Why I'm an Opera Web Browser Fanatic
Most people don't really care much about their web browser. Many people just click up the "big E" that is synonymous with "internet" and start browsing. Lately, more people have been seeing that Internet Explorer isn't the only option and have been migrating in large numbers to Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. But are they aren't the only other browsers out there.
What is a Web Browser?
If you are one you the average person, you don't know what a web browser is. I'll explain it briefly. At its simplest, a web browser is the program that you use to view web pages. The quality of the web browser is determined by several factors:
- The aesthetic quality of its interface
- The user-friendliness of its interface
- How many features it has, how useful they are, and how well they are integrated.
- How well the browser interprets the code that makes up web pages. (in other words, how well it conforms to the World Wide Web Consortium standards that specify how a web page should be coded & interpreted by web browsers)
- Its speed
- Its personal appeal
The 5 Most Popular Browsers
I wasn't introduced to Opera until about one year ago. I began learning web development and consequently downloaded & installed browsers so I could test my web pages in each major rendering engine. At the time, I was using Firefox, but I found myself gravitating towards Opera. Opera has numerous features that make your web browsing experience smoother and more enjoyable. Here are some of the features that stood out to me.
Opera makes heavy use of web page screenshots. One of my favorite features in Opera is the small page preview that appears when you hover over a tab.
This is a really cool feature that can greatly organize your browser if you are a tab-lover. To create a tab stack, you simply drag-and-drop the tabs that you wish to stack on top of each other. Tab previews are available for collapsed tab stacks as well, as illustrated below:
Opera Turbo is a great feature that I turn on when the Internet connection is slow. It speeds up page load times by compressing images.
One feature that I almost instantly miss when I open up a non-Opera web browser is mouse gestures. They make browsing so much slicker. If the default mouse gesture presets aren't sufficient, you can add custom mouse gestures.
This is another great Opera feature that's catching on in other web browsers. Every time you fill out a form, the browser asks you if you want the password to be remembered. Choose "Remember password" and if you revisit that page, the form fields will be outlined in yellow. You can hit the space bar or click the key icon on the address bar and the form will be automatically filled out. I just love this feature—you don't have to type passwords twice!
Opera comes bundled with a web development tool called Dragonfly. In my opinion, it rivals the most popular web development tools (e.g. Firebug). I love its sleek interface and high quality tools. You can access Dragonfly by right clicking anywhere on the page and clicking "Inspect Element" on the context menu. You can also open up Dragonfly with the key combination Shift+Ctrl+i or by clicking on the Opera menu>Page>Developer Tools>Opera Dragonfly. Of course, if you aren't a web developer this feature won't have any value to you.
Opera Extensions & Widgets
Although extensions (a.k.a. addons) are not unique to Opera, they are another great feature to have in the browser. Although the Opera extensions repository is not as large as, say, Firefox's, there are plenty of cool extensions. What I really love about Opera's extensions is that they do not require you to restart the browser to fully install them. You just hit the install button, load your web page and it is running! Additionally, Opera has a feature called widgets. They are small programs that, although they appear standalone, are actually powered by Opera. Most widgets are just fun, but some have practical uses like the Google Translate widget.
The Speed Dial
The Speed Dial is a fabulous feature. Think of the speed dial as "visual bookmarks". As evident in this screen shot of my speed dial, it shows screen shots of the web pages that you added to the speed dial.
You can have any number of pages bookmarked in the speed dial—I've heard of people with dozens of pages in their speed dial. The idea is obviously catching on because Internet Explorer 9 added a similar feature that showed screen shots of your favorite (most-visited) websites. The speed dial displays when you open a new blank tab. Some Opera users use it as their homepage. You can set speed dial entries to reload images of that web page at any given interval. Opera 11.50b introduced extensions in the speed dial.
If you are a fan of Firefox's GreaseMonkey addon, you will be pleased to hear that most GreaseMonkey scripts can run in Opera. You may also want to read this intro to learn how to run UserJS scripts.
Opera has an fabulous email client embedded in the browser. I just love having email and Internet all in the same program. After using Opera Mail for a while, you'll wonder how you ever could go back to Microsoft Outlook (unless you use some of its high-level features). Opera Mail also allows you to manage and read your favorite RSS feeds.
