"Our thinking is there's only one Internet, so our goal is you have the same access to it from any device, whether it's a PC, a phone or a TV," says Jon Tetzchner, the CEO of Norwegian web browser developer Opera Software.

He adds, "There's only one network, and if a [business] model doesn't work on the PC, it won't work on a mobile."

Increasingly that means the same capabilities everywhere, not merely similar functionality, he argues - even if to achieve that you have to shift some of the page processing into the network to allow for lower-powered devices, as Opera does for its Opera Mini browser.

The eponymous company's new flagship though is Opera Mobile, a full HTML-compliant browser that's offered both to hardware manufacturers - Opera claims 115 different devices shipped with its software aboard last year - and for end users to download.

Indeed, it says the next release, Opera Mobile 9.5 - due out in beta this spring on Windows Mobile, with Symbian and Linux versions to follow - will not only have the same capabilities as its latest Opera 9.5 desktop release, it will even use the same rendering engine, called Presto 2.

WAP and its kin were a dead end, says Tetzchner. Even XHTML, which "was better than HTML to the purist," was never going to fly - simply because it's not HTML.

"The biggest growth now is in Opera Mobile," he adds. "Opera Mobile is a full browser, it can handle anything that the desktop can, but it downloads the full page."

He admits that the latter won't work for everyone, which is why Opera also offers Mini, a free download which relies on routing all its pages through servers in the network.

Oslo's data gannet

A software company running a server farm for a free browser? Sure, he says.

"We have around 20 percent of Oslo's data traffic," he adds. "It's just a question of how we deal with handsets that are slow, and provide the best user experience.

"With Opera Mini, we are compressing data so you can have a good experience even on a mobile data connection - it uses our servers to compress and render. We have a very big server room - server rooms would be more accurate.

"I don't see our need for servers changing in the future. If the network is fast enough they can use Opera Mobile because it can do more, but even normal 3G isn't all that fast - and most people are still using GPRS.

"The point is we are always trying to offer a better user experience. We want to get the Internet into the hand of everybody, including poor people in poor countries."

Information wants to be free

To make all of this free to the user, Opera's had to develop other revenue streams. Its early desktop browsers were a bit like shareware - either you used it free and put up with some adverts, or you paid a modest licence fee for a clean version.

However, its rivals - Internet Explorer and Firefox - were free to use and eventually Opera had to follow suit.

"In 2005, we made the decision to go free on the desktop - our revenue now is we get paid from the search bar," Tetzchner says.

"Mini is a free version, we are doing deals with content owners. We do let users change it, so we could lose revenue [if they move away from the paid-for content], but we want to have a good product for users."

Tetzchner claims not to be worried by the competition, even though Opera seems destined to always be number three - years ago it was behind IE and Netscape Navigator, and now it's behind IE and Firefox.

"I still see huge opportunities on the desktop - the fact that Firefox has got so many users shows the potential," he argues. "There are countries where we beat Firefox, but we'd rather they had the share than Microsoft."

He adds that there's a lot of work going on at Opera to improve the desktop browser, not least to keep up with - or ahead of - the others. It has had tabbed browsers for many years, but now IE7 and Firefox have the same, for example.

"You have to remember that the core function of a browser is browsing," he says. "Site compatibility is a problem, especially is the site is coded only for IE. Then you're looking at speed - we have rewritten the engine to be faster and smaller.

"There's lot of improvements in the mail client - we actually have users who use Opera because of the mail client. A big part is the ability to use large amounts of data, for example to find email by sender or a keyword.

"It's fast search too, because we put all emails into an underlying database. The ability to synchronise bookmarks and the searchable history is also very powerful."

A better mousetrap

But how do you develop a better user experience? All too often it seems that hardware and software is developed by technologists who have no real concept of how the average user thinks.

"We do have some ergonomics people," says Tetzchner, "and my background is in computer science and user interfaces, but the most important thing is to listen to users. If they don't like something they're going to hammer us."

And he adds that just recently he has seen signs that the rest of the market is coming round to Opera's view that the right way to go is to put the standard Internet on a mobile device.

"Competition is heating up in the mobile space, with the iPhone coming out," he says. "We have been competing with WAP, and we were a lone voice saying 'The web works', but now we have Apple saying it too."

At the same time though, there is a huge opportunity still to be filled. There's lots of devices out there, but few are Internet-enabled yet and those few are mostly email-only.

"The mobile side is a numbers game," Tetzchner says. "Microsoft sells 10-20 million devices a year, that's just 1 percent or so [of the total available market]. But in most companies, mobile is still only email and they haven't mobilised other applications yet."