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Living Without Safari Week 3: Opera

Living Without Safari Week 3: Opera

by , 9:00 AM EDT, March 21st, 2007

After leaving Safari behind to spend a week with Firefox, and then another in OmniWeb, I was surprised to find that my Web browsing experience was going pretty well. I even compared OmniWeb to visiting a town where there are happy surprises around every corner. But my trip to Opera ville... I'm pretty sure the guy that punched me in the stomach as I rounded the first corner also stole my milk money.

Where I found Firefox to be a capable Web browser, and OmniWeb good enough to make me comfortable abandoning Safari, Opera was an exercise in pain. In fact, I was forced to break self-imposed rule number 3, No launching Safari "just to check this one page." Living in a single browser is non-negotiable, more than once because I could not get Web pages that are critical to my TMO editor duties to render in Opera.

Week 3: Opera 9.1
Opera Software's Opera Web browser, like Safari and Firefox, is free. In addition to versions for Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows, there are also versions for Web-capable cell phones and other devices like Nintendo's Wii game station.


Impressions Opera sports the same tabbed browsing style that Safari and Firefox use. Like Firefox, you can rearrange tabs, but it's next to impossible to tell that you have actually grabbed a tab, or to see exactly where you are placing a tab once you start dragging it. And like Firefox, tabs show the associated site's favicon.

The more tabs you have, the smaller they get. Once the tabs are so small that you can only see the favicon, you get a fly-out menu just like Safari's. You can't, however, rearrange the sites that appear in the fly-out menu.

One nice feature with Opera's tab implementation is that as you roll over a tab, it displays a thumbnail representation of the site. That is really nice, especially since there isn't any other way to see what site a tab is associated with unless you click it and display the Web page.

But the interface as a whole felt really clunky. Not just "I use a Mac, so I expect application interfaces to behave a certain way" kind of clunky, but the "Have the people that designed Opera actually used it?" kind. It was as if for everything I tried to do with the browser, there was something put in the way to make it more difficult.

OK, one place Opera's developers did something really cool with the interface was with single and double-arrow back buttons. The single-arrow back button takes you back one step in your Web browsing history. The double-arrow back button takes you back to where you entered the site. Click it again, and it jumps you back he site you visited before that.

For example, lets say that you visited TMO, clicked through to read an article, moved on to Apple's home page, and then clicked a link to learn more about the iPhone. Click the double-arrow once, and you jump back to Apple's home page. Click the double-arrow again, and you jump back to TMO's home page. Nice.

Web page rendering times were surprisingly slow, and often text and graphics would overlap each other. Several times during the week I encountered sites that simply refused to render, or would fail to display anything if I clicked the reload button. Even worse, it wasn't consistent. Some times a page would load, other times it wouldn't. Just to make sure there wasn't a Web server issue, or an Internet connection problem, I would launch Safari - and the errant pages would load correctly.

I found that for best stability, I needed to quit and relaunch Opera every day. If not, it would start to behave erratically - clicking in an Opera window, for example, wouldn't select the application, but clicking the window title bar would. At least Opera remembers your browser state and automatically reopens all of the Web pages you last visited on relaunch. That bought me back a little time each day since I often have 20 or so tabs open at any time.

Processor usage was typically somewhere between 10 and 15 percent, with occasional spikes up to around 80 percent. The spikes would usually last for a minute or two and then subside.

Opera's built-in help wasn't all that helpful, either. It took me a while to figure out how to get to my bookmarks, and I knew I was in trouble when Mac-specific instructions reference the ALT key. Eventually I gave up on Opera's help because so many of the entries were vague or included instructions that were obviously for Windows users even though they referenced the Mac.

The Verdict Using a Web browser shouldn't be a battle. Working with Opera, however, felt like a chore, even for the simplest of tasks. Between the slow performance, stability issues, redraw problems, and cumbersome interface, my week with Opera felt more like a penance than an adventure.

Surfing the Web shouldn't be this much work, and I'm just fine leaving Opera behind.

Next week: Camino

Interested in the other Web browsers in the Living Without Safari series? Here you go:


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