Browser Wars: Five Contenders Duke It Out

Opera 10 (Windows)

With all the publicity surrounding Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer, Opera has become the browser that time forgot. Its share of the browser market has been bumping along at about 2%, according to research firm Net Applications, with no apparent sign of changing.

That low market share, though, has nothing to do with the browser's capabilities, which are substantial and in some ways superior to other browsers. Opera has a host of advanced features you won't find elsewhere, and is fast to boot. Version 10 managed to add several new features, while further increasing the speed of this already speedy browser.

Opera runs on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and a wide variety of mobile devices.

Browser features

Opera is a do-it-all browser that has just about any function you can name. It includes a pop-up blocker, tabbed browsing, a good bookmark manager, a download manager, a cookie manager ... name a popular feature and you can be pretty sure that Opera has it.

The usual features are just the beginning, though. Dig down a bit and you'll find some exceptionally useful tools that other browsers would do well to emulate.

Those who use browsers on more than one computer or more than one platform, for example, will welcome Opera Link -- a way to synchronize your bookmarks, history list and more among all of your computers.

Opera's Speed Dial is similar to Safari's Top Sites feature, but is more configurable. Whenever you open a new tab, you'll see a list of your most-visited sites displayed as thumbnails. You can have between 4 and 24 of the thumbnails displayed, and you can also add and remove sites on the list.

In addition, unlike competing browsers, Opera includes a robust e-mail client that supports IMAP as well as POP3, and has a spam filter and a way to create rules for handling incoming mail.

Opera 10 is packed with features.
Click to view larger image.

People who essentially live in their browsers will want to try out Opera's Notes feature which, as the name implies, lets you jot down notes. You'll be able to create multiple folders to organize them, and you can also search through your notes. There's e-mail integration as well, so that you can send any note via Opera's built-in e-mail client or an e-mail client of your choosing.

Bloggers and Facebook fans will appreciate Opera's inline spell checker. And if you've ever been frustrated by a slow connection -- for example, at a Wi-Fi hot spot in a café -- you'll want to try out Opera's Turbo Mode, which the company says compresses Web pages by as much as 80% as a way to speed up browsing. I found that at a slow hot spot, browsing was indeed improved; but that improvement came at a price, because the images on Web pages were noticeably degraded due to the compression.

Opera is notable not just for the breadth of its features, but for each individual feature's depth as well. For example, its download manager lets you pause and resume downloads, and gives important information about each download, including its speed and progress. Dig into almost any feature and you'll find similar depth.

Given all that, it's surprising that Opera lacks one feature that Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer all have: private browsing. It's a surprising oversight. If this feature is important to you, you'll have to find it in another browser.

Interface and extras

Opera manages to stuff all these features into a straightforward interface. The menus are organized well, and so it's easy to find features with a little bit of digging. Opera is a bit more cluttered-looking than competing browsers, but that's because it has so many more features.

New tabs in Opera display your most-visited Web sites as thumbnails.
Click to view larger image.

This browser really shines when it comes to tab handling. When there's new information available on one of your pages, a small blue dot appears on the upper right of the tab, alerting you that there's been a change. You can easily re-open closed tabs by pressing Ctrl-Z. Opera also sports resizable thumbnails that show the content of your tabs, so you can see at a glance what content is in each tab.

There are other nice extras as well, such as the ability to navigate the Web using mouse gestures. And the Rewind button is a clever little feature that lets you jump back to the beginning of a tab's browsing session.

I did find one compatibility issue with Opera: It was unable to work with the Web-based version of Google Talk. Other than that, I had no problems browsing the Web with it.

Opera also has a variety of plug-ins, although not nearly as many as are available for Firefox.

The bottom line

Who should use Opera? If you want the most feature-packed browser, and don't care about a bit of clutter, it's certainly worth a try.

-- Preston Gralla

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