Mmm, reheated browser wars anyone? Opera released their latest Alpha build of Kestrel (aka Opera 9.5, Alpha 1) on the 4th of September. I, being slow and lazy (as per usual) held back on downloading it until earlier this week.

I've been playing about with it on both my XP laptop and 2000 desktop, and I've been MIGHTILY impressed. I use the big 3 (Firefox/Flock, IE and Opera) daily, in fact I have all three clients open right now! However, I find myself leaning towards Opera more and more. Firefox feels a little clunky and bloated to me, and even with addons like FasterFox and my own tweaks, it can drag its heels sometimes.

I'm not saying that Opera 9 is without sin... Like any browser, it has its odd flaw (for example, if I'm a little too hasty (re)loading a webpage Opera can sometimes get stuck mid-pageload, resulting in me having to close the tab, presumably killing the loop the browser's stuck in, and then reopening a tab with the same URL, which makes it work first time). That's about the only *real* flaw I can find with Opera, though I don't use their integrated mail client, so I wouldn't feel comfortable to comment in a qualified manner about that aspect of the software. Outlook's hardly the perfect mail client though, and I only use it because of its great ActiveSync features (yep, I'm a WinMo PPC phone user, my MDA Vario 2 never leaves my sight these days!) What's just as exciting is that when Opera 9.5 makes it to retail status, it's going to get a simultaneous release for both cross-OS desktop and MOBILE USERS! That's going straight onto my phone as soon as it comes out, I already use Opera Mobile on my device but I can't wait for the next version.

Thinking about it, I should really give Opera Mail a try, I have plenty of email accounts knocking about. Anyway, on to the good stuff...


Opera 9.5 has either improved on or brought many wonderfully-useful features to the end user in their latest browser build, the most notable for me being Full History Search, right from the URL bar (this is incredible, and I'll elaborate further below) and the ability to reopen both closed tabs and, now, closed windows, from the Trash Can feature. Speed Dial also has an undo feature, and Opera Mail has IMAP (ooo!) support, plus general speed increases.

Full History Search in action
Full History Search in action
Full History Search is possibly one of the best innovations I've come across in the current crop of browsers. There've been times when I've sat in front of my computer, struggling to get my brain into gear to remember the URL (or some keywords) for a site I was on last week but closed, then forgot the URL of. Full History Search gets around this problem by letting you just type in words found on the webpage, so if you were on this web site, for example, all you'd have to do is type "beta test blog" and the entry would appear in the FHS bar with some relevant information - and you'd just select it / click it to load it back up. What makes this even easier to use is the fact that the browser lets you do this from the URL bar, so you just hit Ctrl+D (or Ctrl+L for the old-skool Opera users! though I prefer Ctrl+D) and type what you can remember from the text on the webpage... And blam, quick as a flash, there's your webpage.

HOW USEFUL IS THIS!

I've been so impressed with the upgrades and improvements in Opera 9.5a1, it's actually become my preferred browser of choice. The only downside is that there appears to be no way to disable Opera's inbuilt BitTorrent client, so if you click on a .torrent link it'll try and fire up its own BT client every time, meaning you have to crack open Firefox or IE to load the link up (if you don't just open links directly in your Torrent client's Open File dialog, that is). A minor pain, and I'm sure the ability to disable Opera's BT client will be added in a future alpha or beta build.


As Opera said on their own Kestrel release announcement page,

All that, and this is just the alpha. Even more amazing stuff will arrive shortly. Thanks for taking the time to evaluate.

Other people have also been alpha testing Kestrel, and have written their own comments and reviews - including Peter Gasston, iVirtua Community and a nice-sounding chap called David Woods, on their respective blogs (Mr. Woods sounds like a talented, witty and intelligent person - we share a surname, so if I'm anything to go by...) </sarcasm>

I know that some people prefer Firefox due to Opera's Widgets not being quite as intensively-developed as Firefox's extensions, but personally I don't use widgets or extensions that much - I certainly don't have extensions continually RSS feedscraping or anything operating remotely in realtime, unless it's for design purposes (like DOM inspectors). What I'm after is a clean, well-written browser which can handle being stressed with loads of tabs and multimedia content, multiple Flash instances, video player instances, and sites with lots of content, right down to huge several-hundred-kilobyte chunks of poorly-written HTML. My average load on a browser during a session is 30 to 40 tabs in one go, and that's when Firefox really starts to chug, even with 2 gig of RAM installed. Opera just seems to handle having loads of tabs open much better, possibly due to its (arguably) leaner rendering engine. It certainly feels faster, and the latest Alpha feels almost like a beta, there's no noticeable speed drop for me, and just about all of the functionality from 9.2 is there in 9.5a1 without big gaps in the UI showing placeholder text. The subtle UI effects, present in Opera since a few versions ago now, don't go unnoticed either - and I love the additive-style lighting effects when you mouseover menu items and tabs. All these small touches really add value to the user experience, and it's the only browser where I feel quite happy about leaving it in its unskinned state because it's more than pretty enough!


Kestrel installs right alongside any existing Opera installation you might have, another geek-friendly consideration from the Opera team, so you can have 9.2 and 9.5 running simultaneously. I am doing exactly that right now, and neither browser is balking at the other running at all - [borat]great success![/borat] So go grab your copy of Kestrel and install it now, you have nothing much to lose aside from a few seconds of your time, and a very pretty, efficient and feature-packed (standards compliant!) browser to gain as a result.

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3 Comments:

  1. Omar said...
    Hello:

    I've been using Opera "on and off", but can't seem to get a good taste of this browser. My main problem is downloading websites.

    Many of my favorite sites won't load properly in Opera; then I have to return to Flock or Firefox browsers.

    Another thing that I find very cumbersome and confusing is the help menu. Finding information there is walking through a maze.

    I prefer Firefox or Flock due their simplicity and more user-friendly environment.

    Regards,

    Omar.-
    webmaster said...
    Hi Chris,

    I completely agree with your comments about the Woods surname ;)

    As you could probably gather from my review, I'm impressed with Opera9.5 but as a web developer, it's unlikely to become my browser of choice purely due to the extensions.

    Recent versions of Opera do offer similar functionality to the web developer toolbar and I know of a few developer's that swear by Opera but the familiarity and ease of use of Firefox's make it my choice.

    @omar: I'd just like to point out that Opera aren't to blame for the problems with websites. Opera are the furthest advanced with web standards and therefore any problems you're experiencing are probably due to poorly coded websites.

    It's something all developers should be testing for now but unfortunately all too many so called designers still mainly target IE users.

    Thanks
    Dave Woods
    Danny said...
    Actually, you can disable bittorrent here:

    opera:config#BitTorrent|Enable

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