App of the Week: Opera
When we talk about web browsers, we generally talk about the Big Five: Microsoft Internet Explorer, Apple’s Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera. Haven’t heard of Opera? You should. Opera is the smallest of the big five browsers, but one of the most innovative and platform diverse browsers out there. It was the first with tabbed browsing and a Speed Dial homepage, which is like Chrome’s “Most Visited Sites” tab page or Safari’s “Top Sites”. It is also available on the most diverse of platforms. Whereas Apple’s Safari is available to Windows, Mac, and iOS users, Opera runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android phones, iOS (iPad and iPhone), Windows Mobile, and the Nintendo Wii and DS, among other platforms. It is also the default browser on many weaker mobile systems.
What is surprising about Opera is the number of built in features it has without being bloated. It uses the least amount of resources of the Big Five and takes up the least amount of hard drive space, making this a wonderful browser for older or weaker Macs (or computers in general). Inside it comes a browser that is lightning fast and was only beaten by Chrome in tests for speed. But while the tests pointed to Chrome as being faster, Opera to my eyes seemed just as faster, and in some cases faster. In the browser, you’ll
find a plethora of features including a mail client, RSS reader, an IRC chat client, a built in Torrent downloader, and more. While I preferred to keep my mail and RSS feeds in Apple Mail, having this feature was incredibly useful. I found it to be a little slow on occasions importing mail, but otherwise pleasant. If any browser was posed to be an all-in-one experience, Opera is probably at the top.
Opera also has Opera Link, which is similar to, and practically inspired, Firefox Sync and Chrome syncing. After making a free My Opera account, you can use the account to sync bookmarks, passwords, Speed Dial sites and more between your Mac and other Opera enabled devices. I found this experience to work very seamlessly after logging in.
There are a wide variety of user features. Opera was designed to let every user’s experience fit their own needs. You can operate Opera with the standard combo of keyboard and mouse, but Opera’s not fit to just limit you to that. Opera provides both mouse/trackpad gestures and.or keyboard shortcuts to control nearly every aspect of how the browser works. And while Opera has a nice and creative variety of themes, Opera’s layout is set to allow those with visual and motor impairments to easily control the browser. One example, the browser is capable of zooming in on everything on a page, whether it’s text, Adobe Flash, Java, and more. Users can easily customize fonts and colors as need be. IBM even partnered with Opera to allow the browser to easily read webpages and be voice controlled.
One other feature that is amazing, but I didn’t have a chance to try, is Opera Unite. Opera Unite allows you to use any computer running the Opera browser into a web server. You can stream media from your computer over a network or Internet, whether it be pictures, music, or videos. You can also set up file
sharing, allowing you to use any computer as a network drive, or even host your own website. Unite also lets you create your own chat room. All of this works so long as you have a My Opera account, and both your computer and Opera are turned on and running.
Opera users can take advantage of a couple of other neat features. Tab stacking, which allows you to group tabs or a similar (or not so similar) nature together, is one of them. So if I have a bunch of articles relating to a topic, I can put them in a tab group, which essentially hides them into one tab that can be opened. Opera also can utilize what it calls “Turbo”; if Opera detects you have a slow Internet connection, Turbo can activate automatically. When enabled, any web traffic you receive will be sent to Opera’s servers to be compressed and then sent to you in a smaller package. This generally speeds up browsing experience, but if it is enabled all the time, it can actually slow your browsing experience. Turbo can also break some more advanced web functions or plugins because of the compression process. This is why Opera allows you to set Turbo to only run when a slow connection is active. The few times it did activate for me, I never noticed anything too bad with how it presented compressed pages, minus a few formatting issues.
I should mention at this point that some features require a My Opera account to be fully utilized, such as syncing. While this may be an annoying, I find the account to be quite helpful, and really isn’t much different that what Apple does with iCloud and Safari or what Google does with your Google account and Chrome. By signing up for the Opera account, you also get access to cool features such as a user customized news page and a free blog creation website (much like the free Blogger or WordPress), along with the syncing capabilities. You can also sync extensions, which are new to Opera 11. While some major extensions like LastPass, XMarks, and WOT are available, the selection of extensions is not as large as Chrome or Firefox. Opera also has Widgets, which basically run as standalone apps to play games, give you the weather, act as translators, etc. I found this tool, however, to be occasionally buggy, such as not actually running the widgets when I wanted them too. The premise is cool, but the implementation needs some work.
I like Opera because of the variety of features, and because I love rooting for underdogs. When I first got a Mac, I used Opera for a long time as my default browser: I found Firefox slow, Safari wasn’t safe, and I never felt completely comfortable with Google. Things have improved now, and all the browsers have gotten better, Opera included. But for all of these features, there were just a few things that Opera didn’t do well.
For example, when trying to upload pictures to a webpage, Opera wouldn’t load the window so that I could add pictures to an article. I also noticed some weird formatting issues with some websites. On the Yahoo homepage, for example, I noticed that some of the pictures in the news roulette were scrunched up to the
One last gripe I had about the browser was the way it opened links outside of the browser. If I open a link from my Mac’s Twitter app or from Apple Mail, the other browsers will make a new tab and open the link. Opera, however, would take the tab I was currently in and load the link. This meant that if I had a bunch of news stories I wanted to read, instead of having several tabs to look at, I had to manually open tabs or keep hitting the back button.
Opera is an fast, powerful, and amazingly light browser. It has the features to stand on its own, but still has some kinks to work out. If you’re looking for an alternative web browsing experience, or you need a browser that won’t eat into your Mac’s resources, Opera is the way to go. Opera is a free download from the Mac App Store or from opera.com for OS 10.4 “Tiger” and higher. It is also available for iPone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Maemo, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, FreeBSD, Windows, & Linux. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org You can also check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen. You can also check out my Google Plus. Thanks!