. We think this [SVG 1.1 Tiny] is extremely important and will be considered a backbone standard of the Web. Just like CSS took some time to catch on, the same applies to DOM, which is also going into the mainstream.

We're also seeing this in more and more Web applications. We're already seeing Google experimenting with native applications, whereas you're running an application but it's not static anymore. The Web used to be static.

You'd go to a page, and yeah, there was some animation about it, but what's happening now is it's becoming more and more alive. Now, we have applications being written using Web standards. Microsoft may not like that, but the rest of the world does.

Editor's note: von Tetzchner later made good on his swimming pledge.