I remember back in 2004, I was amazed by the latest versions of Firefox 0.9. In these times, we didn’t have any viable free choices other than Internet Explorer 6. Firefox was clean, quick and it had a very efficient killer feature: tabs. This made me decide to switch to Firefox as soon as the stable 1.0 version is released.
Since then I was faithful to Firefox, but my acquisition of a netbook last year made this fidelity difficult. Firefox had become slow to launch, slow to browse, and other browsers available weren’t satisfying (including Chrome in terms of privacy concerns and lack of functionalities).
Then, at Christmas, Opera previewed its next 10.5 version. And I had the same amazing look that I had in 2004. More than 2 months later, version 10.5 for windows was released (it took more than 6 months for the GNU/Linux version to be available), and it had become my main browser.
The good things
Opera, unlike Firefox 3.x or IE 8, is fast, really fast. It launches instantly even on my atom netbook, and doesn’t suffer for any serious performance problems during its usage. Sure, on heavy AJAX and Flash websites, the browser becomes slow and sometimes unresponsive, but that is the case with all browsers on my netbook. The only browser that offers better speed is Chrome. But Chrome suffers from two main problems: the lack of functionalities and privacy concerns.
In opera, I can change nearly every functionality I can image: add new keyboard shortcuts, modify advanced configurations, etc… without the need for additional extensions (as with Firefox). Things I couldn’t do with Chrome even with extensions. Opera offers also built-in synchronizations, a mail client, IRC client, notes, support bittorrent, ... All that without any serious effects on performance!
The UI had also a huge lifting. Opera 9 or 10 was ugly, and the design of certain elements was strange. 10.5 UI was a big and needed improvement. For the first time, Opera was actually usable and sexy. However, with all these improvements in UI and speed, Opera still offers some weird default choices and lacks some basic functionality.
The dark side of the force
First, the UI. Although the simple new toolbar is nice and great, it has some limitations. The new back and forward buttons doesn’t offer the list of visited websites. No small arrow to access these websites quickly. Opera instead offers a list of closed tabs on the other side of the toolbar when clicking on a recycle bin icon. Opera needs to add this functionality directly on the back/forward new button, or revert back to the old back and forward separate buttons (which had this list).
Also, the inclusion of the Log In button in the toolbar by default is questionable. The toolbar should be as clean as possible and specific concern buttons (such as the Log In or even the Home button) should be removed from the default toolbar.
Second, shortcuts. In Firefox, I used to have address auto-completion for, not only .com, but also .net and .org. This is a very used functionality and can be added somehow easily in Opera (try to do that on Chrome!). However, this should be added to the default shortcuts set. It won’t break any legacy shortcuts but does save users a big hassle (when installing Opera on five different machines and operating systems, it starts to become annoying to do the same configurations steps for the UI and shortcuts! Hello synchronizations?!).
The excuse of legacy users is void. If Opera wants to have a bigger desktop share, then it must take some difficult decisions to break legacy support. Microsoft did that with Internet Explorer 9 and with Windows Phone 7. Apple with MacOS X, and the list can go on.
Third, ad blocking. Opera offers efficient ad blocking system, but this system is based on a urlfilter.ini file and blocked elements are added manually. As Opera doesn’t offer an extension system, then it is the duty of Opera to offer a full ad blocking feature that support subscriptions (something that Safari, Firefox and Chrome offers. Yes, Google’s own browser allows an extension to block Google’s own ads!).
Fourth, the M2 mail client. Search in the client is very quick. It offers basic functions and supports both POP3 and IMAP protocols.
But one annoyance is the fact that a default signature (promoting Opera) is appended to each composed message.
The signature can be removed in the mail preferences, but still, adding a promotion signature is not a sign of professionalism.
Major free email clients (Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail, and Evolution) have long abandoned these methods, if not have never used them. If Opera M2 wants to compete with other email clients, it must show signs of respect to the privacy of its users, and abandon these cheap advertising methods.
Opera 10.5 and newer versions are a great leap forward for Opera. The company managed to redesign the UI greatly and to improve performance and speed compared to older versions and to competing browsers. Satisfying the missing functionalities and tweaking even more the UI, will make Opera the best browser today, thus having fully both advanced functionalities and browsing performance.
About the author:
Adel Noureddine is a PhD student in Computer Science in Lille, France.