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15 Jun 12 Opera, the True Underdog Browser, Releases Version 12

Opera 12

When people refer to the five major web browsers, they’re talking about Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera. With under two percent market share according to most sources, Opera is by far the least major of the majors, if you’re talking about sheer usage. The venerable Norwegian browser is, however, a nice product with lots of features, and one that’s frequently among the first to add new stuff.

Today, it’s releasing Opera 12, a new version for Windows, OS X and Linux. There are no radical changes that would prompt vast numbers of happy users of other browsers to switch. (Which is not a surprise: The last game-changing innovation in browsing was probably Chrome’s minimalistic emphasis on speed when it debuted back in 2008.) But there are some meaningful new features, such as:

  • Support for Do Not Track, the standard that lets you prevent advertising networks and other companies from monitoring your wanderings around the web.
  • Widgets that let the little web-page previews in Opera’s Speed Dial page provide dynamic content–for instance, there’s a Gmail one which shows the most recent messages you’ve received. (This replaces Opera’s stand-alone widgets, which the company is discontinuing.)
  • Support for access to webcams, without requiring the use of Flash. (This will only get interesting when web-based services such as video chat apps support it, which they surely will once all major browsers are on board.)
  • Themes that let you add wallpaper-type backgrounds to the browser frame with a couple of clicks.
  • “Experimental” support for hardware-accelerated graphics. (It’s turned off by default, and is tricky to enable–Opera says that it may actually slow things down in some cases.)
  • Opera says that version 12 is faster than previous editions. And it’s turning off Opera Unite, a web-server-inside-the-browser which the company once over-optimistically said was going to change the web forever.

The browser also retains some unique features–most notably its Opera Turbo mode, which compresses web pages on the server side so they load more quickly over sluggish Internet connections.

Really, the only argument against giving Opera 12 a test drive is that not every company bothers to ensure that its wares are Opera-friendly, which leads to some web sites and services behaving strangely in it. (For instance, HipChat, a workgroup chat service we use here at TIME, mysteriously removes the spacing after all commas.)

That said, using the new version is reminding me of all the things I like about Opera. I’m going to keep on using it as my main browser, at least for a while–most often, I use Safari on Macs and Chrome on PCs–and will let you know if I have further thoughts.

MORE ON BROWSERS: I recently explained why the “news” that Chrome is now the web’s biggest browser isn’t actually true.

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07 Dec 11 What’s New in the Opera 11.60 Browser

What's New in the Opera Web BrowserWeb browsers are in the news: Google’s Chrome is poised to overtake Firefox as the number-two browser as Firefox struggles with market share and revenue. IE9 is increasing its market share, but mostly at the cost of other versions of IE. On Tuesday, Opera announced a new release. Does Opera have good news, and more importantly, a reason for your business to consider using it?

Opera Innovation

First available in 1994, Opera has never been among the top three browsers, but it has made significant contributions to the features we now take for granted. The first version of Opera incorporated tabbed pages within one window, now found in IE, Firefox, and chrome. In 2000, Opera added an integrated search bar and pop-up blocking, both again now common in most browsers. In 2007 Opera introduced “Speed Dial”, which showed previews of specially bookmarked pages, similar to the Apps page that Google Chrome uses.

Recent Efforts

More recently, Opera has continued adding features. Opera Unite allows users to share content with friends. Though the same functionality is found in numerous online social services like Facebook, Unite allows users to skip the Web service and share directly through the browser. Unfortunately, this requires your collegues to be using Opera, and with its market share below 5 percent, this is unlikely to happen unless you standardize it in your office.

Opera Turbo is another new feature not seen on mainstream browsers. Turbo speeds up your browsing experience by using Opera’s servers to compress the Web pages you request, allowing them to load up to five times faster. Amazon is using a similar technique for its Kindle tablets. Unfortunately, encrypted pages, the type you probably use for a large part of your business day, are not able to be compressed, so its usefulness may be limited.

11.60 Update

Version 11.60 of Opera isn’t a major release, so new features are limited. The only four to note are:

  • Opera now uses the Opera Presto 2.10 rendering engine, which undoubtedly brings some speed improvements, but is unlikely to affect your daily use noticeably.
  • A new interface for the built in Opera Mail, which while possibly interesting to home users, is unlikely to be used in a business with an established email system.
  • Adding a “Star menu” to the address field to simplify creating bookmarks and adding items to Speed Dial.
  • Added HTML5 parsing, which promises to bring increased Web page compatibility as more browsers support it, especially important for a business moving its website to HTML5.

Looking back to the last major release of Opera, 11.00, Extensions were a big addition, but Firefox and Chrome have had them for ages. Tab Stacking can make your work a bit simpler, but generally this functionality is available on other browsers through extensions. Most other new features were underwhelming, or already available on other browsers as well.

Do Businesses Need Opera?

Opera has demonstrated innovation since its start. Lately, however, Chrome is the browser making a difference, with Opera playing catchup, Internet Explorer trying to retain market share, and Firefox scrambling to stay relevant. When it comes to usefulness in business, there are a few features like Opera Unite that could prove useful if standardized, but overall, there’s little reason to consider Opera unless you can’t stand Microsoft, don’t trust Google, and fear the fall of Firefox.

Joseph Fieber spent 25 years as an IT pro, and has a background in computer consulting and software training. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter, or contact him through his website,

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