- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009

Sometimes, publishing and releasing software is a roll of the dice: It can come up snake eyes or double sixes.

Last week’s release of a new Web browser from Opera Software, the Norwegian firm nipping at the heels of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox, is very good, but I don’t hear any angelic choirs.

By contrast, the new operating system for Apple’s iPhone, OS 3.0, certainly hits all the right notes.

Metaphors aside, some realities should be noted: The Web browser market is immense — we’re all on the Internet, right? — but it’s also dominated by Microsoft and Mozilla, not to mention Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome browsers. Nosing in there is tough, to say the least.

Thus, Opera has a steep hill to climb. And for the iPhone, unless you’re willing to risk scrambling the entire device, you can run any operating system you want, so long as it’s Apple’s. This means that even if you choose to put off upgrading at first rush, you’ll probably end up acquiescing at some point.

Opera’s new version is fast, flashy and has some nice features, such as a “zoom in” mode that enlarges the entire area of a Web page when a combination of keys is pressed that normally enlarges only the text. It’s nice that this zoom method is the default.

The speed with which Opera renders most Web pages is also quite nice; it makes sluggish connections seem faster, and super-fast connections seem positively brilliant.

The only thing I used to ding Opera for may have been fixed: The program does load, albeit more slowly than Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari, the electronic edition of The Washington Times. Once loaded, individual stories open super-fast.

Would I make Opera my only browser? Not yet — I’m still skittish. But it is moving very nicely forward.

The firm is also developing and testing “Opera Unite,” supposedly an open platform where data and Web browsing would be possible on multiple computers. You could set up the system at work and use it to share files and access data from home or from a public computer. If it works as advertised, it will be interesting.

Check out www.opera.com for the new browser, and if you feel inclined, let me know what you think.

And what do I think of the new iPhone operating system? It’s pretty much an answer to prayer: You can select, copy, or cut and paste text from one place to another, you can type and read e-mail in landscape mode and there are massive new search features to comb your device for programs, data and other information.

Is it all perfect? Not yet, since the search feature sometimes finds too much — for example, too many instances of something such as a common word or name — and the upgrade won’t give you the voice dialing and other voice commands available only on the new iPhone 3G S. But it’s far better than the iPhone versions offered before.

Other key improvements are not yet available to U.S. users of the iPhone: MMS messaging, a form of texting that includes pictures and video, isn’t supported yet by AT&T; Wireless, nor is “tethering,” which lets you use the iPhone as a wireless data modem for your computer. AT&T; says it will introduce MMS service at some point, while tethering may come later this year, if industry rumors are accurate.

I do like the way the iPhone will now log in to a Wi-Fi hotspot: It’s much smarter and easier to keep organized. The “find my iPhone” service offered with Apple’s $99-per-year MobileMe data service is great, but it’s also $99 more than you’re spending if you don’t already have MobileMe.

But the improvements are worth it. If you haven’t already, update your iPhone and be happy.

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