A little bit about Opera

Yes, I am an Opera user. Why? Features, features and features; Security, privacy, fine grained cookie management, intelligent pop-up blocking, ability to completely hide all traces of browsing history, native mouse gestures, IRC chat, RSS/Atom newsfeeds, NNTP newsgroups, BitTorrent, email with intelligent spam filtering, searching and sorting of emails by attachment or content types, quick email reply and ability to disable HTML email or surpress external embeds, fully configurable toolbars - also with downloadable setups, MDI tabbed browsing, custom buttons, debugging/accessibility/ad-blocking stylesheets, ability to disable practically any Web page feature (including fine grained control over HTML, JavaScript, CSS and plugins), advanced keyboard navigation, changeable userAgent, user defined panels, saved sessions, ability to re-open accidentally closed pages, skinning, language packs, editing of live Web pages, ability to run more than one copy simultaneously - even with different configurations or version numbers, reformatting of Web pages for small screens, page zoom, searchable history, ability to take notes for pages and see all links in the current page.

Not had enough? Ok, well it also has an ad-blocker (ok, so they call it a content blocker, but we all know what it's there for) for URL based content filtering, an easy way to add search keywords, site-specific preferences, Web page thumbnails, and a nice error console for helping developers to debug their pages. It has fraud protection to help to detect and protect you against fraudulent (phishing) Web sites. It also has a new widgets feature, allowing to to install small Web based applications that live outside the browser window.

And all that is in addition to the usual browser features, and somehow, they manage to pack it all into around 4 MB, with a DOM compliant rendering core, rendering and general browsing as fast as any other current browser - if not faster, full support for alpha transparent images and the highest level of CSS support of any current browser.

Sounds bloated? Well, surprisingly not. The rendering engine and basic interface take up most of the size, with less than 1 MB accounting for all of the extra features. The main extra features (email, chat, newsfeeds and newsgroups) can all be completely disabled if you want to. And even so, the size of the entire package is still smaller than any other current browser - yes; Firefox, Safari, IE (of course), etc, are all bigger, and they are all just browsers. Without RSS, Safari is over 7 MB. With just the basic browser install, IE Mac is nearly 7 MB, and IE windows is about 12 MB. And with Firefox - the smallest of the alternatives at just over 5.6 MB on Windows (over 9 MB on Linux and 17 MB on Mac), you would still need to download several extensions to get even remotely close to Opera's browsing features like the mouse gestures, fast forward, decent cookie controls and proper tabbed browsing.

Many Firefox enthusiasts like the fact that they can download only the components they will use, but I find it incredibly irritating to have to find and download all of them again, every time I upgrade or install on a new computer. The extra few KBs make very little difference to the download, and it is still smaller than even a basic Firefox download. Besides, considering all the features I use, I would need to download the full, slow, bloated Mozilla (SeaMonkey), weighing in at 12 MB minimum, as well as all the extensions.

For me, the Mozilla/Firefox extensions are not as useful as they should be. For a start, you have to wade through the jumble of extensions to find the ones that actually do what you want (restarting each time you try one). When you find them, you may well find that they conflict with each other, and all too often, they do not work in the current release. And you never know, next time you upgrade, it will probably disable them and force you to download them again.

The Mozilla approach feels to me like being told that you cannot install an image editor and a text editor on your computer because they both use the mouse. I am not having a go at Mozilla/Firefox here. I know that the extensions are useful in many situations, but for me, the Opera approach is much better.

With Opera the features are already there and they already work seamlessly with each other. First time, every time. If that is not enough, Opera provides an equivalent to many extensions in the form of custom buttons, bookmarklets, scriptable shortcuts and menu items, and powerful User JavaScript, allowing you to add or change functionality that is not in the default interface. I'm sure that Mozilla/Firefox extensions allow you to make more major changes to the way that the program works or interacts with you, but I have just never found the need to change Opera to that extent. Its existing features and flexibility already provide what I need.

As an optional extra, there is a speech component (an extra 10.5 MB) that enables Opera to obay spoken commands, to read pages out loud and even to interract with VoiceXML pages, even using some aural or speech CSS.

Opera can optionally integrate the Aspell spell-checker, allowing you to spell-check emails, newsgroup posts, and anything in any text boxes, including webmail emails and IRC posts.

