Is Opera 10.50 Really the Fastest?

Opera is finally making with the snapshots for 10.50 on Linux, but is it really as fast as they claim? Opera's upcoming release gets a shakedown this week, and the results might surprise you.

Good news for Linux users who love the Opera Web browser: After being snubbed for a big chunk of the pre-10.50 release cycle, Opera has finally started putting out snapshots for all platforms, including Linux. Now that we finally have our hands on Opera 10.50 development snapshots for Linux, does it live up to the hype? Is it really as fast as they claim? Don’t bet on it.

Opera is enjoying a bit of a surge in popularity lately, with the browser ballot in Europe bringing renewed attention to “alternative” browsers. The company seems to be putting quite a bit of polish on its desktop browsers to build on the momentum, and Opera is even taking a shot at getting its mobile browser on the iPhone platform.

So Opera is getting more attention than ever these days, but should Linux users be giving the underdog browser a shot? I took a look at the 10.50 snapshots released last week to see how it stacks up.

A quick note: I’m giving 10.50 an overview here, but not limiting to features that are brand new in 10.50. With less than a 4% market share according to almost all reports, it’s a safe assumption that many users haven’t tried Opera at all and have no basis of comparison with older releases.

Opera Speed

Opera is billing itself as “The fastest browser on Earth” these days. Which brings to mind a few questions: Is it really faster, and by how wide a margin is Opera faster than the other browsers? What about other features? And does it really matter if Opera is the fastest browser when you’re browsing sites that are pokey about delivering pages?

Let’s start by asking if Opera really is faster than other browsers. Luckily, we have quite a few benchmarks to choose from these days. I used the V8 Benchmark Suite (note that this is v5 of the suite, and that might change by the time you read this) and the SunSpider suite.

The results? Opera was slower than the development version of Google Chrome on Linux. Not by very much, but Opera scored 523.2ms vs Chrome’s 394.8ms and didn’t blow past Chrome as expected. Note that I re-ran the tests several times, but the links are to representative results.

Opera also didn’t do so well when compared to Chrome on the V8 Benchmark Suite. Opera scored around 2700 repeatedly, while Chrome scored above 5000. (Bigger is better.) Note that Opera is probably looking at results on Windows rather than Linux when making its speed claims, and I’ll allow for the snapshot release not being as optimized as a final release. Still, Opera doesn’t seem to be consistently the fastest browser in the world just yet.

The real question, does it matter whether Opera is faster by a bit here and there, or not? Compare to Firefox 3.6′s midterm report in November where it was scoring above 1600ms and Chrome was in the 700ms range on SunSpider. I get impatient when waiting for a Web-based application to do its thing just as much as the next person — probably moreso. But we’re approaching a point where all the major browsers have reached good enough. Speed is not going to be the primary feature that motivates me to choose a browser.

So what is? Features. Native features and the features you can get your hands on via add-ons, extensions, or widgets.

Opera Features and Widgets

Let’s start by stipulating that Opera is more full-featured than Chrome or Firefox. It has its own mailer, IRC client, and tons of functionality built into the browser. A major contrast to the approach taken by Google with Chrome, and to a lesser extent to Firefox’s approach. But what Mozilla and Google haven’t given, their developer communities have stepped up to provide.

The developer community around Opera is not quite as robust. Nor, apparently, is its Web site. The widgets.opera.com site was throwing an “unhandled exception” during part of the time I was testing Opera 10.50. I tried to reach the site using Chrome and Firefox, but it was a server-side error, not a browser problem.

But I was able to reach the site before and after. Opera has some innovative widgets. One of the niftier ones is a eBook reader, if you enjoy reading books at your computer. But I couldn’t find a widget for Evernote, to shorten URLs with Bit.ly (though the bookmarklets do work), and Opera is sadly lacking something like .

You can take a look at the most popular Opera widgets. It’s an interesting contrast to the more popular add-ons for Firefox. Some of the more popular add-ons for Firefox are replicated by Opera itself. For instance, Opera has a sync feature built in so you don’t need Xmarks — unless, of course, you use multiple browsers and want to sync between them. Opera already has the preview feature for tabs.

Opera’s Install Widget feature has a nice extra for Linux users that almost makes up for the sluggish pace of getting us snapshots. When you choose to install a widget, if you click the Advanced button, Opera provides the choice of installing the widget for yourself or to create a Deb package to install the widget for all users on the machine.

Opera Widget Dialog
Opera Widget Dialog

Next: Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

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