Opera 21 first to feature 'Aura' hardware acceleration

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The latest version of the Opera browser launched this week, featuring support for "Aura," a way to accelerate the entire browser experience using your PC's graphics card.

In fact, since Opera and Google's own Chrome browser are using the same underlying Chromium technology, the Opera team conceivably stole a march on Google with its new Opera 21. Google plans to move to Aura in what it calls "M35," or Chrome 35, which should be released on or about June 6.

Although Opera has long been beloved by its fans as a clean, simple browser, it has fallen from favor. Its market share has steadily declined since last August, to about 1.13 percent, well behind Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Apple's Safari.

Still, the company has been quick to include new features as a way of luring users. Case in point: Opera hides all but the domain of a URL, so a lengthy Amazon address will simply show the main Amazon domain. (In Opera 21, that's now an option. Google plans to implement a similar feature, which it calls an "origin chip," although a security firm has warned that the way Google implements it could be insecure.)

Opera's hoping that Aura will provide an additional carrot. Opera shifted over to the Chromium engine in May 2013, bringing it closer to the Chrome browser. But it's been faster to implement the Aura technology. (Mozilla's Firefox implemented its own native flavor of hardware acceleration in 2013.)

What is Aura?

So what is Aura? Put simply, Aura is a way to optimize the browser better, using a new front end that takes advantage of the GPU inside your PC.

"Aura allows for smoother, snappier animations with a more responsive feel," Opera said in a blog post. "So far, we have only scratched the surface of this technology, and Opera 21’s primary intention was to get Aura working and stable. In the future, you will see further benefits as it allows us to give everything that little extra bit of polish!"

From a more technical perspective, Aura should address "longstanding issues with GPU memory consumption and GPU rendering performance," Google developer Elliott Glaysher wrote in March. "Using our own graphics stack enables us to have one OpenGL context per window, instead of one OpenGL context per tab, which should significantly reduce GPU resource consumption."

In other words, expect your browser performance to increase once Aura is implemented.

The obvious question is why you might need your browser made more efficient, given the fact that virtually every PC runs one. The answer, according to Intel executives who recently promoted Google Chromebooks running their new "Bay Trail" Atom chip, is HTML5: Embedded video ads and other rich media are consuming more and more of your PC's resources. A browser that runs the Web more efficiently will give your PC a more streamlined experience.

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