Is Opera Still the Best Browser ?

By: Christophe

1/ Installation of the Opera browser:

It's very easy to download and install Opera - as long as you kow how to install any software on your favourite platform.

2/ Opera browsers latest features :

- Tabbed browsing : addmitedly, tabbed browsing has been a feature of Opera for a long time now. This allows users to surf the Web easier and faster by opening multiple Web pages within the same application window. It is now standard on any browser, Internet Explorer being the very last to join in last year. More interestingly, the thumbnail preview is a very useful addition : when having many tabs open at once in Opera, it can be easy to get lost : however, thanks to the thumbnail preview feature, hovering the mouse on any tab will show a thumbnail preview.

- New trash can icon : Another useful feature is the new trash can icon. If you accidentally close a web page that you want to keep open, with Opera's trash can, you can reload that page quickly without having to dig through the history file.

- Mouse gestures : Opera was also the first browser to allow mouse gestures (user JS) to perform certain movements with the mouse to access commonly used features : it's certainly a good idea but there are so many to memorize that many of us may not bother to learn how to use it.

- Bit torrent support : a simple but strong bitTorrent support is now built-in : by simply clicking a torrent link, your download starts. We don't think that most people will use it, but still, it's a nice addition for the others.

- Widgets engine : A recent addition is the widget engine. Widgets are small web applications (multimedia, newsfeeds, games and more) that make the user desktop experience more fun. While some widgets can be very useful, we have to say that others are just eye-candy gadgets, with the now unavoidable "chunky" appearance. Although frankly, widgets can be found virtually everywhere these days. Many people have been using the excellent Rainmeter, Yahoo Widgets or GDesklets for quite a long time now so it's not really obvious to us why they would want to switch to Opera's widgets now. One last point : widgets can be nice but can't compete with one of Firefox biggest strengths : the incredible number of useful (and sometimes less useful) extensions, which make Firefox the most extensible browser by far.

- Voice feature : it allows users to control Opera's interface by talking and to have documents read aloud. It's a good idea in principle. However, it is still disappointing on version 9.2. And it is only offered in the English language and runs only on Microsoft's Windows 2000 and XP ...

3/ A complete web suite

Opera mail has a built-in e-mail program (simple and efficient for casual users), news reader, mailing list organizer and RSS/Atom newsfeed reader.

4/ Security and privacy

Opera web browser incorporates a strong pop-up filter, a content-blocker (to remove annoying ads), and a fraud protection system, which can warn users against web sites that try to steal personal information. The "delete private data" function is very similar to the one incorporated in Firefox and cookies can be easily controled from the preference dialog. Opera remains one of the more secure browsers on the market.

5/ Customization

Like Firefox, it's possible to change the browser appearance by choosing new skins. The actual process is slicker than in Firefox - where you have to restart the application to change the appearance. Customizing Opera can be done directly from the appearance window which shows a selection of skins by categories (populars skins, new skins, editor's choice ...). And a simple drag and drop will add, remove or rearrange buttons or toolbars.

6/ Web standards adherence

While Firefox is a good challenger with regard to web standards and Internet Explorer being just average with its brand new version of Internet Explorer, Opera's respect of web standards is very good : like Konqueror (Linux, BSD) and Safari (Mac OSX) browsers, it passes the very tough acid2 test. It currently supports all major Web standards currently in use, including CSS 2.1, XHTML 1.1, HTML 4.01, WML 2.0, ECMAScript, DOM 2 and SVG 1.1 basic.

One minor thing, however : some websites have compatibility issues, due to not using web standards, not really Opera's at fault, though. This doesn't happen often, but still.

7/ Web development features

While we would still prefer Firefox's numerous extensions to help us in the process of web development, Opera includes some nice features as well : for example, it's possible to validate the HTML code of any Web page by pressing Ctrl+Alt+V; also, when showing a page in small-screen mode, one can see how it will look on a mobile phone or other small-screen device running Opera. The info panel will show details about the currently open page such as MIME type, page size, character encoding and more and graphics and style sheets can be toggled on/off via our toolbars and shortcuts.

8/ Speed, speed, speed !

Beyond the very recent speed-dial feature which allows users to access to their favourite website faster, Opera has always been one of the sleekest web browsers ever and this still comes true. On Windows, it is faster than Firefox, whithout being pre-loaded in the system like Internet Explorer. The memory usage - at 30 MB -is also slightly better than Firefox.

9/ Conclusion :

Opera is still a remarkable web browser. It's light-years ahead of Internet Explorer and still beats Mozilla Firefox in several areas. One reason to explain why Opera has still a very limited market share relies on the fact that :

- despite many years of successful development, many people don't know that it even exists and stick to Internet Explorer 6, despite the obvious limitations (no tabs, for instance) and, above all, the possible security risks (not that any web browser could pretend to be 100% safe ...);

- it is still seen by many others as "the browser with ads" or as a paid for software.

- in the last three years, many web users have switched to the more trendy Firefox, so the competition is getting harder and harder for Opera. And Internet Explorer 7, a welcome improvement over the previous version, has just entered in the arena ...

Unfortunately, Opera doesn't benefit from Firefox's unique community spirit (even though it has a very devoted and active fan base), nor Internet Explorer's advantage of being already pre-installed on every windows system on the planet, so its current position on the Desktop is quite limited, even though it's doing extremely well on mobile devices.

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