Review of Opera 9.0
While writing this review I was comparing Opera 9.0 with other browsers. Several times I found myself browsing in Opera without actually realising it was Opera! It’s a browser most people could use all day every day. However, there are things I don’t like and things which it’s missing which mean I won’t be switching to it as my primary browser.
You can try the browser yourself via the Opera 9.0 free download on Opera’s website.
After downloading the Opera 9.0 package from Opera’s website, I ran the installer and went through the usual routine of confirming settings. One of the first pages was this, asking whether I wanted to upgrade my existing version of Opera or install this new version seperately.
This is a great idea because normal users will just want to upgrade while developers will probably want the seperate install. Opera caters to both markets.
Despite telling Opera that I was making a seperate install, it automatically imported all the bookmarks from my Opera 8 install. Maybe this is a “helpful” feature but Firefox is my main browser and my Opera 8 bookmarks are out of date.
I went to the Bookmarks > Edit Bookmarks menu which opens the bookmarks editor in a tab, which is quite handy. I deleted all of the bookmarks by dragging them onto the Trash item at the bottom. I then went to File > Import and Export > Import Netscape/Firefox Bookmarks and hunted for the bookmarks file created by Firefox. I found it listed in
C:\Documents and Settings\Cerbera\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\default.jvt\bookmarks.html.
Cache and Interface
After sorting my bookmarks I went into Tools > Preferences to have a poke around. Opera has always had strong cache settings which can mean you can miss forum messages unless you Refresh pages. I went to the Advanced tab of this window and found the cache settings shown in the picture.
As with previous versions there are loads of things you can customise and tweak. Opera 9.0 has neither the status bar nor the Window menu turned on by default. It’s fairly easy to turn these back on, although the status bar is listed in the View > Toolbar menu list.
I went through Tools > Appearence and selected the Windows Native style. This is because I use many programs daily and keeping the interface widgets looking the same makes it easier to switch between them. I also switched Opera 8.5 into the Windows skin early on during my review of it.
Browsing with Opera 9.0
There are loads of lovely interface touches in Opera.
For example, the Forward and Back buttons load instantly from the cache. This makes hunting around websites extremely fast, which makes normal browsing more pleasant. I’ve always liked this behaviour in Opera and there are many other excellent touches like this. But there’s more to Opera than this!
Another key feature is called Spatial Navigation (yikes, a pun!). Basically, it lets the user move between the interactive elements of the page by pressing Shift+Arrow. The Tab key is used solely for moving between any form controls.
You can use A to move to the next link and Q to move to the previous link. Pressing S moves to the next heading and W moves to the previous one. If a heading contains any links, the heading navigation keys will move between each link.
The first page you see when Opera 9.0 loads is their fancy startup page, shown in the picture. Also shown is the sophisticated popup you get when hovering the mouse on a tab. Lovely, isn’t it?
This picture shows Opera’s famous zooming feature which is controlled by the numerous items in the View > Zoom menu list. The picture shows it zooming the Students’ Work area of Calthorpe Park School, a website I developed and maintain professionally.
Opera rescales all the images by the same proportion as the text, improving their visibility for people who require large text sizes. This zooming feature can also keep the layout of graphical web pages from exploding when resizing the text alone might do. It seems to do a better job of smoothing enlarged images than previous versions, too.
It seems to have all of the tools and features from Opera 8.5.
The picture shows the sidebar opened in the Links mode, which displays all the hyperlinks on the current page. If the link has a
title attribute which is longer than the actual link text, Opera uses that for its entry.
There are stacks of other great little things like this. You can download extras for Opera much like you would for Firefox.
Extensible Markup Language (XML) Capable
Opera 9.0 includes support for
application/xhtml+xml, including the Extensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML) and Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) formats. However, as the picture shows, one minor error by an XHTML author leads to big lumps of a websites becoming impossible to access in XML capable browsers.
Opera 9.0 claims to have incremental rendering support for XHTML and is the first browser to do so, from what I’ve read. I guess that’s one disadvantage to it slightly reduced but it will be many, many years before incrementally rendering XHTML become the norm. Perhaps never, bearing in mind the extreme rarity of real XHTML on the web.
Still, it’s good that Opera 9.0 lets communities who do need XHTML to view it more quickly.
There are various choices made in the Opera interface and behaviour which I find make it harder to use.
- Can’t middle-click items in the Bookmarks menu.
- Can’t drag things around in the Bookmarks menu.
- Bookmarks are automatically ordered alphabetically, even when importing bookmarks which are ordered differently.
- No way to create seperators in the Bookmarks menus.
- Ctrl+Alt+B doesn’t actually open the Edit Bookmarks tab for me.
- Opera’s shortcut keys are often unlike some similar applications without any obvious reason.
- Its use of Ctrl+Alt+Key for some shortcuts conflicts with the Windows system for giving fast access to shortcut files (
- Cannot use Alt+Enter to open results from the search bar in a new tab.
- Cannot use Alt+Enter to open an address from the address bar in a new tab.
- The tab bar is above the address bar and it seems impossible to change this.
- Closes tabs on downpress of middle mouse button instead of when the button is released.
- Several dialogue windows appear to have a resizable border according to the cursor but cannot actually be resized.
- Mouse jumps to middle of screen when middle-clicking content to do autoscrolling. I’ll put the mouse where I want it, thank you!
Some of these things like this will probably be fixed in minor revisions during 2006, but the lack of interactivity with the Bookmarks seems deeply rooted in Opera’s interface principles. You have to use Shift+LeftClick to open Bookmarks items in a new tab. You can even use Ctrl+Shift+LeftClick to make the tab open in the background. Why don’t they allow MiddleClick to do the former and Ctrl+MiddleClick for the latter as well?
The Opera Keyboard Shortcuts page shows that the keyboard functionality is very good. It’s just a pain that you have to learn a new set of combinations to even simple things. For example, Alt+D will give focus to the Address Bar in almost any graphical browser. It’s very comfortable and is on the left hand like nearly all common shortcuts. Apart from in Opera, where you have to use F8 or Ctrl+L, both of which are on the right hand. What’s the benefit in that when Alt+D isn’t used for anything?
Although Opera’s web browser has always been very stable and clever, it’s never felt entirely comfortable to me. Without great extensions like the myriad website developer tools for Firefox, it won’t become my primary browser.
Much like Opera 8.5, Opera 9.0 is a very refined browser suitable for everyday use. It’s like the iPod of web browsers! Maybe I’m just not trendy enough to appreciate it.