Powered by Opera Widgets, Web Applications Take Center Stage

When asked what we do, our CEO Jon S. von Tetzchner frequently replies that we are a browser company first and foremost. Putting our browser in all kinds of devices is our passion; through our products, millions of people around the world have full access to the Web. But the browser is more than just a window to the Web, and the Web itself is more than just content to be read, viewed, or heard.

We believe that the Web is the next great application platform. This trend has been long in the making. Before the Internet revolution, we began with applications on our individual and isolated computers. Later, applications would connect to the Internet for updates or to facilitate real-time interaction with other users (like in multi-player online games). Now, many (if not most) of our most important applications live completely on the Web and are accessed through the browser. The browser, we like to argue, is the most important application on your computer.

Defining the future of online work

In today’s information-based society, our work is increasingly interconnected with the work of others, and those connections are expected to be instantaneous and ubiquitous. It comes as no surprise that both the process and the product of our work are being moved away from our local computers and into “the Cloud”.

The rise of cloud computing is an important development, and it is something we whole-heartedly support, but the Web as an application platform means more than just that. Earlier this year, we announced Opera Unite — a technology that we believe places control back in the hands of users, giving them a choice regarding where and how their data is used online. Today, we are introducing another, complementary technology — Opera widgets for desktop that run as standalone applications — which is aimed at empowering application developers by allowing them to take full advantage of the Web and its associated technologies. In a nutshell, this is a new framework for Opera Widgets for desktop, allowing them to become standalone desktop applications and offering enhanced features and new flexibility for Web application developers who wish to create rich experiences for their users. To understand the evolution of this technology and our approach to it, some context may be necessary.

Widgets: more than you think

In 2006, Opera Widgets became part of our desktop browser, and they were later seen in some of our mobile and device offerings. Since their introduction, there has been occasional confusion about what widgets are, what they are for, and why they are important to Opera’s long-term vision. In our worldview, widgets are more than just fun, little gadgets that extend the browser’s capabilities. Widgets are, in fact, full-fledged Web applications. Web applications are not just programs that you use by visiting Web sites that host them. They also include programs that live on your computer, do not necessarily require an active Internet connection, are built using Web technologies (such as HTML, CSS, AJAX, Canvas, and SVG), and are powered by browsers like Opera. These types of widgets or Web applications have two major advantages:

They are cross-platform

In the world of desktop computing, there are only a handful of operating systems that most people in the world use. When it comes to mobile phones and other handheld devices, however, there are vastly more operating systems and computing environments to consider. For developers who want to reach the maximum number of users, this diversity is a significant obstacle to overcome. Creating software on one platform is difficult enough, but having to port that software to a wide variety of other platforms is a herculean task.

To bypass that problem, we offer up the browser as a solution. At Opera, we have always specialized in making sure our browser works across a vast number of devices, from laptops and mobile phones to set-top boxes and video-game consoles. By leveraging the ubiquity of the browser, software developers can use Opera’s Web-rendering engine to power their applications across a huge range of devices with relative ease.

Just as products like Opera Mini and Opera Turbo are helping to bring the full Web to users who would otherwise lack access, Opera Widgets help to level the playing field — allowing anyone with a browser to use cutting-edge applications, even on underpowered devices.

They are based on open standards

Unlike some other software development platforms, Opera Widgets are based on the same open standards that power the Web, such as HTML and CSS. As such, Web developers can write full-featured applications by using and building upon the skills they already have, without having to learn a totally brand-new programming language each time they want to support a new device. The openness of the standards also means that developers are not at the mercy of companies who own and maintain proprietary platforms. With the evolution of HTML 5, CSS3, SVG, etc., open standards promise to revolutionize the Web, while keeping it in the hands of the people as opposed to corporations. Opera is heavily involved in making widgets themselves part of the W3C body of standards, so that Web applications will be truly interoperable across all standards-compliant browsers. The Open Web is at the heart of Opera’s vision, and Opera Widgets for desktop brings us one step closer to making that vision a reality.

First-class Web applications

Previously, widgets in Opera were heavily dependent on the browser itself, meaning that you had to have Opera open to download and run the applications (even if the applications did not require live access to the Internet). With the launch of Opera Widgets for desktop, this has changed for the better. Opera (less than 10Mb on Windows) must be installed to power the applications, but it no longer must be running to download or use them. The applications now have the ability to be standalone programs with their own installers, shortcuts, and file system access. They even run as their own processes — separate from the browser itself. In other words, Opera Widgets are now much more like regular applications that users are familiar with. Opera Widgets for desktop promises to give developers the options they need to create the optimal experience for the users of their applications, combined with the aforementioned benefits of Web applications that are based on open standards.

This initial release of Opera Widgets for desktop is a technology preview and will likely include some bugs and incomplete features. Your feedback will help us improve the quality of the final version and is much appreciated!

For more information on Opera Widgets, please visit widgets.opera.com.

If you are a developer and want to know more about using Opera Widgets for desktop to power your Web applications, please visit dev.opera.com.

If you just want to try it out, you can download the latest Labs build here:

Note: These builds have been updated to Opera 10.2 alpha. Read about Opera 10.2 alpha here.

Congratulations to our development team in Poland (and others around the world) for making this release possible!