Opera seeks a wider platform with release of Widgets SDK beta

With the sad status of being the world's #4 browser settling hard upon it, how does Opera find a niche? This morning, it answered that question by demonstrating itself literally picking up the pieces of an old project, and calling them an SDK.

According to recent statistics from the Web developers' educational site W3Schools.com, about 1.4% of the world's browsers last month responded as being Opera. That on the low side of where Opera's share of HTTP requests has been hovering for at least the last five years.

How Opera breaks loose from this pattern means it has to seek niches outside its base as The Third Web Browser, especially now that Safari's HTTP usage share is rising to an all-time high of 2.2% -- thanks in large measure to its prominent place on Apple's iPhone. Opera wants a piece of the mobile market too, and to that end, it released its 4.1 Mini browser for mobile devices at this time last week.

Today, the announcement from Opera deals with its attempt to gain another toehold in a market outside its traditional base: widgets. Actually, Opera has courted widget developers for at least the last two years, presenting Opera as a platform for JavaScript-based applications to run outside the browser and on users' desktops. But now that courtship becomes somewhat more active, with the company's first release of the Opera Widgets SDK.

Building Web application-like scripts into widgets is certainly nothing new; the little devices are now ubiquitous on both Mac OS X and Windows Vista platforms, and Stardock paved the way for scripted widgets in Windows with its DesktopX platform.

As BetaNews discovered this morning, the Opera Widgets SDK isn't actually a downloadable kit as things that call themselves "SDK" tend to be. Rather, they're a compilation of links to Opera's existing resources, including documentation that's been on file for quite some time.

Opera's Widgets SDK shown here with a sandbox console simulating a mobile device.  (Courtesy Opera)

Opera's Widgets SDK shown here with a sandbox console simulating a mobile device. (Courtesy Opera)

Technically, Opera's widgets bear very little difference, conceptually speaking. They're comprised of XHTML files for embedding JavaScript functionality and gadget placement, and CSS files for style. As far as tools are concerned, there are actually only three, and only one of them is new as of today. Another is Dragonfly, the browser snap-in tool for deconstructing and editing Web sites, that Opera released two weeks ago. The third is DOM Inspector, which should be familiar to Opera developers, and should actually be unnecessary for those using later browser versions and who already have Dragonfly.

Genuinely new to the package today is Opera's widget emulator, which gives developers a bug's-eye view of their widgets as they might appear if they were running on different platforms. By "platforms" in this context, Opera obviously means mobile ones, which leads us to one of the unspoken truths of this entire venture: Maybe it doesn't always like to say so up front, but Opera sees its long-term future as resting on the success of its transition to the mobile space.

By comparison, by the way, W3Schools.com estimates the previous three versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer to command 54.8% of HTTP traffic for April 2008, with Mozilla Firefox rising to an all-time high of 39.1%.

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