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.

Note that I was testing Opera 10.50 mostly on Debian-based systems, so I don’t know if this also works for RPM-based systems. But I think this is a pretty nice touch for Linux users that have multi-user systems. It will be even better when it works properly — which it didn’t during my tests, but I’m going to give Opera the benefit of the doubt because it was a snapshot and not a final release.

Opera is full of nice touches and surprises, though. I love the Zoom feature for resizing Web pages. It’s particularly nice in that images look great even when scaled up ridiculously. Opera also has niceties like built-in notes, a window sidebar for managing all your Opera windows and tabs, and much more fine-grained privacy controls — allowing users to have private windows or tabs during a browsing session.

Opera's Zoom Control
Opera’s Zoom Control

The Opera User Interface

Opera has always had its own visual style. Before the 10.x series, I’d be tempted to say that the style could best be classified as ugly. Attractiveness is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but for many years Opera stood out on the desktop like a sore thumb. These days, the Opera folks have been going to more effort to beautify Opera and make it fit in as a native application on each platform. The 10.00 release was a major improvement, 10.10 built on that, and 10.50 looks like it’s going to be downright sexy.

Opera has a few user interface and design decisions that users are going to love or hate, and probably not much room for middle ground. For example, the UI decision that all windows will be kept inside the main Opera window.

When you have pop-out windows, like with Google Talk inside GMail, you wind up with a floating window that can’t be moved outside the main browser window. This is a bit frustrating, as once you have one or two chats going inside GMail, it starts crowding the page and impeding the ability to actually read and respond to mail. This isn’t new to 10.50, but it hasn’t changed either.

The feature cuts both ways, though. While the inability to pop a window out of the main frame is frustrating, the ability to display a couple of pages side by side in the same window is pretty nifty. The ability to have a smaller browser window overlaying another window can be useful at times.

Opera's Cascading Windows
Opera’s Cascading Windows

In 10.50 it looks like Opera is taking a cue from Google and ditching the menu bar. In its place is a single button on the left-hand side of the browser that provides access to the browser features and preferences. Actually, the menu bar isn’t gone entirely — it can be re-enabled, but I never saw a need to do so. It gives a bit of screen space back to the user, and is therefore a good thing. My home workstation has plenty of screen space, but when I’m traveling I use a laptop with a mere 1366×768 display. I could see using Opera on that machine almost full time if it weren’t for the annoyance of having floating windows crowded into the main window.

Final Thoughts

Opera 10.50 will have a lot going for it when it’s officially released. It may not quite live up to the hype (at least on Linux) as the fastest browser on Earth, but it’s plenty fast. It’s full-featured, though it lacks the depth of add-ons that Firefox and Chrome enjoy.

Casual users won’t get much more mileage out of Opera than they do out of Firefox or Chrome. But if you put yourself in the “power user” category, do give Opera 10.50 a test run when the final is released. At first glance it might not seem much different, but it does have quite a few minor touches that make Opera a fine browser indeed.

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