These are my extensive thoughts on Opera 5.00 for Windows 98/2000/NT. This is the latest version of Opera (although a bug fix release has very recently come out) at the time of writing.
Many reviews I have read are enthusiastic about Opera, but suggest that you wait until a more 'mature' version of the software is produced. These reviewers are probably right, in a manner of speaking. I have a craving for new things, better alternatives, more configurability, and more information. For the very sake of it, and after my testing period of Opera, I have decided I won't be returning to the use of Internet Explorer for quite a while.
I've got a few things I'd like to say about Opera, the web browser. I'm speaking from and end-user's point of view; that means I'm always talking from the perspective of how you interact with your computer, not necessarily what's going on underneath.
Background / getting Opera
Skip this section if you just want to know what Opera's like as a browser. Opera is an internet browser produced by Opera Software (www.opera.com). At the time of writing, its latest version is 5.01, but I will be speaking from the experience of version 5.00, as this latest version was only released ten days before writing this review. According to Opera Software, new in version 5.01 are the following:
Integrated search and Instant Messaging
Updated email support
Improvements in memory usage
Accessibility to different Web sites
You may download Opera from the Internet. Go to www.download.com <http://www.download.com> and you are sure to find it lurking in a 'most popular downloads' list.
Using the multiple windows
Opera is a multi-window user environment. For us multitaskers, this is good news because it means that rather than having lots of instances of something like IE sitting on your taskbar in Windows, it means you have all the browser windows open within the application itself. Actually, the good news goes a little deeper than this; window manipulation suddenly becomes very easy.
Firstly, to switch between windows within Opera you can click on the tabs at the bottom of the application window, just like using the Windows 'taskbar' in the Windows 98 user interface style. Other operations (minimise / maximise, etc.) for each window may be performed by right clicking on the tabs, also just like Windows.
Better still; use Ctrl-Tab to switch between windows in Opera, as you would use Alt-Tab in Windows. These interface parallels hold true with other shortcut keys: you could safely assume that Ctrl-F4 would close a window within Opera as Alt-F4 does in Windows.
To open a new window (either displaying nothing or your set homepage), you can double click on the workspace (the grey area behind the windows you have open), or press Ctrl-N (as you would in IE).
The drag-and-drop principle is only half respected under Opera; you can drag and drop things (i.e. Opera bookmarks into Opera windows) within the application, but don't bother trying to drag objects in or out of the application window.
The power of Opera's window manipulation really shows up with the ability to perform multiple window operations. This may not be done in IE or Netscape. It is possible to:
a) Save your window layouts, including what webpages or documents are in them, into a file. As an example, this can be useful if you want to browse with lots of windows, and then come back to where you left off the next day.
b) Minimise / maximise / close all windows... at the same time.
c) Tile or cascade windows at the touch of button or keystroke.
In the preferences dialogue, it is also possible to arrange for windows to be tiled automatically. This is fun.
All this aside, one of my favourite features of Opera is that you can arrange to stop Internet webpages opening new windows. It can be annoying when you are browsing to be presented with pop-up website windows all the time. This may be controlled under options.
The transition from IE - using Opera to browse
I guess most people use IE, a shame... but there wasn't much choice before Opera became free.
The transition on a single computer from IE to Opera is generally very easy. From the moment of installation right up to the refining of general program options, Opera makes it easy. Basically speaking, you don't need to worry about things like transferring bookmarks; although this is not done automatically, it made easy with the “import from IE” function.
Unlike Netscape, the contents of the browsing window look and feel like IE. The browsing experience is fairly like IE too. There are a few notable differences:
a) When selecting text, the mouse cursor does not change as it does in IE. This can be off-putting.
b) The Opera windows support vertical scrolling with an Intellimouse style mouse, but not horizontal. In other words, you can't press in your middle mouse button or wheel and move the mouse to the left or right to scroll left or right. Maybe you never did that before.
c) The context menus have much more on them than in IE. When you right click inside a window, there are just the right amount of options. Too many and it would slow you down, too little and the context menu is less effective for productivity. On the context menu, you have added options like fullscreen, and the ability to select how often you want the page to reload automatically, and more.
d) Each windows has a stop button. The back and forward buttons are located on the main application toolbar, and they control the active window. This seems inconsistent, but maybe that's because I am used to the IE interface.
e) The backspace key is useful for going 'back' in Opera
f) There is increased support for different page views (including a printer page layout view, accessible from a toolbar button for the individual browser windows).
