Opera Courts Colleges With Free Browsers

In a forward-thinking move to gain ground in the browser battle, Opera has said it would offer free software licenses for the product to universities. That means students can use its fee-based browser at no cost to schools.

Pointing the finger squarely at its competitors, Opera yesterday said the offer is in response to schools’ increasing concern over potential security threats students might encounter while using “less secure browsers.”

Part Graciousness, Part Marketing

However, analysts said this free browser offer is perhaps part a gracious attempt to save professors headaches and part a crafty marketing ploy to win future users.

Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox told the E-Commerce Times that Opera has devised a great marketing gimmick. Universities, he said, have good reason to be concerned about security because younger Web surfers don’t necessarily have the best habits (read: file-sharing).

“Opera is smart to capitalize on security concerns,” Wilcox said. “It also helps level the playing field among potential future buyers. Internet Explorer is free. Firefox is free. Opera is not. By getting its products into the hands of students and getting them accustomed to using Opera, students may be willing to pay later on.”

Student-Friendly Features

Wilcox said Opera includes features that are attractive to student users, like RSS feeds and Instant Relay Chat. The browser also offers tabbed browsing, integrated searches and pop-up blocking. And Opera’s saved-sessions feature allows students to manage research.

A number of institutions, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Oxford University, have already made Opera available to their student community.

“Opera is the ideal browser for the university environment,” Opera Software CEO Jon von Tetzchner said. “Opera’s user-friendly features, accessibility options for the disabled, and cross-platform and customization capabilities make life easier for students to manage their various study needs.”

The Skinny on Security

The Opera browser is fully customizable depending on each school’s particular needs. For example, a university can use its school colors and mascot in the design of the browser’s buttons, backgrounds and borderscomprising the user interface.

The Opera browser also features a communication banner where the school can insert news or other announcements for its students. This feature can be used as a line of communication between the school and its students.

Customizable features aside, it is the security message that Opera is pushing in this announcement. However, even with security flaws found last week in Firefox and the seemingly endless stream of such found in Internet Explorer, Wilcox doesn’t see a mass migration to Opera based on security.

“Flaws are going to happen,” Wilcox said. “I monitor services that track security flaws and see posts for different products every day, and not just browsers. They don’t necessarily get out to the public through the press. Remember, a potential flaw isn’t necessarily a real security threat.”

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