Opera has also got several features that make it useful as a kiosk browser, or even a PowerPoint-like presentation tool. (Try it here. Press F11 to open/close presentation mode and use Page Up and Page Down keys on your keyboard to scroll.)

It even runs on all three major platform classes; Windows, Linux/Solaris/FreeBSD, Mac OS X. It is also available for a large number of mobile phones and PDAs (WAP/WML is also supported on all platforms, not just phones). Earlier releases are also available for Mac OS 9, QNX, OS/2 and BeOS. For people like me who use more than one of these operating systems, it is a major bonus to be able to use the same program on each.

The design of Opera is very cleverly done to be as simple as possible, making it easy to start using Opera. It starts off looking like a basic browser, but in fact, the features are all there, kept neatly hidden away, so that they can appear automatically when you need them. For those who want to see the features, you can easily reconfigure it to suit your own tastes, using a convenient customisation system.

Even though it is produced by a professional, commercial company, Opera is free. You can download Opera and use it for as long as you like without having to pay anything at all - no nag screens, no advert sponsorship. Just a quality browser, at no cost to you. On top of that, Opera has an extensive community Web site, as well as newsgroups, and a dedicated IRC chat network, where you can get advice and help from Opera staff and other users. If needed, you can also get paid professional support by email.

Opera is proof that a program does not have to be open-source to be of high quality. Being produced by a commercial company, it has the financial backing, and dedication, to ensure it can continue to support open Web standards - unlike certain other browsers.

Some sites, but not many, still cause problems for Opera. More often than not, it is because the site authors do not know Opera exists or they have used something that they do not realise is non-standard Internet Explorer extensions. A few sites still block Opera because they do not realise it has grown up since Opera 6 to become DOM compliant, or occasionally because they don't believe it is secure, when it actually supports the same level of encryption as any other current browser. Occasionally it's because they are being just plain rude.

Sometimes, changing Opera's userAgent helps, sometimes you have to live edit the source of the page, and very occasionally, you just have to leave. Almost always, these are shopping or banking sites, and as far as I am concerned, if they don't care enough to allow me to use my chosen browser, I don't want to give them the benefit of my custom.

That might not be an option for you, but that is where Opera has the answer. As well as giving you the power to fix sites using User JavaScript, Opera also automatically fixes sites for you. Yes, that's right. Opera identifies those sites that cause problems, develops solutions to those problems, and silently sends those solutions to you, so while you are browsing the Web, Opera is fixing it.

The thing about Opera is that it is a very good browser. Most of the complaints I have heard about it are 'compatibility with scripts' but in Opera's defense, that is almost never its fault. Opera actually supports a large amount of the Microsoft extensions as well as the standards compliant scripting.

Not only that, but Opera keeps at the forefront of scripting capabilities; things like XMLHttpRequest, DOM mutation events, DOM Load and Save, XSLTProcessor, XPath, and even XML events and VoiceXML. In some cases, it is the only browser advanced enough to support these.

Take a look at my JavaScript libraries pages. If it can handle all of those, simply because I write correctly, I don't see why people blame Opera for ignorant Web page authors who write scripts that block it, even when they don't have to.

The good news is that if you report these sites to Opera, they can contact the site for you, giving them details of how to resolve the problem. At the same time, they may also be able to develop a script to fix the sites automatically for you.

I used to have a list here of Web features I wanted Opera to have, but they have now all been implemented.

Opera 9 added rich text editing, XSLT, beautiful CSS Opacity, DOM 2 Style Sheet editing, canvas, and even things like Web Forms 2 and SVG 1.1. Opera has even gained the ability to apply stylesheets linked only using HTTP headers. Opera 10 then added font-face downloading. The rate that it improves is impressive, and I have almost run out of new Web features that I want it to include.

Ok look. I'm not saying it is the browser for you. But give it a try - you just might find it was what you always wanted from a browser but never realised was possible. If you want to set it up for multiple user profiles (on the same computer login), or even simple setups that hide a lot of the features that you find un-necessary, there are tools available (opera actually provides simple setups of its own). But most importantly, please don't block me because of the browser I use. It is better than you may think, and I use it to protect my privacy and security, while still being able to enjoy an awesome array of features.

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