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Browsing on the Wii

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 31, 2007
(Issue 2535, Internet Millionaires)

We do seem unable to get past the topic of browsers in this space the past few weeks and months. From Apple's Safari being ported to the Windows operating system to the new Mozilla SeaMonkey browser for Windows, Mac and Linux, we've spent an inordinate amount of time on a piece of software most of us take for granted.

But with the new Wii browser from Opera, it's actually a new bit of software filling a new niche.

And it's pretty darn cool.

But you have to pay

Unlike in the Windows, Mac and Linux worlds, the only way to browse the Web on our Wii is with the "Internet Channel" – a port of the existing Opera 9 browser. Opera also produced an Internet browser for the Nintendo DS handheld game system.

And the Internet Channel costs 500 Wii points to download – currently $5. With Nintendo controlling what software you can buy online, there is no competition – it's Opera or nothing, and you have to pay.

(While the Sony Playstation 3 game console has an Internet browser, the Xbox 360 does not seem to have one. But with the PS3 and Wii having Web browsers, it's undoubtedly only a matter of time until the Xbox 360 has one as well.)

etting online

The Wii comes with built-in wireless support, and it had no problem finding our wireless network at home.

The most important use of the wireless connection is in keeping the Wii operating system up to date – version 3 was recently made available, and we received an automated notice on our Wii of the update, which was installed with a few clicks.

And there are the built-in and free (for now) Weather and News Channels accessed from the main Wii menu, which are a bit like having cable or satellite TV feeds.

There is also the Everybody Votes Channel, which is a sort of online poll – not very scientific, but pretty fun.

You can also use the wireless connection to purchase software for the Wii – including the Opera Internet Channel – from the Wii Shop Channel.

One of the more popular aspects of the Wii is the Virtual Console, in which you can purchase classic games from earlier generation video game systems, like the Super NES, TurboGrafx16 or even Sega Genesis, all from the online Shop Channel off the main Wii menu. Prices range from $5-$10 per title, and once downloaded each game is stored permanently on your Wii memory – unless you delete it, of course.

Buying software is as easy as typing in your credit card number (by pointing your controller at a virtual keyboard) and then clicking on the software you want. It automatically downloads to your Wii, and a menu item is added for the new software.

(Everything is controlled with the Wii controller, the wireless wand that is creating such a stir in the gaming industry.)

Browsing the Web

But the Internet Channel offers Wii users the ability to surf the Web on their TV – with all the advantages and drawbacks that entails.

The TV resolution, at least on my high-rez widescreen TV, isn't geared toward text, so reading Web pages on the Wii is a bit of a challenge at times.

On the other hand, the Opera engine seems to have no problems correctly rendering most Web sites – even multimedia sites like CNN, YouTube and MySpace. With a 36-inch TV (and only a 24-inch monitor), watching YouTube videos is a far better experience on the Wii than on my PC or Mac.

On the other hand, Wii's Internet Channel doesn't support Java or Flash plugins at this time – and so you can't, say, play cribbage on Yahoo Games or mini golf at It does, however, accept cookies so you can check Web-based e-mail accounts, stay logged into MySpace, and the other uses that require some sort of cookie to access.

While there are rumors online (none I could confirm) that you can use a popular third-party keyboard sold for the GameCube on the Wii, the virtual keyboard isn't so bad once you get used to it. And if you don't like a typical keyboard, you can switch to a cell phone-style keyboard.

Still, it would be nice if Opera updated the Internet Channel with a password storage function so you didn't have to retype your login every time you check your e-mail.

There is a favorites function, though, where you can bookmark sites you visit often. There is also a built-in search function – with the option of having either Yahoo or Google as your default search engine. And you can also simply type in a URL into the address bar.

Still, the biggest shortcoming of the Internet Channel for the Wii right now is using the wand controller to "type" – rumors of an upcoming OS update for the Wii to include support for industry-standard USB keyboards would be the best way to make the Wii a truly functional Internet access point.