NEW YORK — Opera Software ASA is now giving away its Web browser and removing ads in an effort to broaden its user base and capture revenues by referring traffic to search engines and e-commerce sites.
Before the availability of Opera version 8.5 this week, users who downloaded the browser had to either pay $39 or view ads while browsing.
Its competitors, including Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox, carried no such requirement.
Christen Krogh, Opera's vice president of engineering, insisted the move was not prompted by the success of Firefox, whose rapid growth in usage has threatened to push Internet Explorer's market share below 90 percent for the first time in years.
In addition to getting revenue from fees and ads, Opera's browser also had revenue-sharing agreements with other sites, primarily Google Inc., for directing traffic through the browser's built-in search box.
By expanding the number of users, Opera can expect to earn more through such deals, Krogh said. A wider presence on desktops, he said, also could help Opera get on more mobile devices, where Opera has an advantage because its underlying code is more compact than its rivals'.
According to WebSideStory, IE had a 91 percent market share on Windows computers in April, down from 97 percent in June 2004. Opera remained steady at about 0.2 percent, while Firefox more than doubled its share to 7 percent.
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