The Opera Software I knew and loved was a technology company filled with some of the most brilliant engineers I have ever met. Despite being a tiny company halfway across the world from where the real action happened, it managed to conjure up some amazing stuff.
The financial margins were slim, the salaries crappy, and the the roof of our derelict office building was literally leaking. But that was _fine_, as we were all in this together. Even the new guy received token stock options, owning a tiny share of something big.
The company culture was egalitarian. Decisions were not made in some ivory tower, but the CEO himself would roam the hallways, discussing with individual engineers. Even as the company passed 500 employees, we managed to retain very much of the startup culture.
The company had its share of problems, of course. Problems that, if not solved, would doom the company long term. Opera tried to be all things to all people, completely lacking focus. It allowed itself to be pushed around by OEMs that didn't understand the browser game. Its greatest strength was that the engine was portable to any platform, any device. But this was gained at a huge penalty to the development speed and agility.
With the lacking focus, Opera also failed to understand the importance of design. Having engineers in charge is great. Having engineers in charge of _design_ is a terrible, terrible idea. Opera was a great engine - with a very mediocre UI.
However, most worrying of all was that Opera grew complacent from having unsurpassed standards support, the fastest rendering engine, and so on. When things got difficult, one would blame Microsoft, as if taking the moral high ground would make any difference.
The decline and fall of Opera has been a gradual process. Just praising the old regime and blaming the new is too easy, too simple.
As the competition came back to the game around 2003-2004, Opera wasn't too slow to react. It didn't react at all. We should have thrown out that ugly ad-banner instantly. Dropped the old paid model the moment Phoenix came into existence. We should have made the project open source the moment Safari/WebKit became public. Or even better: before.
I was just a 20-yearold brat when I joined in 2004, fresh out of high school. I don't blame management for not listening to me then. But I'm sad that they didn't figure this stuff out themselves.
From there on, we were playing the catch-up game half the time, and pushing the boundaries of the Web the other half. I remember the rush to get XHR ready to ship just after Google Maps made use of it in 2005, making our browser look pretty bad. But I also remember the scramble to support Acid2 (2006) first, the rush to remain on top of the layout performance benchmarks - and the crazy experiments we did. Opera Platform, which was essentially Firefox OS many years ahead of its time, was pretty cool.
The platform work we did was amazing, too. We had the full web available on the most crappy devices you can imagine. The release of the Motorola A1200 (2005) was one of my proudest achievements. As was the fantastic adaptive zoom we made for the Wii (2006). The iPhone, made public a little later, had the exact same feature as we had come up with.
Apple and Mozilla's products, at this time, struggled with the same site compatibility issues as we did in this Microsoft era. But unlike us, they were focused on shipping one thing well. Their products became nice and pretty, while ours looked like something out of a hobbyist shed.
I believe our engine was _better_ than the competition for a very long time, but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. Over and over again. And by this time, the competition was picking up speed. They were loading the big guns, while we were not.
Even as the money started coming into the company in 2006-2009, we failed to make the necessary investments in our future. I became department manager in 2007, and remember losing people over petty salary issues. Minor to the company, but significant to the employee. Some of the people I lost I had to hire two new guys to replace - and train for a year before they could really step up. Man-years of wasted productivity, thanks to the holy quarterly numbers.
Not to mention the failed projects we poured resources into, draining all departments for the people they needed just to _catch_up_ to the competition. (Opera employees will know what I'm referring to. :)
Or the fact that when the testing systems I was in charge of became a major bottleneck of our development process, I had to scavenge discarded hardware from the trash to speed it up. I don't even want to know how many developer hours were wasted waiting for test results. I offered to have my recruitment budget cut to zero if I could just have the damned servers I needed to do my job, but burning out my team was apparently a better option.
These were just some of the issues I could see from where I was standing. Elsewhere in the organization, there were similar issues. Many of these things improved over the years, but it was too little, too late.
