Opera have always been the underdogs. Even when Firefox was the underdog. Often they have been first with new features, long before the competition, yet have always been far, far behind everybody in marketshare. Even with a massively healthier browser market, they have barely grown compared to competitors like Safari and Google Chrome. So it should be hoped therefore that Opera 10 will finally bring them the attention they deserve?
On initially launching Opera 10 beta you are greeted by the new skin, designed by well renowned British designer Jon Hicks (who also designed the Firefox logo). Jon was hired by Opera in October last year to look at the UI of Opera (something he himself has lamented about before).
I was genuinely happy about this move by Opera. “Finally”, I thought, a serious design guy to iron out just how non-native Opera has always looked on every problem. And then I saw this: (click to make large)
Words cannot describe how ugly this is on OS X. The purple colour (a colour option picked up from an earlier version) clashes with the grey of any other window, that can be changed though. The black is overbearing and doesn’t meld with the title bar. The whole thing stands out like a sore thumb. I somehow feel like the chrome looks like a webpage, rather than something for browsing web pages.
Even though this is beta software, and improvements are said to come, I cannot believe someone who created the Firefox icon could create something so hideous and inappropriate, especially when Opera’s marketshare is bad enough already. I could not bear to look at this all day, every day, it would drive me mad.
A browser should be transparent, a thin veneer between me and the web page. Not a clown honking his horn in my face.
I went into preferences and changed to the Mac "native" theme and no particular colour:
Mildly improved, but still the black is overpowering, the new-tab button is the wrong colour, and the side pane has a tinge of blue that doesn’t work well with the OS X grey. The tab touching the title bar also just looks poor and conflicting.
The tab strip has a gripper in the middle at the bottom, that you can tug (or double-click) to expand the height of the tabs and turn them into previews:
Useful if you have a hundred tabs open and need to find something. Though not something I could see myself using regularly, as the loss of vertical space in the viewport only hampers what I want the browser for—browsing. In this instance tab-previews are given when hovering over the standard tabs.
Opera 10 also includes a “Turbo” feature that enables a proxy compressor. All your page requests go through Opera’s computers and compressed the images in websites to make them smaller, and provide faster load times when using a dial-up or otherwise slow connection. 3G operators tend to do this already on their networks.
I can see such a feature actually being very useful when connected via limited public wifi, and the large number of Americans stuck with inadequate access (I actually know someone who can only get 21.1 K dial-up).
There are drawbacks. Privacy, for one, but I also found the compression to be a bit-extreme, even worse than I’ve experienced on 3G. Background PNGs in websites turn into massive 8-bit looking blocky images and JPGs leave much to be desired.
(The BBC site displays an advert, because the proxy is located in the USA)
My personal opinion? Fail. There is nothing here that says this is an all new Opera doing all new things. This is the same terrible interface design they’ve had since 2006. It’s goudy, non-native, clashes with the websites you view, and generally gets in the way. Maybe it’s improving a little, but the toolkit underneath still rears it’s ugly head in how the app works, and the general layout of the widgets. The dialogues throughout the app crap all over the spacing guides in the HIG. Every inch of this app is annoying and grates on me. I’m not an interface elitist, but I can’t use software that gets on my nerves and Opera and Vista occupy the top two slots for that.
The browser is eclectic, with too many preferences, too complicated preferences, too many customisation options. Features not everybody needs, or wants.
Version 10 finally includes a built in update feature that doesn’t require you to download and re-install the whole app. But then how many people are they going to get on v10 if Opera users are already the furthest behind any other vendor for browser updates. Opera might have a job on their hands getting everybody onto v10 so that users can get up to date easily in the future.
Unless Opera rethink their logo, their marketing, their UX and UI (being worked on, finally) then nothing is going to fundamentally change with Opera popularity. It’s good for the people who can get on with it, but it has no oomph or brand-strength like Firefox.
Really, it’s sad. Opera has some serious engineering talent, but I just don’t think this is being communicated in a way that matters to end users.