Opera 9 Beta review
Once the predatory browser client that was constantly stalking Microsoft Internet Explorer, Norwegian upstart Opera has more recently fallen prey to the Firefox phenomenon. Even the major overhaul that produced Opera 8 and 8.5 has done little to increase market share. So, with the new release, we were hoping for something big.
The majority of big changes are concentrated around “enhancing the web browsing experience and empowering Web 2.0 developers”, according to the Opera CEO. Much is being made of the inclusion of “widgets” in Opera 9, but we fail to see how Desktop web-powered apps are relevant to browser client development. We’d have preferred more of the integrated web development tools that Firefox provides, or even Firefox-alike extension support.
The same headline-grabbing motivation seems to have inspired Opera to integrate BitTorrent support within the client. Although the BitTorrent newbie may find this an easy entry into the data-swarming concept, everyone else will be better off sticking to more powerful third-party apps. A bigger problem is that Opera BitTorrent insists on attempting the download rather than letting you use the system default Torrent client (we resorted to using the right-click “Save target as” item as a workaround).
Both the widget and BitTorrent features are meant to make Opera more user-friendly, so why remove Flash from the installer bundle? In a user-unfriendly move, you now have to download it separately. This is still a beta product, but the promised “import bookmarks from default browser” (Firefox on the test machine) didn’t even attempt this. That said, using the Import command manually did prove successful. Where we did run into problems was when importing emails and settings from Outlook, which caused Opera to crash. Upon rebooting, the settings had been imported, but not the message base.
Opera still scores highly in two key areas, though: speed and security. In every test we could throw at it, Opera beat both Firefox and Internet Explorer by a considerable margin. It’s quicker to start up from cold, pages load more quickly, and even the integrated mail client is fast when compared to either Outlook or Thunderbird, although less feature-rich than either.
Speed may be a welcome metric, but it isn’t one that should weigh too heavily in deciding which client you default to. Security, on the other hand, should be, and it’s here that Opera still beats the competition hands down. According to the Secunia Vulnerability Report (www.secunia.com), Opera rates 13 advisories with none extremely critical or remaining unpatched. Compare that to Firefox (30/3%/10%) and Internet Explorer (85/14%/25%) to see how clear cut the security argument is. Indeed, the basic Opera security model is so good all that’s changed is enabling TLS 1.1 and TLS Extensions by default, and upgrading the crypto library to OpenSSL 0.9.8.
The features that once set Opera apart from the crowd remain as strong as ever – despite the crowd catching up in most areas. This includes the ability to condense page content sothat it fits to the window and eliminate horizontal scrolling from large, busy sites, plus a fully configurable “Delete private data” option to remove click trail traces, including temporary files and history.
Tabbed browsing is a given, as is the ability to resume previously open sessions when restarting Opera. Voice control enables a voice-operated browsing session. Or, if you prefer, you could make use of the innovative mouse gestures that free you from repetitive toolbar and menu use.