And as the old regime was slowly replaced by the new, they started making new mistakes. The way the 2008 reorganization was handled was atrocious. I kept my mouth shut then, to keep my department from worrying. The 2010 layoffs is a story of its own.
It eventually dawned on me that upper management didn't actually give a shit about the rank-and-file employees. We had become replaceable cogs in the machine. They abused the startup culture for a long while. Despite good margins, salaries were kept crappy, playing on the engineers' idealistic love for what they were doing. The token options were soon gone, too. The leftover money turned into impressive bonuses for the selected few.
We knew from the start that Opera Mini (2005) was a transitional technology, to be made obsolete as devices became more powerful. But there was no plan then, and I doubt there is any sensible plan now, for how to remain relevant after that era is over. We started with the best, most portable engine, and were surpassed by the competition while we were asleep.
The desktop browser has remained stagnant for years. We kept shooting ourselves in the foot with rushed, buggy releases. The same, crappy UI. The wrong, new features - instead of what people actually wanted and needed.
At some point, the cumulative mistakes made doomed Opera as a technology company. I knew we could have turned things around in 2007, if we wanted to - and knew how. Doing the same in 2009-2010 would have been very, very difficult, but possible.
By 2011, I knew it was game over and left.
You see, I'm not angry about the switch to WebKit. I'm disappointed that due to years of mistakes, this has become inevitable. Saying "18 years of development has been futile - our codebase is worthless, and will be dropped" is no victory. It's surrender. We lost, and it's our own fault. Stop blaming others - we brought this onto ourselves.
I'm not surprised about the layoffs. I'm angry that my friends and old co-workers, who I care a lot about, are treated like crap. The last half of the layoffs, mentioned in the Q4 report, seem to have been handled moderately well. The first half (affecting Core) seemed random and arbitrary, lasting weeks - and nobody knew who was next. Suddenly, without warning, the guy next to you - who had been there for a decade - would be leaving. WTF was going on?
And that's just the Scandiavian offices. Tokyo has suffered four rounds of this shit, without the benefits of Norwegian labour law.
I'm sad that the influential, aggressive Opera Software that used to push progressive agendas in standards bodies has become irrelevant. Its influence stemmed from having its own realm, its own voice. Now it will be playing third violin in the WebKit orchestra, following the lead of Google and Apple. Brilliant core engineers will be making a skin for Chromium, wasting precious talent.
I spent seven years of my life on this project. Now it's gone.
> You see, I'm not angry about the switch to WebKit. I'm disappointed that due to years of mistakes, this has become inevitable. Saying "18 years of development has been futile - our codebase is worthless, and will be dropped" is no victory. It's surrender. We lost, and it's our own fault. Stop blaming others - we brought this onto ourselves.
> I'm not surprised about the layoffs. I'm angry that my friends and old co-workers, who I care a lot about, are treated like crap. The last half of the layoffs, mentioned in the Q4 report, seem to have been handled moderately well. The first half (affecting Core) seemed random and arbitrary, lasting weeks - and nobody knew who was next. Suddenly, without warning, the guy next to you - who had been there for a decade - would be leaving. WTF was going on?
I thought I'd focus a bit on this part, because it seems to explain the source of your frustration.
You are not angry about the switch to WebKit (decision by the "new management"). You are disappointed in the mistakes by the "old management" which resulted in the "new management" making the switch. So it seems you don't like the move to WebKit after all.
You are OK with the second part of the process (where you seemed to say that people should have been lied to like you claimed happene under the old management instead of what actually happened), but not the first part.
But the first part is where people were given an offer rather than outright fired. I'm assuming that those who had a specific role in the new organization did not get an offer, while those who may not have a specific role yet did. Does this make sense to you?
That the first part of the process lasted for a while is probably because it took a while to figure out what position needed to be filled across the company. If there is no specific position to fill for someone, should he be allowed to choose to get another job, or wait even longer to see if there's a position he can fill when it all settles down?
