Why would anyone want to buy Opera?

So now it’s Microsoft that’s supposedly going to buy Opera, everybody’s second favourite alternative browser (next to Firefox, of course). Not that long ago, Google was reported to be the one looking at buying the company. Of course, Google was supposed to buy Riya too, but that never happened.

This one could wind up in the “nice rumour, shame about the facts” file as well. A spokesman for Opera says there is no truth to the rumour, and while companies often deny things that eventually turn out to be true, the denial wasn’t one of those weaselly “we can’t comment” denials – it was a flat-out “no way it’s happening,” kind of denial.

Could Microsoft be looking at acquiring Opera? Sure it could. After all, buying the company would probably cost about what Microsoft generates in free cash flow every half an hour or so. But why? Opera has about 1 per cent of the browser market, which makes Firefox look like a giant. It’s not a bad browser, but all the things that make it special – including the tabs and other doo-dads, as well as the stripped-down mobile version – are fairly easy to duplicate.

So the question is, why buy the company? Any goodwill that Opera has developed in the browser market would be annihilated by a Microsoft acquisition, so that’s worthless. The browser is free (thanks to a deal with Google). In fact, the Google rumour made way more sense, since Google doesn’t currently have a browser. Of course, that doesn’t mean Microsoft won’t buy Opera anyway – it just means I don’t think it makes much sense. My friend Paul Kedrosky says it makes as Microsoft “buying a lavender farm.”

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