Web & social

Opera 11

Version 11 of Opera Software's proudly independent browser has a few of the gently oddball developments that made its predecessors stand out from the pack. But it's also added a few more conventional features that help close the performance gap with its rivals.

JavaScript performance: From falsetto to baritone

Tested against Safari 5.03, Chrome 8, and Firefox 3.6.13 on a 2GHz aluminum MacBook with 2GB RAM, Opera 11 held up respectably well. In an XHTML rendering test, it scored a decent 1.53 seconds, behind Safari's 0.55 and Chrome's 0.64, but well ahead of Firefox's 9.26. In a CSS rendering test, Opera's 208-millisecond score considerably trailed Safari's 32 and Chrome's 54, and wasn't too far ahead of Firefox's 342.

Web browser performance tests

XHTML (seconds)

SunSpider JavaScript (milliseconds)

CSS (milliseconds)

Acid3 (score out of 100)

CSS3 Selectors (score out of 41)

HTML5 Compliance (score out of 300)

Safari 5.0.3

0.55

388.5

32

100

41

208 (7 bonus)

Opera 11

1.53

416.5

208

100

41

177 (7 bonus)

Firefox 3.6.13

9.26

1256.8

342

94

41

139 (4 bonus)

Chrome 8

0.64

372.4

54

100

41

231 (13 bonus)

Fastest times in bold. XHTML and CSS numbers are the fastest results out of six consecutive tests for each browser.

However, Opera 11 hit a real high note in JavaScript performance. In the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, its 416.5 milliseconds nipped at the heels of Chrome's 372.4 and Safari's 388.5, and humbled Firefox's poky 1,256.8 milliseconds. More importantly, Opera 11's score is a huge improvement from version 10's 6,144.6-millisecond performance on the same test.

Like Safari and Chrome, Opera 11 scored a perfect 100 on the Acid3 rendering test, and like all three fellow browsers, it nabbed a perfect score from CSS3.info's check of CSS3 selector support. In HTML5test.com's benchmark of compliance with the emerging HTML5 standard, Opera scored a total of 184 out of 300, compared to Chrome's 244, Safari's 215, and Firefox's 143.

Unlike version 10, Opera 11 handled HTML5 video well, and reliably located me on a map in HTML5 geolocation tests. But some HTML5 features, including one drag and drop test, still didn't seem to work.

Benchmarks aside, Opera 11 felt much faster and more responsive than its rivals. Thanks to its new Vega graphics library, tabs pop open, snap closed, and zip back and forth, and pages scroll in any direction with lightning speed.

Unfortunately, Opera 11 still won't play nice with Netflix's Watch Instantly (which may well be Netflix's fault). Maybe in version 12...

Interface innovations

Stackable tabs are Opera 11's flashiest new feature. Rather than clutter up the top of your browser with a whole pile of open tabs, you can drag one or more atop each other to create a space-saving stack. Click the stack to expand it, or mouse over for visual previews of each tab within. In theory, this is a great idea; in practice, it works best when there are only a handful of tabs in each stack.

Stack too many tabs together, and the visual previews obscure your current Web page. There's no way to automatically open a list of bookmarks as a single stack, and while you can easily unstack a tab by control-clicking it, there's no simple means of compiling multiple tabs into a stack. You'll have to tediously drag and drop them one by one. I was a much bigger fan of the clever button that can track and reopen all the tabs you've closed in a given session.

A big, clear button in the address bar at the top of the Opera window lists a page's security status. With a few clicks, you can automatically scan the page for malware or phishing, and even report suspicious pages to a pair of online security databases--a nifty trick that Safari, Firefox, and Chrome can't currently match.

Opera 11 also offers its own mouse gestures for navigation. Hold down the right button while swiping in one of four directions to go back, forward, stop, or open a link in a new tab. The feature's tough to pull off on a multitouch trackpad, but Opera's thoughtfully added support for the standard Mac OS multitouch gestures in this version as well.

Though it retains version 10's esoteric, toy-like Widgets, Opera 11 adds far more useful Extensions to the mix. These add-ons can block ads, translate pages, and pipe PDF files straight into Google's PDF viewer, among other abilities. The handful I tested all worked well, and were easily disabled or uninstalled.

Opera also incorporates Unite, a free online service that lets you easily share files and photos, trade notes, listen to your personal music, or serve a site over the Web. Like the Widgets, it's another example of Opera's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. However smartly they're integrated, I'm still not convinced that any browser truly needs all these bells and whistles.

Macworld's buying advice

Opera 11's big gains in speed and standards compliance make its eccentricities a lot easier to live with. If you seek a fast, smartly crafted program to meet nearly all your online needs (and then some), Opera 11 may be singing your tune.

[Nathan Alderman is a writer, copy editor, and Pavarotti fan in Alexandria, Va.]

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