Having been a fan of Opera’s Web browser since its early days back in the late ’90s, I digested with more than casual interest the news that Norwegian indie developer Opera would be discontinuing development of its in-house Presto browser engine and adopting the Open Source Chrome engine for future version releases.
On the one hand, I lament the narrowing of diversity, and inevitably some of Opera’s innovative distinctiveness. On the other, I have to say that the most recent Presto engine based Opera versions have felt like they were lagging behind some of the competition. I want Opera to survive and prosper, and if going Chrome will improve the browser’s function and Opera’s economic outlook, I’m all for that.
Last month Opera released its first “Opera Next” public beta of Opera 15, showing us what the changes will mean at the user end. I’ve been trying it out for several weeks now, have formed some early days impressions.
Opera describes its new interface as “modern, sleek, deeply integrated with the platform and built from the ground up.” I expect some folks will be pleased with Opera’s new appearance, which resembles Safari’s somewhat. I’m not so much enchanted with the new look, but then I’m not crazy about Safari’s interface appearance either. It’s not terrible, but it’s a bit dull and bland.
Of course one of the complaints about Opera over the years has been that it didn’t look or work similar to everybrowser, which appealed to me. In practical terms, I miss cool little UI features like the handy Zoom slider in the browser window’s margin in recent Opera versions. Opera 15 has no bottom or side window margins at all, which may look cleaner, but is retrograde functionally. By the way, if you think that recent versions of Opera had a quirky user interface, you should have seen how funky it was back in 1998!
Opera has always been in the feature innovation vanguard — one of the first, if not the first, with session restore, tabbed browsing, and tab thumbnail previews, and its Opera Turbo (now renamed “Off-Road mode ” – see below) proxy server compression feature for use on slower connections. Not to mention that its Speed Dial thumbnail bookmark feature was the model for Safari 42 s Top Sites feature.
Something else that’s gone missing with Opera 15 is the application’s built-in email client module. I never really warmed to the Opera mail client, so I won’t miss it, but if you’re a user, the email function has been hived off to a standalone application. much the same way the Mozilla.org separated the erstwhile Netscape/Mozilla suite browser email module to become the Thunderbird application when it launched Firefox as its flagship browser product. The classic suite browser lives on in Seamonkey if you prefer an all-in-one Internet software solution. The first release candidate of Opera Mail is available at:
Also gone is Opera’s built-in Bittorrent client, which I won’t personally miss either. However Opera hasn’t given up on feature innovation.
There are still some things I find annoying about Opera, in particular the lack of a warning if one inadvertently or absent-mindedly clicks the window close button with multiple tabs open. Happily, however, this omission is mitigated substantially by a “Reopen Last Closed Window command in the History menu.
Features new or overhauled in Opera 15 include:
Opera was first with a now widely-copied (eg: Safari’s Top Sites) shortcuts start page, and Speed Dial has been substantially refreshed . Speed Dial shortcuts can now be gathered in folders and easily filtered. Drag and drop a Speed Dial entry on top of another to create a folder, or use the new Speed Dial search field to experience the power of visual Speed Dial entries combined with the flexibility and organization of a classic bookmark folder. Like I said, this is fine , but I still miss Bookmarks.
Check out the latest buzz-topics online with no browsing necessary. Opera’s new Discover feature allows you to scroll through a feed new articles from your country, or whatever other region you want to check out — all in one place. Pick and choose your category: news, food, technology or something else you’re interested in. This sort of thing isn’t my cup of tea, but I expect some users will like it.
The other leg of Opera’s replacement for Bookmarks strategy, the new Stash feature lets you hit the little heart icon in the address bar to collect websites you want to return to. You can scan your Stash by resizable page preview, or search what you’ve saved, with keywords. This is pretty cool, but I still want my bookmarks!
With Opera 15, you can search directly from the new combined address and search bar. Start typing a webpage address to go directly to your favorite site, or enter a search term and choose one of several search engines to look for suggested websites. There is also new download manager.
Opera 15 for desktop has been completely re-engineered under the hood, and now uses Google’s Open Source Chromium browser engine instead of the developer’s own proprietary Presto engine. Opera’s Off-Road mode, previously called Opera Turbo, now supports SPDY protocol and enables loading webpages faster. You can’t fault Opera 15 for speed.
“Completely rethinking a browser in today’s competitive market is a big thing,” comments Opera Software SVP of Desktop Products Krystian Kolondra. “Our new browser is more beautiful and allows users to harness the massive amount of web content they are faced with today.”
Overall, I’m very positively impressed with Opera 15. As noted, I’m not thrilled with some of the changes, most notably the gone missing Bookmarks, but this new browser is satisfyingly speedy, innovative, and I’ve found it completely stable even though it’s yet a beta build. The more I use Opera 15, the more I like it. Give it a try and you may find the same dynamic obtains for you.
You can download Opera Next for desktop at: