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Opera Adds IRC, RSS To Browser

Browser software maker Opera has launched the latest version of its alternative to the Internet Explorer (IE) Web browser, which includes a new look along with Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and Rich Site Summary capabilities.

For the first time, users of the Windows, Linux, Mac, FreeBSD and Solaris operating systems can download the Opera 7.5 beta version Thursday without compatibility issues.

Beta testing for its stable version Opera 7.21 began in October 2003.

Point upgrades to software (in this case Opera 7.21 to Opera 7.5) usually add behind-the-scenes compatibility and bug fixes, but Opera seems intent on backing up its claim as being "more than a Web browser." With the addition of IRC to the Oslo software company's Web browser, Opera is looking to deliver on its words.

Opera's new features include integrated IRC chat and the ability to track RSS feeds, as well as a beefed up spam and email filters and a spellchecker. Visuals for the Web browser have also been updated in order to offer a much "cleaner" look and feel.

Users can either download a free, ad-supported version or pay for the premium version for $29.25.

The additions to Opera's Web browser are only part of the company's efforts to gain headway against Microsoft's IE dominance in the browser market. According to statistics at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, IE is used by 72.2 percent of a recent survey, with Netscape (11.8 percent) and Opera (1.2 percent) lagging far behind.

The company has been involved in a major push to increase its presence with wireless providers, a relatively untapped market for rich media browsers on handheld devices. According to tech site OSNews.com, the most popular Web browsers on mobile phones are text-only versions like Lynx, Links and AvantGo, which make up more than 65 percent of the visitors to its mobile site.

Thursday, Opera officials and handset manufacturer Kyocera announced a joint venture that puts the Web browser on AH-K3001V phones in Japan around mid-May. The next generation phones promise to deliver exact replicas of any Web site, using Opera's Small-Screen Rendering (SSR) technology. SSR reformats Web content to fit the smaller screens found on mobile handsets.

Opera also supports two mobile browser standards -- cHTML and xHTML -- so users can continue going to their existing mobile Web sites if they choose.

The joint offering is already available in China, under the Kyocera V91 and PS-900 models.

In February, Opera formed a partnership to combine its HTML browser with the WAP software at mobile phone giant Motorola and cross-license the two products.