Opera - A Progressive and Versatile Browser
In this review I will show you the pro's and con's I've experienced with Opera after a year and 8 months of intensive use. Currently, I'm using v9.50 beta, so features from this build will be discussed, not only of the current stable build.
- NetCaptor: one of the first tabbed browsers (actually an Internet Explorer (IE) 'wrapper'. Had much useful functions and was resource-friendly, as I remember it.
- MyIE/Maxthon: this is also a wrapper for IE, still widely used. I've had quite some trouble with its stability, and it quite some trouble handling hung IE windows. Although still actively developed with a broad community, this was never my favorite.
- Mozilla Firefox: used this browser for a year or something. Though well-known for its alternate, almost hippy-like IE bashing ads, screaming it's extremely fast, there's not one of you who can convince me that this browser is as fast as IE. It's user interface (UI) is still (v184.108.40.206) buggy and terribly slow: buttons falling off, window constantly resizing, toolbars that suddenly disappear etc. Furthermore, it simply isn't a pleasure working with because of the UI alone feeling so bloated. What's even more alarming is that, to fully make use of its potential, you have to use lots of the unstable extentions. Granted, its infinitely versatile because of all these extentions, but CPU load peaks to 100%, just because of a mouse gesture... That's just no way to implement such a simple feature. Overall, this browser lacks, like most popular software these days, every way of efficient resource handling and optimized programming. In addition, I just tried Miro, a video player for online (streaming) media, RSS-reader and BitTorrent client. Based on the ... Mozilla code, of course. And guess what! They've still got that bashing-the-other-party mentality: now Joost is getting it! Hate to see they're gonna get big with this, too, especially because of the resources it uses: 177 MB of memory after starting, and not even able to play a simple video fluently on an Athlon 1200. My advise: don't get Miro.
Opera - an overview
Now for Opera (finally). Opera has become freeware since version 8 and it has gained much popularity since. Furthermore, it's doing some great business providing (paid) versions for mobile platforms and game consoles, like the Nintendo Wii and DS. It is said that all platforms essentially use the same rendering engine (even the Opera Mini java midlet for mobile phones?), which is quite impressive and, moreover, enormously simple to fix compatibility issues. And oh yeah, for the PC platforms, it's got an email client and RSS-reader built-in! And not in the Firefox-way: it's only loaded when you actually use it. :)
Opera feels very light and has a stable user interface. The program feels well-balanced and seems extensively multi-threaded, therefore rarely feeling sluggish.
After using Opera for some period of time, you'll discover that it is customizable to a great extent, leaving almost every option open. The usage of primarily INI-files for its configuration makes it enormously transparent for almost everybody, although most is perfectly adjustable from within the program, either through the Preferences & Appearance windows, or by typing opera:config in the address bar.
To get a good impression of what you'll get with Opera out-of-the-box, here's a list of native features:
- Fast tabbed-browsing: Being one of the first to implement tabbed browsing, this feature works as smoothly as can be. You can hardly feel any lags in the other windows when a tough Flash animation is loaded in a background window, and the UI stays enormously responsive. When coming from Firefox, though, you might experience some trouble with getting used to the way Opera handles opening new and closing tabs, especially regarding the tab it jumps to after closing another. This can be easily overcome, however, by making one hotkey or mouse gesture (natively supported!) for closing a tab AND jumping to the tab on the left, and one for closing and jumping to the right. Furthermore, Opera has the nice habit of showing you a thumbnail when hovering your mouse cursor above a tab.
- Native custom hotkeys configuration: As already said above, you can manage every hotkey Opera uses, even for every different window
- Mouse Gestures: Best implementation of mouse gestures ever. Though Maxthon does have a great implementation, Opera's feels more robust and certainly not as demanding as the Firefox extension.
- Easily customizable user interface: Apart from the possibility to skin your Opera (in fact, it uses a skin by default, try turning it off, though), the toolbars are completely customizable, you can add buttons with custom commands and choose or even download or make your own side-(web)panels.
- Advanced history search: When typing in the address bar, Opera not only checks for URL's matching what you've already typed, but also the actual contents of the websites cached. It does this quite fluently already, although still in beta phase.
- Brilliant session-management: Even using the Alpha versions, I've never lost a single window I've opened. Opera quite securely saves the current window configuration and if it crashes will present you immediately with the option to recover the last saved configuration. Furthermore, you can save and reload a session with about 3 clicks.
- Custom search engines: Opera comes with the built-in function that lets you add your own search engines, available on any page. Just click right on the search input field and select 'Create Search...' to include the search engine in your search list. Afterwards, you can add a separate search field on a toolbar by clicking right on the toolbar and choosing 'Show searches'.
- Custom context menus: As Opera uses INI-files for its configurations, it's quite easy to customize all its context menus. For instance, you can add the option to load an url, picture or text selection directly into an external program, like a download manager or media player.
- Cookie manager: Now Opera's cookie manager is very elegant, but I do have some trouble with it. By default, I let it remove all cookies after exit, except for the ones I manually define to keep. However, when choosing to keep cookies for a particular site, I sometimes have to remove the cooky manually from within the Cookie Manager, then open up the site again, login (for instance), and hopefully it'll save the cookie afterwards. If not, I must try again...
- Wand passwords: I did find a cracker for passwords within the function, but still, it's neat to have a built-in password saver with the feature to specify a global password (for every time, or for every Opera session). Additionally, you can have Opera save some personal information you often have to fill in on websites for registration.