Personalize Opera Further with and Opera Account
Although Opera is pretty cool with just the features I've mentioned so far, you can make it super-cool by registering for an Opera account. You can register online. Or, when you enable Opera Link/Unite, the browser will request you to login or register for a new Opera account. I am amazed what you can do with an Opera account. You can participate in the vast social networking site, My Opera, post in forums on the Opera website, submit Opera extensions & widgets, manage the email account that comes with your Opera account (firstname.lastname@example.org), use Opera Link, Unite and many more features. The Opera network is HUGE (both the website itself and in the number of users).
Opera Link is a super-cool feature in Opera. I just started using it fairly recently. Opera Link has been in Opera since 2008 (Opera 9.50), but it has received updates since then. Opera Link allows you to synchronize your bookmarks, speed dial, history/address bar suggestions, saved passwords and notes.
What exactly does synchronize mean?
Imagine you are at work. It is lunch, and you are browsing some of your favorite sites. You are using Opera with Opera Link synchronization enabled. You find a long article that looks very interesting, but you don't have enough time to read it before you must get back to work. Bookmark the page. When you get home, you pull up Opera Browser on your home computer and make sure Opera Link synchronization is enabled. When you open up your bookmarks panel, you'll see the page you bookmarked at work!
With Opera Link, you don't leave your browser at home. You have the same browser at work and on your phone or tablet. This feature is catching on in other browsers, namely in Firefox 4 with its sync feature. What's great about Opera Link is that it isn't strictly specific to the Opera Web Browser. You can also access the synchronized data from other browsers with Opera Link's REST API.
If you are into social networking, you'll just LOVE this feature. I bet that this is part of the web's future.
If Opera Unite could be described in one word, it would be sharing.
Opera Unite uses your Opera Account to share things (anything!) with your Opera friends. Opera Unite uses an application to share. There is Messenger app that allows you to communicate with your My Opera friends. The File Sharing app enables you to easily share files with the world. There is also a simple Photo Editor. If you want to do math with friends over the Internet, then check out the Math Session application. There are dozens of others and many more that are yet to be released!
A strong point in Opera is its flexibility. You can make it look how you want. There was a recent post on My Opera where people showed off how their browser looked. There was a wide variety of submissions, demonstrating how flexible Opera's interface is. You can rearrange UI elements, hide them, or even change the UI theme with browser skins.
Is Opera Open Source?
Short answer: no. The main browser is built by Opera Software. But there are several cool features surrounding Opera Web Browser that are open source.
For one, Opera's extensions, widgets, and Unite applications are open source. You may develop extensions and submit them to Opera. Opera does, however, review the submissions for security and functionality before releasing them to the public.
Some of Opera's more recent open source projects are their Driver (Java-based) and Watir (Ruby-based) web development testing kits. You can view their open source repositories here.
Back when I first met Opera Browser, Opera Dragonfly was a slow, web-based, unattractive web development tool. But the release of version 1.0, Dragonfly hurdled forward into the leading ranks of the most powerful web development tools. Early in 2010, the Dragonfly project was released into an open source repository. David Storey, Opera's Chief Web Opener, recently did an interview about Opera Dragonfly. It's worth watching!
Opera's Open Source Projects Have Potential
I'd really like to see the potential developed in Opera's open source tools. Although their small team is very talented, it would be great to see Opera's open source developer community grow. Opera is leading some very important contributions to the web's future.
Now you have some insight into why I'm such an Opera fanatic! There are some things that I would like to see improved in Opera. Here are a couple:
Overall, Opera has impressed me more than any other browser. Ocassionally, I'll use Firefox. But each time I do, I can instantly tell I'm not in Opera. The interface isn't as sleek and animated and I miss Opera's features (esp. mouse gestures). Even though Opera has more features than any other browser, it amazingly has the smallest installer of any popular browser! Try Opera today!
- More extensions added to the http://addons.opera.com catalog. This is my first contribution to the Opera addons repository.
- An area that contains unapproved "try at your own risk" extensions, widgets, and Unite apps.
- Opera Link improved. I would like to see Opera Link add support for synchronizing extensions, mail accounts and feeds. Thanks for adding password synchronization, guys!
Posted June 6, 2011 at 12:58PM by Eli Mitchell in Opera, Web with 7 responses