Opera Software – Opera 4.0 review

the third (and best?) Web browser
Photo of Opera Software – Opera 4.0
£26 approx. ($39)

As you’ll see from our earlier review, we’ve been fans of ‘the third browser’ for some time. It’s not free, but a wise saying states that you get what you pay for. For those new to Opera, it’s a fast, small footprint, user-friendly Web browser that supports the latest Web standards and has many features that are either missing or poorly implemented in the ‘big two’.

Opera’s traditional accessibility options are still here: you can navigate Web pages using just the keyboard, zoom into or out of a page, remove all document formatting (yellow lettering on a white background still seems to be some designers’ idea of legible), open multiple windows within a single browser and browse offline.

But aside from all this, there are some useful improvements. For a start, the general appearance of the browser, and particularly the button bar, has been improved dramatically, making it look far more professional. Menu navigation is now more intuitive, as is the preferences setup screen, which has a fantastic range of tweaks for document appearance, caching, connections, multimedia, news, mail (free Web-based accounts are available, or you can link to your own preferred client) and so on.

The down side – apart from the fact that this isn’t free software – is that Opera 4.0 is slower than its predecessors. It’s still quicker (subjectively) than either of its two competitors, but there’s a definite speed hit compared with the version 3.xx products, which we assume is due to the larger number of supported protocols, of which TLS and SSL security (v.2 and v.3) are some of the more significant. Switching Java support on reduces the performance by another few percent.

On the privacy front, Opera’s cookie monitoring and/or blocking is excellent and very informative. It’s best not to block all cookies, as then you’ll be unable to use some e-commerce sites, but having Opera warn you whenever a cookie is offered or requested is a real eye-opener. The number of sites whose advertising systems track visitors’ behaviour is amazing. Some of our advertisers have tried it, which is annoying; we’re not fans of privacy invasion.

Opera 4.0 is available with Sun’s Java 1.3 runtime bundled (10MB) or on its own, without Java support (1.7MB), and most Netscape-compatible plug-ins will work with Opera.

Company: Opera Software

Contact: +47 23 23 48 68

Aside from the slight speed hit, which most users probably won't notice, Opera 4.0 is a worthy new incarnation, offering a better interface and more tweaks than its predecessors. Given its compact size, it's worth having a look, even if you decide not to use it after the 30-day free trial.