You can ask just about anybody what browser they’re using, and they will very likely respond with Safari, Firefox or Chrome. I have never met anyone who actually uses Opera for everyday browsing. This is not surprising seeing as how its usage share is 2.4%. And yet, nearly everybody has heard of it. So why do so few people use it?
Today, I’ll be taking a look at Opera, what it has to offer, and whether or not you should consider adopting it as your new favourite browser.
Upon first opening Opera, you will not be greeted by a wizard to import your bookmarks from another browser. This is unfortunate, because it is a feature which I feel really helps smooth over the transition between browsers. Still, this import is possible, by going to File > Import and Export, and then locating your exported bookmarks file on your computer.
I was really impressed by Opera’s interface. On any review of a Mac app’s interface, the reviewer will comment on how “native” the app looks and feels. Opera gets top marks for this one. It totally feels like it was designed to work on a Mac and incorporates numerous design elements that are used across OS X.
The Opera folks have decided to go with the tabs on top, something we’re seeing more and more with browsers. Following another popular browser trend, Opera’s toolbar is minuscule but never for a minute feels cluttered or under-equipped. When your app is in a competitive field (and there’s no field more competitive than browsers), your interface is absolutely crucial. Opera has hit the nail on the head with this one.
For a browser, the browsing experience is crucial. Luckily, you’re in safe hands with Opera. I’m a Firefox man, and for the purpose of this review, I used Opera for a few days. When I’m in Chrome or Safari, I am fully aware that I’m in Chrome or Safari, and I know the limitations. While using Opera, the content took over, and I totally forgot about what browser I was in. It just felt natural.
One gripe I do have is the lack of middle button scrolling. In Firefox, I can click the middle button (or scroll wheel), and get a nice scroll feature which scrolls by moving the mouse up or down. This means much less scrolling. While this may seem silly and nit-picky, when I consider the the amount of time I spend on the Internet, I would say this has probably saved me from some repetitive strain injury. To be fair, neither Safari nor Chrome seem to have that feature either, but it’s a total dealbreaker for me, and one of the main reasons I use Firefox.
Another of my favorite features in Firefox is the ability to quickly go to sites with your address bar. If I want to find out more about the last Harry Potter film, I just type “harry potter part 2” in the Firefox address bar, and I am instantly brought to the IMDb page for the movie. In Opera, Safari, and Chrome, I am brought to a Google search for that term. Sure, this only means one more click on my part, but it’s important for me.
The Address Bar in Opera
With the release of Safari in Lion, every major browser displays your downloads differently. Safari has a pop-up, Chrome does it in a new tab, and Firefox opens a new window. So how does Opera manage your downloads? Well, by default, it will open a new tab, similar to Chrome. However, they also have a lovely sidebar view which gives you all the information you need, no matter what tab you’re in. For me, this is a great way to view your downloads’ progress, and from there, you can also access your bookmarks, history, and much more.
Downloads in the Sidebar
Another great feature of Opera is the ability to stack tabs. If you have a large amount of tabs open that you want to access at some point, but have no use for at the given moment; or if you just want to organize your tab in clusters, you can stack tabs easily by simply dragging one tab on another. Opera is famous for introducing features before any other browser (in fact, they were the first to have tabs.). In my opinion, tab stacking is an awesome feature that other browsers should definitely incorporate.
I’m no web developer. I don’t know all of the the nuances of HTML and I don’t know what makes CSS so amazing. But I do know a broken layout when I see it, and I haven’t seen one yet. Opera claims to have support for both HTML5 and CSS3, but so does every other modern browser. The degree of support is what’s most important and Opera does seem to score fairly high in this area. Development gurus can find out more here, normal users should just know that Opera handles most modern websites perfectly.
One thing worth noting is that Opera is not a Webkit browser, so you can’t get any of those fancy CSS animations we all love in Safari and Chrome. If that’s something you rely on, then maybe give Opera a miss, but for the rest of us, almost everything looks just as it should.
Extensions are a crucial part of the web experience, and with good reason: users love to have a browser that is custom-built to work with the way they use the web. Opera has plenty of lovely extensions, all serving a purpose. It doesn’t, of course, have anything on the ridiculous number of extensions Firefox has (Opera has less than 800 at the time of this writing). One awesome benefit of Opera’s extensions is the ability to install without a relaunch of the app – just hit install and you’re good to go!
Why Isn’t Opera popular?
On paper, Opera should have a massive market share – It’s updated regularly, fast, secure, customizable, introduces lots of new features first, and looks great. It’s also an absolute pleasure to use. So why does it only have a market share of 2.4%? To me, it looks like a matter of branding. Internet Explorer, Safari and Chrome are products from Microsoft, Apple and Google respectively, and Firefox has built up a great reputation over a long time. Opera, however, does not have a massive corporation behind it, nor does it have Firefox’s levels of marketing. No matter what the reason really is, you shouldn’t let Opera’s low market share discourage you from giving it a shot.
Browser Share (Courtesy of Wikimedia)
Opera feels like the browser Apple should have made – It’s beautiful, innovative, and it “just works”. I’m sticking with Firefox myself, but were Mozilla to suddenly disappear from the face of this earth, I would switch to Opera without a second’s doubt.
I’ve only really touched on the most important aspects of Opera, it’s so feature-rich that I could have written a book about it. To really experience it, you have to use it yourself. You may not switch straight away, but you definitely won’t be disappointed.