Stability / performance
Professional reports suggest that Opera is not as stable as IE. I have not carried out any formal or controlled testing on the application, but I have used both IE and Opera extensively, generally using multiple windows in both applications. If 'application termination' were anything for an end-user to benchmark stability by, then Opera is as stable for me as IE was. Opera has crashed numerous times on my system which runs Windows 2000, although not quite as regularly as IE did.
When Opera does crash (the application terminates), at least on next startup it gives the option of carrying on where it left off, starting with no windows, or starting with default windows. This seems much more polite than IE's crashing manners.
I like simultaneous browsing, and sometimes I have ten windows open. If one crashes in IE, I have to 'end task' on that particular window, then wonder whether or not I lose all the windows. I usually wait around for a couple of minutes for Windows to end the task, then get frustrated because I lost where I was with my browsing.
There are still some unfixed bugs / silly design flaws in IE, and Opera does not have them! For instance:
a) When I launch IE and want to change settings, I click “tools -> internet settings”. IE does not let you enter the internet settings dialogue box until your startpage has loaded!
b) When I launch IE, and don't want to go to my startpage, I type in the URL in the address box. If I do this at the wrong time (before my startpage has loaded), it overwrites the URL and I have to retype it!
My pros and cons. My personal likes and dislikes.
I like knowing what is happening. With Opera, I actually know when the browser is sending or receiving data!! I know how many bytes of a webpage are loaded, and at what rate they are being loaded. If a webpage doesn't load, I know where it has got stuck!
For instance, I regularly use a site that has lots of adverts on it to send text messages. The page in question sometimes takes a couple of minutes to load. Now I know that this loading time is due to the length of time it takes to receive data from the adbureau (Opera stalls at: contacting www.adbureau.net), so if I simply press 'stop' or hit escape when it gets to this point, the page suddenly displays! This saves me so much time!
I like that bookmarks are more powerful. There is an 'active folder' principle that makes the maintenance of and addition to bookmarks a more efficient process! The bookmark list should be able to, and is able to, float around, much like a window.
I like that the application is abundant in configurability. I won't run down the options here, it would take too long. All I need to say is that Opera is highly configurable. The options section is a joy to use; all options are sorted into logical and intuitively placed groups.
I like that Opera promotes the use of shortcut keys.
I like that Opera has the ability to control dialup (as does IE).
I like that it tells you how long each page has taken to load.
I like the idea of fullscreen browsing (F11), but never used it in IE. I use it lots in Opera, and I think the reason I use it now is that Opera is more controllable by the context menu.
I like that Opera can be a newsreader, a multiple email account client, an ICQ client (none of which I have touched on!), and web browser all in one, and that the download for it is tiny relative to IE.
I don't mind that Opera has adverts that reside in the application window, next to the toolbar. I can tune them to my preferences - not that this makes any difference to how much I look at them. Perhaps I don't mind because my desktop resolution is high and it doesn't take up much space on my screen.
I dislike the fact that Opera's help function does not use standard Windows help dialogue boxes and options, but it uses a browser-faced help system. It is not searchable. To find something, you have to locate it in an alphabetical list, and there is a problem when clicking on links in help, they never work first time! On testing; when the mouse runs over the link, there is a very short period in which you can click it if the link is to work!
There are bugs; I've noticed the graphics rendering problems that have been talked about on the reviews and formal test results... and there are bugs in IE, too.
If you love seeing what's happening, controlling what your software does, then ditch IE and use Opera from now on.
One opinion said that Opera was:
”Good only for webmasters - or to play a trick on them”...
This is clearly not true; I am not a webmaster and I find Opera more usable and powerful than any other browser.
It's far away from being a perfect browser, but it's a lot closer to my perception of perfection that IE is!
Thanks for reading and rating my review.
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