We’ve reviewed earlier versions of the Opera Web browser. In fact we first reviewed version 3. It’s come a long way since then, but the basic premise remains the same; Opera is a compact, full-featured browser that has been designed to be fast, with excellent accessibility options and an accurate rendering engine.
What has changed since the early days, of course, is the browser landscape. Netscape now has a very small proportion of the browser market, while estimates put Microsoft’s share at somewhere around 95 percent. That’s not hard to achieve given that Internet Explorer is bundled with the world’s most popular desktop operating system.
So, what can a third-party Web browser such as Opera offer to anyone, especially since it’s not (quite) free? There are several answers to this question, many of which won’t become apparent until you actually start using Opera 7 yourself. Mostly, these fall into the ‘intuitive’ category. For example, suppose there’s a word in this page – ‘mulch’ for example – that you don’t understand. Right-click on it in Opera 7 and you can look it up in an online dictionary or encyclopaedia. You can also choose to translate it to or from a variety of European languages, plus Japanese. You can switch to different code pages, force the page to be displayed according to your chosen preferences, and so on.
Privacy is a thorny issue for surfers and it’s one that Opera takes seriously. You’re given full control over cookies, encryption and other aspects of your personal data, plus you have the option of clearing everything of a personal nature from the Opera installation. This can be done in seconds and ensures that there are no cookies, history traces or stored passwords on your machine (Opera 7 gives you the choice of automatically remember passwords for some Web pages, which you may or may not consider to be a useful feature).
All this lies on top of the features for which Opera has now become well known, such as the ability to quickly zoom into and out of pages, the ability to navigate quickly and easily without a mouse, the option to browse with graphics switched off, the simple way in which multiple pages are opened, the wealth of search options and the sheer rendering speed of the engine.
On this latter point, we found Opera 7 to be at least as fast as Opera 5, and faster than Opera 6, so it seems that some code optimisation has gone on. It’s also interesting to note that you can watch pages as they are being rendered; they move around on the page as different elements are loaded. This means that you can quickly click on a link before a page has finished loading, saving you time.
The standards-based accuracy of the rendering engine can be used by developers as a baseline for browser compatibility, plus there’s the option to send HTML pages to an online validator. You can even see how your pages would look on a small-screen device such as a PDA, by pressing Shift-F11.
Add to this the wide range of options for customising the user interface, the ‘skinnable’ nature of the browser – although we’re not too keen on the default skin – plus the fact that it has a capable POP3/SMTP e-mail client and news reader built in, and you can begin to see the appeal. Especially when you consider that the basic download is under 4MB in size. It’ll run well on a relatively slow machine, too, and there are versions either available now or in development for Linux, Mac, OS/2, Solaris, FreeBSD, QNX and Symbian operating systems.
Company: Opera Software
Contact: +47 24 16 40 00