Opera 9.50: First Impressions

So I’ve been on Opera version 9.50 for several weeks now and I think the time has come to add my two-cents worth on our favorite new toy.

What I like

It’s even faster
The developers have greatly enhanced the rendering engine, bringing very significant improvement to html and javascript performance, among others. The difference is very tangible; already Opera, for how I use the web, was far and away the fastest browser that I had ever used. Now, this is even more true. When, for whatever reason, I use another browser, I find myself yelling at the screen, “allez ! putain de merde, dépêche !” (which we’ll translate with “Come on! get a move on it!”). This is particularly true with Internet Explorer and to a somewhat lesser extent for Firefox (although I haven’t tried 3.0 yet). For my web use, the only browser giving Opera a run for the money in terms of speed is Safari for Windows. But Safari is still in second place for speed for my use and in any case, in terms of useful tools being built in, Safari has a long way to go. Not to mention the whole “fuzzy letter” approach to displaying characters. That just really isn’t my cup of tea.
You’ll notice that I said that the browser is “faster” and that it it is the fastest “for how I use the web”. The whole “which is the fastest browser” question is of little interest. Read five different “objective” speed test reports and you’ll get five different answers. The few tools that are capable of putting all browsers on equal footing do not really represent what happens when real-live people go on the web to do the very diverse things that they are going to do. Want more speed? Download Opera, Safari or Firefox 3 (it seems) and you’ll be pleased, because all of them are much faster than Internet Explorer (we’ll see what IE8 brings about). Figuring out which one’s faster for your personal use of the web is a matter of experimentation. My work depends overwhelmingly on researching information on the web, and it is there that no one comes close to matching Opera’s speed performance for me.
But a browser is more than just speed.

It’s even safer
Opera’s fraud detection is now on by default and fraud information is now coming from two companies, Netcraft and PhishTank. Opera now supports Extended Validation certificates as well, adding yet another layer to user protection. Adding these two things to Opera excellent track record for security bugs and you’re about as protected as you can be by a browser.
A browser of course can never protect you against everything, in particular against yourself. Indeed, the biggest weak link in keeping your computer safe from harm is the animal that keeps clicking the mouse.

It’s even prettier
It’s been a while since the default Opera “look” got an updating and by golly, the wait was worth it! The new default skin is a gorgeous “shiny bar” approach, in a moody grey and black color scheme. Very daring! But for me the Miss Opera crown goes to the new Windows native skin, which integrates beautifully, elegantly, subtly and functionally into xp. The new look of 9.50 has also inspired a ton of new skins, including an Opera classic skin[/URL], for those of you that just can’t handle change.

It’s even more practical
The new “Quick find” feature is, for me, the major event of this release. I have a very nasty habit of closing things when I shouldn’t. Re-finding that website that I shouldn’t have closed has become a million times easier with quick find. But what’s really great is the fact that you don’t only find the one website that you had in mind, but all the other webpages that have the same key word(s) that you’ve typed. This is an amazing tool for comparing information on several websites, because it knows that a certain keyword is present in a webpage, even though you might not have noticed it. It’s “Ctrl+F” for everywhere you’ve been.
There is also the new “Opera Link” feature. Opera is mainly promoting this in conjunction with their mobile browsers, but it’s also really practical for people like me, who have a desktop computer and a portable computer. Perhaps more importantly, it’s an automated backup of your bookmarks, so there is now a virtually zero risk of losing them in a terrible hard-drive crash.

Those are the biggies for me. There’s a bunch of other improvements more “under the hood” (improvements to the bittorrent client, Dragonfly in the works, etc.), but already, what a change! If ‘ya get all this in 9.5, imagine what’s coming in version 10.

What I don’t like

The new keyboard shortcuts
In reality this falls somewhere between a pro and a con. Opera’s keyboard shortcuts have always been quirky, out of the mainstream, but very practical. The reason behind the change is to make Opera “get in line” as it were, and be more like other computer programs, including other browsers, to not disrupt old habits of new Opera users. Also, Opera’s old shortcuts would sometimes create problems with certain operating systems or programs due to shortcut hijacking. Those are all good things; it’s easier globally to swim with the current than against it.
However the new shortcuts are less practical and, more importantly, you now have to “relearn” all of them. The developers were kind enough to include in the Preferences an “enable single-key shortcuts” box and the choice of an Opera 9.2 compatible keyboard setup. But, the latter at least is surely destined to disappear, so it might be a good idea to get started now with the new setup.

Still no “Activate previous tab” after closing a tab (!!!!!!)
9.5 adds the choice of moving to the next tab (meaning the tab just to the right) when you close a tab. This was a very frequently requested feature in the forums and Bravo to the developers for having added it.
But another very frequently requested item in the forums is to move to the previous (the one that’s just to the left) tab after closing another. And that’s the one that I wanted. Grrr.
It’s one more line, guys. Why didn’t you add that as well??

Take a look at how Maxthon handles this, and imitate it.

Well, golly, that’s a pretty pathetic list of cons; nothing but a bit of nit-picking. I think I have to say that this is one heck of a successful release.

And what do you think? What are you loving in the new version? What’s got you all riled up? Feel free to leave a message!

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