- Popup blocker: The popup blocker is - in my experience - more effective than its Maxthon and Firefox counterparts. Furthermore, with F12, you can easily turn it off temporarily, or forever for a specific site, or assign a hotkey to open the blocked popup anyway. Additionally, just clicking on the non-interruptive small notification of the popup being blocked allows to still open the popup.
- Ad blocker: The ad blocker does its job just fine. It's easy to add some standard heuristics, so in effect, you won't see an ad again anywhere on the web, even Google's text ads can be removed from a site quite easily.
- Aliases & Search engine shortcuts: For every bookmark, you can specify a simple alias, which, when entered into the address bar, takes you to that website. For instance, 'a' and a simple Enter can take you to http://www.asymmetrics.nl. Similarly, you can give a search engine such an alias, allowing you to search for images of Da Vinci by entering 'gi da vinci' in the address bar.
- Speed dial: When opening up a new tab, Opera show you a dialog with a manually specified search engine (see Preferences -> Search) and a phone buttons like layout of shortcuts to webpages for you to specify. It loads a thumbnail for each page you insert and allows you to quickly access these pages with the key combination Ctrl-1 through Ctrl-9. Just nice, that's all. :)
- Transfers window & BitTorrent support: Although Opera is certainly not a download manager, its transfers window is quite elaborate. It allows you to view all your last transfers centrally, including progress, time, speed, URL and destination, as well as to open the file or the containing folder after the transfer has finished. Second, Opera contains a BitTorrent client, although with only 7 options in opera:config I don't think you should expect too much of it. I must say, though, I've never used it. Nah, better use µTorrent or Halite. :)
- Open with context menu option: Opera isn't Firefox. If it doesn't render your page correctly, it isn't too vain to present you with an option to instantly view the page from within another browser that's installed on your system.
- Opera link - online bookmarks manager & synchronizing: This was the only thing I was really missing for a long time, until v9.50 came. Having a PC and a laptop, plus wanting to access my bookmarks from any other computer available at the moment, this came as a true blessing. With Opera Link you create an account an sign up within Opera on all your systems to synchronize your bookmarks with that account. From that moment on, you can access your bookmarks both from the web and from all your Opera installations. For the moment, it synchronizes your bookmarks, personal toolbar and speed dial.
- Notes: You can quickly copy some text from webpages to a note in Opera. Afterwards, you can paste the data from a note back into an input field.
- Widgets: Opera's only really not-so-useful function. Think of it like funny, though possibly informative, toys that show up on the screen in tiny windows (for example a mini RSS reader for one particular site, or a mini-game).
- Email client: I have tried it, and actually I think I would've used it for a long time now, if it weren't for the fact that it doesn't support HTML message composing. It's progressive use of flags, instead of physical folders to store the messages in enables you to organize mails more conveniently: each message can have multiple flags, and flags can be applied automatically by an impressive filter management system (compare it with Google's GMail, although Opera was first)
- RSS reader: I've heard from a friend that the built-in RSS reader is not as convenient as that of Maxthon, and I must say I've never found any use for RSS. Personally I just like to forage around on the actual websites in question.
To show you how I've customized my Opera installation, I'll quickly present the modifications I've made in Opera and to its INI-files.
All your private configuration files are in your profile folder. For Windows, if you've chosen to install Opera for single user operation, that folder is defined as profile within Opera's installation folder. If you chose for a multi-user installation, it can be found in %appdata%\Opera (just put that in the address bar of an Explorer window, you'll find it.
The first folder of interest is keyboard, which harvests your keyboard shortcuts configuration. These shortcuts are easy to change from within Opera via Preferences -> Advanced -> Shortcuts. The section below provides the few modifications I made to the default configuration:
The second interesting INI-file is located within the menu folder. This manages the looks of context menus. You can easily add a shortcut to download links, images or other objects from pages with a download manager like FlashGet:
For more clearity, Opera uses the following variables in this context:
- %c: whatever is in the Windows clipboard at the moment
- %l: the URL of the selected link (on which you right-clicked)
- %s: path to the local source cache
- %t: the currently highlighted text
- %u: the URL of the active document (page)
Note: I've read that when using upper case (e.g. %S), the path is put in between quotes. Should be useful long pathnames with spaces, but I haven't encountered problems with lower case variables yet. For %s, it would be highly recommended, though, and perhaps also for %c, whereas the URL's handled will probably already have their spaces converted to "%20".
For the toolbar, you can define that within Opera just as well, never really had a look at the INI-file.
For mouse gestures, well, I guess we'll have to look in the folder mouse then, shouldn't we? Once again, you can perfectly change this from within Opera via Preferences -> Advanced -> Shortcuts. This is my minimalistic configuration:
Some other files in the profile folder itself
General configuration file, way too much to address, most of it can be accessed from the Preferences of Appearance dialogs, or from the opera:config page.
Not really interesting, just states how Opera identified itself on specific sites.
Difficult to edit manually, but sometimes you have to for getting the order of the search engines right. Keep in mind that Opera tends to merge the search.ini from your profile folder with the one in its program folder.
Speed dial configuration, just edit it from within Opera. Unfortunately, for now you can't edit the titles for the thumbnails.
Ad blocker configuration. Just google or look at the pages linked to below if you want predefined settings. For what it's worth, this is my file:
Some other important files
Your cookies file.
Where your notes are saved (you can just read them from there).
Certificate file (contains your encrypted Master Password, if provided.
Contains the passwords you've allowed Opera to save.