On Tuesday, Opera Software announced that it was making its award-winning Opera Web browser available for free to all users. Previously, Opera had offered two versions of the product, a paid version, and one that was free but included in-place advertisements. Today's re-release of Opera 8.5 signifies an end to that strategy. Now, the company will offer only one free version with no ads.

"Today we invite the entire Internet community to use Opera and experience Web browsing as it should be," said Jon S. von Tetzchner, the CEO of Opera Software. "Removing the ad banner and licensing fee will encourage many new users to discover the speed, security and unmatched usability of the Opera browser."

Described as the fastest Web browser available on any platform, Opera has pioneered a number of features we now take for granted, including tabbed browsing. The latest version--codenamed Merlin--is quite full-featured, with an inline search box, a password manager, integrated security features, an integrated email and newsgroup client, and facilities for navigating its entire interface via voice or keyboard.

Opera freed its browser in order to better compete with Mozilla Firefox, a free browser alternative that has managed to secure over 8 percent of the market over the past year. By comparison, Opera, which has been around for ten years, has only garnered 1 or 2 percent of the overall browser market. Web browser experts have often hailed Opera's superiority, but the previous policy of charging for the privilege of using the product had turned away many users. Now, Opera hopes to make up the lost income from paid users via a link with Google in the search box.