Opera Software's plans to beef up its browser so that Adobe Flash Player-like functionality will be intrinsic to the program are a move in the right direction. At present, web developers have no consistent way to deliver media-rich content to the unlimited variety of platforms and browsers used by surfers worldwide.

Using client- and server-side scripting, web developers can divine which browser and operating system a user is running, but that's of little help. Safari, Firefox, Mozilla, Internet Explorer, and the rest all require plug-ins, also known as Browser Helper Objects, to present content that's richer than W3C standards demand.

Media player plug-ins, with Windows Media Player, RealPlayer, and QuickTime leading the category, are not consistently implemented across platforms. Each has its own style for wiring into browsers, its own terribly annoying traits, and its own set of proprietary formats that the others can't play, and yet each wants to take control of in-browser media playback when it's installed. And while all of these players have the ability to mix text, video, audio, scripting, and GUI interaction, these features are hardly ever used. Media players are used to play video and audio, and user interaction and scripting are handled in the browser with decidedly mixed results.

Only Adobe Flash Player touches all the bases: vector graphics, scalable text, animation, audio, video and scripting, and it rolls all of these types into a single document that's played by one widely accepted plug-in. Flash Player is smooth and responsive enough to handle interactive games, and encoding video for Flash allows developers to embed a unique GUI into the video. Windows Media, RealPlayer, and QuickTime don't hit that ‘one for all’ sweet spot.

But Flash is still a plug-in, large and highly demanding of computer resources, and while its platform coverage is broader than others, it's far from ubiquitous. Flash Player's girth leaves it notably absent from mobile devices, and that's where a common solution for rich, interactive multimedia documents is most needed.

Flash Player is well distributed, but the superlative Opera platform-native full browser solution is everywhere: Windows, Solaris, QNX, OS X, OS/2, Linux (SPARC, PowerPC, and x86), FreeBSD, and BeOS, as well as the three most popular feature/smartphone platforms, Symbian S60, Windows Mobile and UIQ. Opera offers consumer electronics vendors a browser for embedded and set-top use as well. Opera is ubiquitous, but even it can't control what happens when a user clicks a link to a media file.