It is not every day that one gets to chat with Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner who co-founded the Opera browser and was the CEO of Opera Software, Norway. After leaving Opera, he founded the Vivaldi browser.
When I was told that he was coming to India and wanted to meet me, I could not let this opportunity go by. So it was on 8th November that I went to meet Jon and Varsha Chowdhury who handles Vivaldi PR, in Mumbai, along with my younger daughter. Varsha who is settled in Oslo was politeness & courtesy epitomized and made us feel very comfortable. And meeting Jon was an experience in itself!
Jon pronounced as Yon (Icelandic), or Yun (Norwegian) is all of 6′ 5″ and as down-to-earth a person as one could expect. He was quick to make me feel comfortable as I was quick to see his passion for browser-building.
To break the ice, we started talking about Iceland and Norway, two of my favorite destinations among the 25 odd countries which we as a family have visited as tourists. We started talking about the dolphins, the whales, the beautiful nature and the Dairy company he owns there.
Here is an excerpt of the talk I had with Jon.
Why did you actually leave Opera?
Opera was started with 7000 USD and just two people, and we had taken the browser’s installation to over 30 million computers. But when Opera threw away 19 years of our work and decided to move in a different direction, I decided to quit and develop a new browser because we felt that there was a need for one which offered a personal user experience.
Just this week the deal has been all completed! The transaction is done. Opera is now a Chinese company.
Personally, I am saddened by what happened to Opera, but it makes it even more important what we are doing as a company now to replace what Opera used to be.
Vivaldi will follow the spirit of what we had in Opera.
Why start a new browser
Vivaldi browser is in some ways like Windows 10 – it is continuously updated and therefore an ‘unfinished’ product as such. We are always looking at ways to improve it and introduce new features.
Apart from our own developers we have a huge team of volunteers who help us in shaping the future of the browser. I am very humbled with the fact that so many people want to help us all the time.
And no there are no plans to go public or sell the company. The employees own the company!
Why should one switch to Vivaldi?
Vivaldi is built on Chromium and so is as secure as the Chrome browser. Moreover, most Chrome extensions work on Vivaldi. People never learn all the features. You don’t need to learn all the features – just learn the ones that are imp to you. But those that are imp to you, you want to have them there.
We are making a browser for our friends, says Jon. There is no right way to do things; there are individual ways to do things and Vivaldi addresses this basic need, by introducing several useful features.
Vivaldi ships with a superlative bookmarks manager and its Tab stacking feature is truly useful! You can also change tab positions and make them appear on the sides or the bottom; you can Undelete tabs which you may have closed in the last 24 hours, show pages side by side on screens with large resolutions, make use of Web panels, and more! Our password manager is presently as robust as the Chrome one, but over time we will be better.
You kill innovation when you tell users you cannot think for yourself. If you are allowed to think for yourself, ideas flow and innovation happens. And so we encourage innovation and are constantly looking for feedback from users and volunteers to improve the browser. The contribution of the volunteers in making Vivaldi what it is is amazing.
User privacy is important to us, and we are not monitoring what you do.
How does Vivaldi make money
Basically, it is the Search Deals which bring in money. Some Bookmarks also generate revenue. We are looking to make just a dollar a user per year.
During Opera launch, you had promised to swim across the Atlantic if Opera downloads crossed a particular number. And when it did, you actually made an attempt. So are you planning to ‘swim’ again?
Not at this time, but you never know – Things happen! :)
When are you planning to launch Vivaldi for Android and iOS?
Vivaldi browser for Android is under work and will be launched next year. Apple doesn’t allow all browsers. You can only build on top of Webkit, but Vivaldi is a Chromium-based browser. So while we can do it, it will take long, and so we have no such plans currently to build Vivaldi for iPhone.
What new features can one expect in Vivaldi for Windows
There are a lot of cool things happening in 1.5. In v 1.5 you will be able to change the color of your lights when browsing! It will also include a screenshot tool.
We are also working on a mail client with a very fast search function. The beta will be released in a few months.
Won’t including too many features make the browser slow or bloatware?
No that will not happen. It’s not too much code, and features can be turned on or off optionally by the user. This approach is lot lighter than adding extensions.
Your views on built-in adblockers
There is so much quality content available on the web, and it is available for free, and so we want the web to stay free. And so Vivaldi does not include an adblocker. If some user wants to use it, the can use some browser extension.
What will happen if all ads on the web were blocked? The Internet would no longer be free and websites would start charging money to view pages.
We want users to get equal access to all quality information, and we want to keep it that way. Killing all ads would be going one step too far.
We take the Internet we have today for granted. But the internet we have today is a result of several fights. There were clearly a lot of companies that wanted to own the Internet. It is, therefore, important to work together to continue to keep the Internet free.
And No, I do not use an adblocker!
On Vivaldi work culture
Vivaldi works like one strongly bonded family. We follow a flat structure where all sit in a hall and interact and disagree freely with each other.
The Innovation House in Iceland & the US throws around ideas and see which can be developed – and we encourage new ideas.
Jon and his smartphones
My daughter noticed that Jon had neatly laid down 6 smartphones on the table. On asking he replied that he carried 6 smartphones wherever he went – each one for a different purpose. He likes to try out different technologies. So from an Oppo to an LG to a Blackberry he carries them all. He has even used a $60 Android phone he had purchased in Philippines. Part of this was to understand what you can get for a little money. His perfect phone does not exist, he says.
Vivaldi has a lot of features, will take the time to learn, but once you learn them, you will get hooked to it. Download Vivaldi and give it a try and let us know what you think about it.