I read with interest an article posted about the Norwegian browser manufacturer Opera giving up on the Macintosh market after the release of Safari. The Opera claim is that they can't compete with Apple's nameplate in the Macintosh market and that because of that, they are going to bow out of the Mac market as not profitable for them.
Now, as many of you know, I have some strong opinions about Apple's willingness to enter and trounce markets through releasing software directly over top of existing commercial software. I understand the Apple arguments about this: the tighter integration of Apple software helps the platform; and, they rarely release high-end products (unless they purchase a market leader), but instead fill a quality hole in the bottom of the market. I don't always agree with these assessments, as some of the niches that they have chosen to jump in to are a bit less interesting to the general public than they claim (I'm still not sure that the latest Sherlock is really an important addition to the Watson product).
However, the claim of the Opera team that the it is impossible to compete with Apple on the Macintosh platform and that therefore makes the platform not financially worth fighting for is interesting. If you look elsewhere in this article, you'll also notice that they state they haven't been making much money on the Mac platform anyway, and I think I understand why. It turns out that there is a pretty sophisticated set of runnable, quality, feature-capable browsers for the Macintosh and I (for one) don't find Opera to be a compelling entry into this crowd.
After using Opera on the Zaurus (linux-based) PDA, I decided to download it and give it a shot on my Macintosh, along with: Mozilla, Chimera, Internet Explorer, Omniweb, and a couple others. What I found was that the speed and accuracy of Opera on the Macintosh left it well behind most of the other competitors and made it uninteresting to me. Thus, unlike some of its competitors, it found itself deleted from my hard disk (once per version, so that I could see if they were improving--not noticeably).
I did pay for Omniweb, and I have used Chimera very heavilly since its release earlier this year. Internet Explorer is still in my dock because some applications just won't work without it, and Mozilla is in my Applications folder because I just need an application that doesn't listen to system preferences every once and a while (they don't heed the Proxy settings correctly).
Whereas I feel for the folks at Opera as far as not wanting to go against Apple in a market, I do believe that if they had something worth using, they would find that it would be reasonably easy to compete and that the Macintosh market is full of zealous users who will gladly tout your benefits to all of their friends and neighbors.
Now, if they want to complain that a 3.5% market-share is not worth going after, then that's another issue altogether, but I'd imagine that would be a problem of poor source code, as a well-maintained multi-platform source code base can be easy to keep alive on the Macintosh. It does require some dedicated Mac resources, but with the Unix underpinnings these days, they are required for only the user interface and configuration pieces.
Open source as the problem for Opera
I think that of more concern to the folks at Opera will be the points made in the end of the CNet article, that the market for Opera will dwindle as better open-source options become available, and it appears that Apple is working hard to help make that a reality.
Frankly, Apple's been bitten by the open source bug hard and has seen that, for things that require adherence to standards, it is of substantial benefit for them to participate in and benefit from the open source movement. After the relatively successful Darwin release, Apple's found that they can leverage the community at large and build good-will with it by using open-source platforms as the basis for the bits of the operating system that can't serve as positive differentiators. A strong HTML engine is one of those things that OS X needs and doesn't yet have. The announcement that Apple will be releasing the framework for public use later this year is a good sign that the Macintosh will have a standard HTML capability to rival Microsoft's successful ActiveX browser control, used by so many of the people developing hybrid applications under Windows.