So what it all boils down to is that you think the first part (where parts the company was restructured, and roles and tasks were not clear right away) was handled poorly. Was it really? I don't know all the details, but I can see a clear and logical reason for why things were done this way, rather than anything being arbitrary, sudden and unfair.
And those who could not accept the move to WebKit at least had a chance to get out with a decent severance package.
Hint..theres no strike
Its a shame people who dont pay attention are flapping their gums like that.
I'm still somewhat confused. Your description seems to contradict most your previous statements. You seem to be saying that the new management actually had to clean up after the old one because of all the bad decisions you claim were made. You seem to be saying that "the former management made terrible decisions for the company and product, but at least we all had a good time". I don't necessarily agree, but that seems to be the gist of what you are saying.
You are disappointed in the "new management" and yet your comment is about the "old management".
In fact, judging by your description, motivation at the company must have been at rock bottom even several years ago, when your previous comments would have people believe that everything was fine. Once again, I don't necessarily agree. I'm just going by your own description here.
> The company culture was egalitarian. Decisions were not made in some ivory tower
And those decisions, you later claim, were apparently the wrong ones. How does that fit your argument?
> Apple and Mozilla's products, at this time, struggled with the same site compatibility issues as we did in this Microsoft era.
I wouldn't say that. Mozilla had the advantage of the Netscape legacy, and Apple had the advantage of designers usually being on Macs (and despite its limited market share, Apple was loved by the press, giving the company far more influence than its market position would otherwise indicate).
> Not to mention the failed projects we poured resources into, draining all departments for the people they needed just to _catch_up_ to the competition.
Weren't these projects started by the old management, in the old egalitarian company culture you claim existed but is now gone?
> Suddenly, without warning, the guy next to you - who had been there for a decade - would be leaving.
But wasn't that his own decision? Wasn't that guy given the chance to choose himself whether to leave or not? Whether he felt he could live with the technology switch?
See, I have another problem with your criticism of the new management and praise of the old management. You mentioned the 2010 layoffs, and you seem to be saying that it was better to come up with what you claim was a bullshit excuse (economic downturn) to justify it? Once again I must stress that I am not saying that you are right or wrong as that is not my point. I'm questioning the consistency of your claims.
I think most people would agree that it's better to say nothing than to tell a lie. You seems to be accusing the old management of telling lies during the downsizing in 2010.
At least now we have made a major acquisition, which the management obviously could not discuss when the downsizing actually took place. It seems logical that one wishes to save money when buying something expensive, and try to avoid too large of a loan.
> When things got difficult, one would blame Microsoft, as if taking the moral high ground would make any difference.
Isn't this the old management again? And have you not just been arguing that taking the moral high ground is good? That morals are more important than doing what's right for the business? The egalitarian company which makes all the wrong decisions but everyone is having fun is better than the top management making a technology decision that some in the company may not agree with (or God forbid, passionate former employees do not agree with)?
> We should have thrown out that ugly ad-banner instantly. Dropped the old paid model the moment Phoenix came into existence.
You may not recall the round of layoffs back then. A company can't support further development without any revenue, after all. You can't just drop one of your main sources of revenue without knowing that you can replace it. And even when we did remove the ads, it was not certain that it would work. It probably would, but it was not a certainty.
> I spent seven years of my life on this project. Now it's gone.
Yes, I'm sure it's frustrating to see someting you've worked hard on for years disappear, but that doesn't mean it's the wrong decision.
Opera as you knew it is gone, you say. But the Opera you knew doesn't sound all that great if we are to judge by your passionate description of the state of affairs at the time.
All those decisions that you say were so terrible... they were made under the old "good management", in the culture you have just praised. It seems to me you can't have it both ways. You can't have engineers make all the decisions, and then first complain that this power was taken away from them, and later complain that the decision that were made under the system you praised were bad ones.
You want a technology-driven company where everyone gets to make or influence decisions, but you also claim that this led to major problems.
See, I can't get it to make any sense. While you seem passionate about this, it just doesn't sound logical or consistent.