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Opera Announces Hardware Acceleration, Extensions, and More

Opera Announces Hardware Acceleration, Extensions, and More

Android Gets Mobile, Everyone Gets Hardware Acceleration

While Opera is often overlooked as a major player in the desktop browser wars (what with a market share of around 2-3%), they actually hold the top position in the devices browser market. Opera has two browser versions available for mobile devices, the full fledged Opera Mobile, and the lightweight Opera Mini featuring full server-side compression and processing. According to Opera Software's numbers, Opera Mini is available on over 3,000 handsets, has over 71 million active monthly users, and about 5.35 petabytes of data passes through Opera Mini servers every month.

With today's announcement, Opera will make the upcoming version of Opera Mobile available on the Android market within a month. Previously, only Opera Mini was available on Android, but with improvements to the Android OS, especially with the Android 2.2 update, demands for a full-fledged browser on Android have increased tremendously.

While we're on the topic of mobile platform support, there is currently no Opera version being developed for Microsoft Windows Phone 7. The reason for this is because Microsoft hasn't released any NDK or SDK to allow third party browser development to happen. Will Microsoft eventually allow native third party browser development on the WP7 platform? Time will tell. While Opera hasn't made any official announcements to a product release, it has been mentioned in passing that Opera is currently running "extremely well" on the MeeGo platform.

Hardware Acceleration and Pinch-to-Zoom on Mobile and Mini

The most interesting announcement for the Up North Web event was the availability of hardware acceleration through OpenGL ES 1.x and 2.0, plus smoothened pinch-to-zoom for both Opera Mini and Opera Mobile browsers. These features will be available on the next versions of the browsers, starting with Opera Mini 5.1 and Opera Mobile 10.1 respectively.

Currently, the first two operating systems that will be supported are Opera Mobile on Android, and Opera Mini on iOS 4. Availability on other platforms have not been confirmed by Opera Software, but they've mentioned that as long as the device has a modern multi-touch support, pinch-to-zoom is currently being worked on. The hardware acceleration technology used in the browser is also platform independent and can work with OpenGL, OpenCL, or even DirectX, so these features should be made available to most modern handsets, though Opera is currently determining what's the lowest acceptable performance specs on other devices.

What Exactly Is Accelerated?

As far as we know, Opera Mobile and Mini doesn't fully utilize the Vega rendering engine on the desktop browser, which allows full hardware acceleration for all rendering in the browser including HTML. The upcoming hardware acceleration feature on Opera Mobile and Mini is currently limited to rendering the browser UI, which will benefit UI drawing, navigation, panning, and zooming. This also allows for an incredibly smooth pinch-to-zoom on all sites, with almost instant text redraws at all levels. So in short, hardware acceleration here means an improved user experience of the browser itself, but it will not improve speed or loading performance of web content.