• Does Opera Have a Chance? You Bet!

    April 23rd, 2005

    Opera is an interesting browser, with features that’ll knock your socks off. It comes as a free version, with a small ad banner on the toolbar, and an add-free edition, if you’re willing to cough $39 money for a single user license.

    But past the marketing technique, it is as feature laden as any product of this sort on the planet. Other browser developers have looked to Opera for inspiration in building features that we take for granted today, such as pop-up blocking and tabbed browsing. So it’s not surprising that version 8.0, now available in beta form for Mac users, comes replete with interesting features that make it a compelling alternative.

    Now since it is a public beta, I’m not expecting perfection. My biggest disappointment, in fact, relates to the development schedule, where the final Windows versions seem to get released somewhat sooner. I’m also disappointed that the new voice command feature is not, at least so far, available for Mac users. Maybe it’ll come in time.

    But Opera 8 has some compelling features that are definitely worth a second look, even if the core browsing function is a still a bit ragged on the edges. First and foremost, there’s an important emphasis on security. To help save you from a phishing attack, Opera will not just show the true address of a commerce site, to minimize the possibility of being fooled, but rate just how trustworthy it is, using a scale of from 1 to 3; the last is the strongest data encryption level. That way, even when you visit a legitimate retailer, you’ll see whether it’s safe to place that order. Sure enough, when I went through the motions of placing an order via Amazon, a faint security rating did appear in a padlock next to the site’s name. Unfortunately, the number is too faint to be noticed unless you look real hard for it. By the way, when you click on the number, you’ll invoke a window that delivers the specifics on the site’s security certificate.

    Other features absolutely fit into the “why didn’t I think of that?” category. For example, just double click on a word that does not have a link attached. You’ll see a menu that gives you such options as copying the word to the clipboard, initiating a search request on one of several search sites, looking up the word in the dictionary, and translating the word into one of several languages. Now that’s really clever. In Firefox and Safari, you need to first select, then Control- or right-click a word to get just some of these choices.

    Another smart feature, Fast Forward, looks for the most likely “next page” link on, for example, a Google search page, so you don’t have to look for it. As you know, some sites are, alas, designed in such a way where that next page jump isn’t terribly easy to find, or requires a little scrolling.

    One neat feature, Sessions, resembles Workspaces, a capability that premiered in OmniPage months ago. It lets you save a collection of open pages for later retrieval, such as the next time you launch Opera. All right, so Opera isn’t always first on the block, but you’ll still appreciate its answer to the question of why other browsers insist that you must visit your home page first, and then manually locate all the rest.

    Before this turns into a laundry list of features, I’ll just mention a few more. Invoking memories of Netscape, there’s a built-in mail client and a chat feature. There’s also an RSS reader, a fit to width command, convenient drag and drop customization and lots more.

    Despite the wealth of features, the Mac version is a download of less than 5MB. Compare that to Netscape if you dare.

    Of course, being feature-laden counts for nothing if the whole package doesn’t work properly. Here I can be a little forgiving. This is a public beta, and some work is left to be done. Although Opera 8 for the Mac seems speedy enough, some sites don’t render properly. In fact, compatibility isn’t quite as good as Firefox or Safari, and that’s something that needs to be fixed before the final version. Even the list of show archives on The Tech Night Owl LIVE opening page didn’t look quite right, even though the coding is fairly simple. That’s not a good thing. Fortunately, as with Safari, you can report problem sites to Opera Software, and hope they’ll be fixed some day.

    Installation is drag and drop, and on the first startup, Opera automatically loaded my Safari bookmarks. Cool. But I ran into a few glitches when I tried to actually manage the bookmarks. For example, I couldn’t reorder the listings. I’m assume that’s just a bug that’ll be addressed in the final release, which should come in a few weeks.

    Performance seemed pretty snappy, but I didn’t attempt to do a direct comparison with the competition. At one time, Opera Software boasted that it had the fastest browser on the planet. I won’t go that far, but you won’t be disappointed. I’ll give it a more intense test when the release is out. In the meantime, I’m very impressed so far, and I’m tempted to make this my default browser.

    Note: The April 21st episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE has a brief interview with Opera’s co-founder and CEO, Jon S. von Tetzchner. I don’t think I ever pronounced his name correctly, but he was gracious enough not to correct me.

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