gweax' blog

The five features I like most about Opera (and Presto is none of them)

Written on February 20th 2013 by Matthias Reuter

Last week’s announcement of Opera dropping their rendering engine Presto and switching to WebKit stirred the world of web development quite a lot. At first I was like, no, they can’t do that, Opera is the best browser of the world, that will be lost!, but then I started to think about why Opera is the best browser to me.

I first tried Opera in version 4.0, which was in 2000, when I read a newsgroup article titled “Opera = Browser = Klasse”, which translates to “Opera = browser = great”. Back then you had to pay for it after a 30 day trial period, so I wrote my first batch script to store the current date, set the date to the day after installation, start Opera and on close reset the date to the current one. Yes, this was the first time I did something illegal with a computer.

Shortly afterwards, version 5.0 was released, which was adware, so I finally could use Opera without having to meddle with the date (which of course confused some websites). To be honest, I had a local proxy running to block the ad requests, so I only saw Opera’s internal advertisement for Opera. Sigh. I was young…

So I have been using Opera for about 13 years now, and it quickly became my main browser. Since I am a web developer, I have tried other browsers, but none matched Opera. These are the features I like most about Opera:

1) The email client

Odd as it might seem, what I like most is the email client. I’m completely committed to the way emails are handled. There is this one big pool of mails, where every single mail is put in. Sent, received, it doesn’t matter. Then there are filters (or views). One filter that shows all mails sent by me (aka “Sent folder”). One filter that shows all mails sent to me (aka “Inbox”). One filter that shows all unread mails, one that shows all mails with photo attachments, one that shows all mails from my wife, one that shows all Ebay mails, one that shows all mails marked as “unanswered”.

The big advantage of this approach is that you never have to move or copy mails. You just create a new view. In the traditional approach, if I have a mail by my wife about the oncoming holidays, I could either move the mail from the inbox to the folder “wife” or to the folder “holidays”, or I could copy it into both folders, but not all mail clients support copying mails. With Opera’s mail client, the view “wife” already exists (because emails in the address book automatically form a view), the view “holidays” can be created easily and mails can be added to it with two clicks.

2) Mouse gestures

Mouse gestures came to Opera in version 5, and I miss them every time I use a different browser. Navigating the history with the mouse (and without having to move the pointer to a small button, that is differently placed in each browser), opening links in new tabs (with tabs being another invention of Opera), duplicating tabs with their complete history, closing tabs…

The first thing I do after installing a different browser is to install an add-on for mouse gestures (where available). Actually, I’m so used to mouse gestures, that I often try to close a text document in Open Office with a mouse gesture. I think, mouse gestures should be included in every operating system by default.

3) Fast navigation

Now I don’t know how this feature officially is called, but when I navigate from one page to another and then back, the old page is there in the exact state I left it. No network request, no scrolling, just bam! it’s there. I realize this is a pain for web developers, as it makes measuring of page impressions and several other things complicated, but as a user I love it. No other browser is that fast.

4) Speed dial

Speed dial is that handy list of websites that is presented in an empty tab. Opera had it since version 9.20 which was published in 2007. I don’t know why it took so long for browser makers to invent such an incredibly useful feature. Nor do I understand why there still are browsers which don’t come shipped with it. This is another feature I install add-ons for in other browsers.

Oh, and another thing. When I close the last tab, I don’t want to close the browser. Just show me an empty tab with the speed dial. When I click on the x in a tab, I want to close the tab. When I want to close the browser, I click on the x in the upper corner of the window.

5) Text rendering in Opera Mobile

Opera mobile limits the width of text to the width of the screen. When I zoom in, word wrap is adjusted, so I never have to scroll horizontally. This comes in very handy when reading longer text on pages not optimized for mobile devices. Of course, other browsers try the same (not so, however, the native browser in Android 2.2), but most fail at one point or another. I have that one bulletin board, which is rather old. It has a table based layout, and no other browser except Opera manages to wrap the words so that I don’t have to scroll (I won’t give the URL, it’s kind of kinky…)

What I didn’t mention

I didn’t mention the speed of either the rendering engine or the Javascript engine. Opera once claimed to be the fastest browser of the world, but given the speed of development, this could be untrue one week after being claimed. I don’t know if it still is the fastest, neither do I care. It’s sufficiently fast.

I did not mention standards support. Though I strongly believe that Opera is the leader in standards support, as a user I don’t care. (As a web developer I do. But as a web developer I care more about tools, and thus Chrome is my main browser during development.)

I thought about mentioning HTML5 forms. Opera is lightyears ahead of its competitors, but unfortunately, that’s why most web developers ignore it. There are so many websites adding a jquery datepicker to Opera, where the native one would suffice.

I didn’t mention Presto or Carakan, the Javascript engine. (I have a strong hunch that at least the text rendering of Opera Mobile is linked to Presto, so maybe my caption is a little imprecise.)

What does Opera switching to WebKit mean to me as a user? As long as it keeps the email client, mouse gestures, fast navigation, Speed dial and the advanced text rendering, I couldn’t care less. The usability of Opera is what made me love it. I’m convinced the usability will remain, and so will my love to Opera.

The implications for web development are different, but many others have written about it.