Why I Use Opera – A case for the browser underdog

 

Opera LogoI’ve been using Opera since it reached version 9.0 in 2006. I have used it every day since in one form or another. I use Opera on my PA laptop, on my Mac, on my TV, my games console and on my Phone, and since Opera’s rendering engine is now built into some Adobe products (Photoshop, Dreamweaver and GoLive) I’m using Opera even when I don’t realise it.

I use Opera for its productivity features. Opera Desktop contains keyboard shortcuts for almost every action, but I’ll start with the most important features:

Speed Dial – Opera lets you pick 9 web sites that you visit the most and assigns them to the number keys. Now, if I want to go to my e-mail, I simply press Ctrl+3 and the browser goes to the page I want. I could also type 3 into the address bar and press enter or use the voice commands.

Searching with letters – With the multitude of services on the internet, I find myself having to go through many pages and lots of tedious loading in order to get to a search page. Opera does have a dedicated search box for many services, but you can do it another way. In the address bar, I can type “g PA Consulting” and it’ll perform a Google search for PA Consulting. It works for any search too and can be set up by the user, so I often type “a Web Design”, which will search Amazon.co.uk for “Web Design”.

“The Wand” – Password manager – A very simple and effective solution. On any form you can save the input to “the wand”. If you return to that page and want to put the same information in again, hit Ctrl+Enter. If you have saved more than one set of data to the form, it’ll ask you to select one. Managing your passwords couldn’t be simpler.

Built-in RSS reader – Most browsers have some form of RSS syndication functionality, but few come close to Opera’s easy-to-manage feed reader. It’s not as fully featured as a stand-alone feed reader or Google Reader, but it loads stories very quickly and does its job. Other features that I’ll mention here are an in-built download manager, BitTorrent client and POP3/IMAP e-mail program. Opera is a Swiss-army knife that doesn’t need extensions to make it powerful.

Presto Rendering Engine – The Opera team has produced their own rendering engine that renders web pages faster than any other browser (even Safari, depending on the test). Opera supports the full range of CSS2 and most of the CSS3 feature set. Put simply, if a web site renders incorrectly in Opera, the web site isn’t correct (according to W3C standards). Whilst this used to cause a lot of problems, this really isn’t the case today. In your day-to-day usage, you shouldn’t find many popular web sites that render incorrectly in Opera.

Opera is also the fastest web browser for JavaScript. Run the SlickSpeed test on all the modern browsers and Opera will come out on top every time (the 9.5 release excels at this test).

Voice Commands and Screen Reader – From a testing perspective, screen readers can be right at the bottom of the list for resource requests. With Opera, the UE expert need not worry about accessibility because Opera has a voice module built in. You can issue commands to read the page, go to a certain page (or a speed dial choice) and do all the commands that are available throughout the program.

The next few features are in the upcoming v9.5 release:

Bookmark synchronisation – A very popular extension for Firefox is a built-in feature for Opera. This allows you to synchronise bookmarks, speed dials and search engine preferences between instances of the browser on multiple computers. Perfect for using Opera on your desktop and your laptop.

Opera Dragonfly – Developer tools – Opera now has a suite of developer tools, including a full DOM and CSS inspection tool, JavaScript debugger and multiple error consoles. It will also be able to debug Opera Mobile and Opera TV devices. Whilst Dragonfly is not as developed as Firebug, it can be considered as a genuine alternative.

Opera includes even more features including mouse gestures, fraud protection, individual site preferences, thumbnail preview of tabs, widgets, notes, custom themes and a very useful kiosk mode. It’s also the least memory-hungry of all the browsers and the fastest to load.

 

So why isn’t it used more?

It’s used a lot on mobile devices (40 million phones have shipped with it pre-installed), though its take-up on the desktop is around 1.5% of the market. It’s partly to do with Opera’s rendering “problems” and the reputation that has gained it. Firefox tends to be kinder to web pages that are less standards-compliant, and so has gained a greater following. Opera has only recently (i.e. 6th May 2008) received developer tools, something Firefox and Internet Explorer have enjoyed for years. This has discouraged developers for developing to Opera, which starts a vicious cycle of errors, a bad reputation and fewer developers fixing problems on it. It also doesn’t help that many large companies simply ban Opera from some of their services (RBS Banking doesn’t support Opera, though it supports Firefox).

It may also be that before version 8.5. Opera was supported by advertisements. This image has been a hard one to shake off, especially as Firefox was coming to fruition at this time and was completely free. Opera has recently gained some popularity in other channels like on the Nintendo Wii and mobile phones, emerging markets that will increase the profile of the company and hopefully the use of the full browser, though that remains to be seen.

 

Why should I change my browser now?

Most people simply “make do” with the browser they are given. Now people are realising there is a choice (Firefox), but they are simply making do with that. Changing to Opera will boost your productivity and supports the features that other browsers only seem to copy. If you’re even remotely interested in where the internet is headed (i.e. mobile devices/integrated computing), Opera will be at the forefront of that movement.

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Steve Workman

Steve Workman is the Head of Web Engineering at Yell. He is also an organiser for London Web Standards is an occasional public speaker, talking about web performance and web standards

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