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Netz.de interviewed Vivaldi-Founder Jon von Tetzchner

Foto von Eike Betsch

von Eike Betsch (@bulltosh)-

Vivaldi has left the beta phase only about two months ago but already many users are considering the web browser to be a successful alternative to Firefox & Chrome. We have spoken with Jon von Tetzchner (CEO of Vivaldi Technologies) and got some interesting background information from our interview that we are happy to share with you.

By Eike Betsch and Sven Schäfer

Netz.de: Hello Mister von Tetzchner and thank you for making some time for me. It is an honour to interview the CEO of Vivaldi Technologies personally. You are originally from Iceland but currently living and working in Boston, Massachusetts. What made you choose that location?

Eine Portraitaufnahme von Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner

Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner - CEO of Vivaldi Technologies  

Quelle:  Vivaldi.com 

Eine Portraitaufnahme von Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner

Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner - CEO of Vivaldi Technologies  

Quelle:  Vivaldi.com 

Jon von Tetzchner: It was actually a process. I spend six month evaluating my options after quitting Opera Software. I wanted to try out living somewhere else in the world and by there looking at a number of options. I guess this is the shortest distance you can find to Europe and there is a very strong tech-community around Boston - so that was the reason for moving here.

I didn´t really know what I would do at the time. So I was thinking maybe I would even study. There were various questions ongoing. In addition: it is a really nice area here. But we are not really in Boston. I life a kind of north of Boston in a beautiful fishing village called Gloucester. And it is a great place to be in every way.

Netz.de: So it is calm there? You can work on your stuff and never get stressed out?

Jon von Tetzchner: Yes. In Gloucester there are about 30.000 people living here. And in my part of town there is about 3.000 people. So it is a really small environment. At the same time we are only 45 minutes away from Boston.

Netz.de: Speaking of location: Your company Vivaldi Technologies is headquartered in Iceland but many of your employees are working off-site from cities like Oslo, Helsinki, and Prague. Does this distance cause any complications for the cooperation of the team or for the development process?

Jon von Tetzchner: Actually the mother company is based in Norway, in Oslo. We have a subsidiary company in Iceland and in the US. And yes we have people working in different locations. We have one guy in Prague, another guy in Russia, a guy in Finland and one guy on the west coast here in the US. So we are redistributed. Working like that requires diligence. You have to work for it to work.

For example this month we are having a gathering here in the US. We have a place called the "innovation house", an old inn with 18 bedrooms. So people come and they stay. Some of them bring their families. That is a relaxed way for us to get the team working together.

Netz.de: That sounds pretty familiar. With everyone and their families together.

Das Team von Vivaldi bei einem treffen in Island

The team of Vivaldi at a meeting in Iceland  

Quelle:  Vivaldi.com 

Das Team von Vivaldi bei einem treffen in Island

The team of Vivaldi at a meeting in Iceland  

Quelle:  Vivaldi.com 

Jon von Tetzchner: Yeah it is a great feeling indeed. People are grilling and we are by the sea, so people are going onto kayaks and having fun. So I think it is a good combination of work and play. And I think also it is the kind of setting where you get a lot of innovation flowing.

Netz.de: Working closely and smoothly as a team surely is an important factor for the success of Vivaldi - especially considering the tough competition on the browser market in the recent years. How did you come up with the idea of launching another browser despite this challenging situation?

Jon von Tetzchner: When I left Opera my thinking was that I wouldn´t make another browser. But then there was a decision made by the Opera team - rather the management - to change the philosophy. So part of that was throwing away 19 years of work. So throwing away all the code that we have written. And I think that left a lot of unhappy users - and we had a very strong relationship with our users at Opera.

The users were telling me about it and Opera obviously. And I could see the comments. I was in a similar situation myself. I was using a lot of the functionality that was in Opera - including the Mail-Client and then I don´t have a browser anymore that will do what I need.

So from that perspective there was a need in the market

So from that perspective there was a need in the market, there was a need from those users and I mean if you look at it, older browsers in general are all moving in the same direction. They are all about a kind of simplification and removing functionality. Trying to be as easy to use as possible which in a way sounds great, but removing functionality that you have a browser that doesn´t do what you want it to do. You want to be able to deal with a lot of tabs, you want to be able to use keyboard shortcuts and you want to be able to change the look of the browser. And this is where we have chosen to be different.

Netz.de: So that are the things that set you apart from your competitors. But what would you say is the best feature that makes the Vivaldi browser stand out from the rest?

Jon von Tetzchner: I mean the most important thing is the philosophy. Our philosophy is that every user deserves to get the browser that he want. For example we believe that there is not a single correct user interface. Sometimes it is a question of what are people able to handle. Some people like more (or less) contrast, some people like big (or small) letters. But there is also just the question of some people prefer the tabs on the left or right side - or at the bottom of the browser. And why shouldn´t they be allowed to do that? Some people prefer to use the keyboard shortcuts instead of using the mouse for everything. That is a choice that we want to support.

But there is more to it. There are things like - we are going more to the features that are different -the tab handling. So by default we start up with where you left of - which we think is the natural. But obviously users can choose how they want that. You can have a lot of open tabs, so we introduced tabs stacking by dragging a tab on top of another one. You can reduce the number because they are clustered.

