Opera With Your In-Flight Meal?

UPDATED: The Opera browser is jumping into the wild blue yonder along with in-flight entertainment provider Thales.

The browser is getting first-class placement in Thales’ TopSeries in-flight entertainment (IFE) system designed for Boeing and Airbus single- and twin-aisle aircraft, thanks to a deal with the French company, which has operations in California.

TopSeries is a Linux-based entertainment system for TV monitors mounted on the backs of airline seats. It provides a wide variety of in-flight features, such as satellite TV, jukebox, telephony and games. Opera’s part in the gig is to provide the browser/viewer component for displaying enhanced media menu options or viewing cached Web sites such as shopping catalogs, news and destination guides.

The announcement is the latest move by the 10-year-old browser software company to break out of the consumer browser market where it began and move into industry-specific areas as part of its growth ambitions.

The company has for years enjoyed popularity as the “other” browser that offered an alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), especially after the so-called browser wars with Netscape. But that popularity has waned recently.

According to browser statistics at W3Schools.com, Opera’s seen a dip in usage — 1.6 percent to 1.3 percent from October 2004 October 2005 — from the continued dominance of IE and the advent of Firefox, which in a year’s time has shot up to 19 percent in market share.

The company hasn’t abandoned its desktop browser; in fact, the browser’s latest version includes innovative features such as new security enhancements, the use of XHTML+Voice and BitTorrent support (found in version 8.02).

In September the company launched Opera 8.5, which removed banner advertisements on free versions of the browser and the licensing fee that came with the ad-free premium version. The move prompted 3 million downloads in two weeks, according to officials.

But Opera has been spending just as much time in other areas of browser development, notably on the mobile front. Opera for Mobile, a full-featured Web browser for mobile devices, is supported on a range of handsets such Nokia, Siemens, Samsung and Panasonic as well as an alternative on some Windows Mobile devices.

Last month, company officials expanded on its mobile push with public beta tests of the Opera Mini in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. Based on Java 2, Micro Edition (J2ME), the Mini provides full Web browsing capabilities on nearly any Java-enabled low- to mid-range phone.

The Mini obviates the need to render Web pages on the phone by placing the processing requirements on a remote server and delivering the processed pages to the phone.

Officials said a global launch of the Opera Mini is expected soon.

Corrects prior version to reflect that Thales is a French company with operations in California.

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