Then we have the tab stack tiling. If you have a big screen, like a 20 inch or bigger screen including 4K, the browser will only use a small fraction of the screen. So you can actually see multiple pages side by side, easily by tiling the tab section. There are a lot of details like this you can go and do. You have the control how pages are viewed, easy access to things like zooming, page actions to change how the pages look, image control if that is important to you because you are on a slow connection.

Netz.de: I use it too and I really like your tabs, not least for the information search. Since the official release of Vivaldi on April 6 earlier this year, you were able to win over a lot of users to your alternative browser, with an estimated one million active users per month. Are you satisfied with the current numbers?

We are very happy that so many people are downloading and using the browser.

Jon von Tetzchner: This is a very good start. We are very happy that so many people are downloading and using the browser. And we are just continuing on the path of adding features and getting more users. We need a few million users to break even and then we take it from there.

Netz.de: What is your impression, did the switch to Chromium 50 cause any significant drop in user figures? After all it means, that owners of older computers, running Windows XP, Vista, or Mac OS older than 10.9, will not be able to use Vivaldi 1.1 or newer versions.

Jon von Tetzchner: Take a look at what we did at Opera. We supported Windows 95 and 98 for a very long time. Even after Microsoft stopped supporting it. So I think it is a little bit sad. Because in some countries it is 10 to 20 percent of the users that run still on XP and Vista. So it is unfortunate. I wish it was so that we could make a different choice, but we really cannot. Giving that we are using Chromium beneath.

I just hope that people quickly upgrade to Windows 7, 8 or 10. But I understand there are old computers and that is not always a viable option. So it is also unfortunate. A part of what we always thought and what we are doing at Opera was trying to adapt to the people - and part of that is allowing people to use 10 or 20 year old computers. But as we are using Chromium, there is a decision there to abandon a platform.

Netz.de: Let us talk about profit: What is your goal for the next couple of months? Or do you rather have long-term plans instead?

Jon von Tetzchner: We have a long term plan. We have to make some revenues. It is only a question in getting the right number of users and then we will be profitable. It will take a bit of time but that is ok.

Netz.de: Another important topic is mobile apps. The market is growing rapidly and more and more users are surfing the web exclusively on their mobile devices. But Vivaldi is only set to be released for Android in 2017. Why this late? Do you have other priorities?

And we decided that we are a small team and we wanted to getting up the desktop browser up first.

Jon von Tetzchner: When we started working, we actually started working on mobile as well and then we were finding that there were certain issues. And we decided that we are a small team and we wanted to get the desktop browser up first. And then we want to add a couple of features. We are currently working on mobile, but we don´t want to put too much resources into it before 2017.

Netz.de: Some of our readers will probably wonder by now: Well, what about iOS? Is Vivaldi going to be released for Apple's mobile devices as well? Is there maybe even a projected release date?

Jon von Tetzchner: We have to evaluate as we move forward. The problem is that Apple doesn´t allow us to run the same code on the different platforms. So we build a browser and that browser will run on Windows, Mac OS, Linux and we will also get a browser that runs on Android. The problem on iOS is that they don´t allow us to use the same code.

If Apple will change their ways that will make things a lot easier for us

They would like us to do something specific and utilize their browser and their engine instead of Chromium. That requires a very significant amount of work from our side and in the end it will not be the same browser. So that is an issue. If Apple will change their ways that will make things a lot easier for us, and I hope that they do. They should. But if they don´t, it is going to take a longer time.

Netz.de: The Vivaldi browser is currently updated every six weeks. Will you stick to this schedule for the foreseeable future?

Jon von Tetzchner: We will stick to this schedule. In a way it is dictated by Chromium. They send out releases every six weeks. And because we are using that we don´t want our users to run an insecure Chrome version. So we cannot be very late compared to that.

Netz.de: When can we expect the next major update (Vivaldi 2.0)? And what are some of the new and innovative features that we can look forward to?

Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner hält einen Vortrag auf einem Podium

Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner at a live presentation.  

Quelle:  Vivaldi.com 

Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner hält einen Vortrag auf einem Podium

Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner at a live presentation.  

Quelle:  Vivaldi.com 

Jon von Tetzchner: I think you will see a lot of new and innovative features like in the 1.2 update and will see them in the 1.3 that is coming next. We are including Themes, which is actually pretty cool. If you like to control how your browser looks you will love it. And we will continue to do those kind of things. I think that in 2.0 the main big thing will be the E-Mail client.

Netz.de: Will there be integration of other Clients as well? So that I can use my current E-Mail-Address.

Jon von Tetzchner: It is a Client. So it will be able to work with different E-Mail-Providers equal if you are using Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo or any of the hundreds of servers out there. They will work as long as they are providing an IMAP interface.

Netz.de: Before I leave you, let me ask one personal question: What browser do you use at home?

Jon von Tetzchner: I only use Vivaldi. (laugh) That is very reasonable. Given that we have started to build a browser because we didn´t feel that any other browser was doing what we needed. We are building a browser for ourselves, we are building a browser for our friends and anybody is welcome.

Netz.de: Thanks a lot for the great interview, Mister von Tetzchner. All the best to you and your company from the team of Netz.de. We will keep an eye on the future of the Vivaldi browser. Take care and goodbye.

(This is the link to the german translation)

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