Opera tips and tricks: Opera tools and toolbars 101

One of the most frequent requests in the Opera forums is how to “move toolbars” from one place to another in Opera. The helpful folks who are active in the forums are quick to point out that Opera’s toolbars work differently from other browsers, but this is sometimes confusing for newcomers. The goal of this post is to explain Opera’s unique and flexible approach to managing toolbars.

So you’re new to Opera? First and foremost, Welcome! You’ve just discovered an unmatched tool for surfing the web, and more!

This tips and tricks was written using Opera version 9.60 as an example, but in theory it should be universal for all versions in the future, unless the Opera engineers decide to really change there way of doing things.

It looks long, but there’s a lot of pictures, so it’s actually a pretty fast read.

So, let’s get started.

Like all other browsers, Opera has “toolbars”, on which you will find various “tools”, such as buttons (e.g. the back button) or input fields (e.g. the address field), among others.

Right out of the box, Opera looks like this. I’ve indicated toolbars with red(ish) arrows, and a few tools with blue arrows:

Opera tools and toolbars

Opera tools and toolbars

But this is just a tiny part of all the toolbars and tools that Opera has to offer. In your Opera browser, click “Tools” on the menu, then “Appearance…” then the “Toolbars” tab. In the top part of the box, you have check-boxes for all the “principal” toolbars. Do note however, that this list does not contain all of Opera’s toolbars. Indeed, there are a number of other toolbars which are specific to certain browser functions. Let’s call them “secondary” toolbars. For example, Opera’s Panels have toolbars as well, and although you can manipulate them exactly (mostly) like the principal toolbars, you can’t activate them from this collection of check boxes.

Go ahead and a put a check in all the check-boxes here to see these bars. Some of these are really remnants from the past, and that’s going to be useful to us later.

It also would be a good idea to note here that the “Menu”, there where you have “File”, “Edit”, “View”, etc. is not a true toolbar. We’ll talk about it a bit later.

You’ll also notice at the very bottom of the Appearance dialog, you have a “Show hidden toolbars while customizing” check-box. This is really handy because it does exactly what it says, it shows all the toolbars when the Appearance dialog is open for customizing. Go ahead and check it:

Almost) all of Opera's toolbars

(Almost) all of Opera's toolbars

Everything you see that’s not “window” (you’re reading this in the window part of your browser) is a toolbar. You didn’t know there were so many, did you?

Doing this also let’s you see another example of a “secondary” toolbar, i.e. the content blocker toolbar (the fat yellowish one).

Anyway, uncheck “Show hidden toolbars while customizing” and uncheck everything except “Tab Bar”, “Status Bar” and “Address Bar” to get us back to where we were so we can concentrate on the principal bars.

Moving toolBARS in Opera

Keep the “Appearance” dialog open, and click a toolbar in the browser, Let’s say the Tab bar. A yellow outline will appear around it, indicating that THAT toolbar is active for modification:

Opera toolbar activated for modification

Opera toolbar activated for modification

In the bottom half of the “Appearance” dialog, you’ll see that you have several drop-down and check boxes. The choices you make here will apply to the toolbar that is active for modification (with a yellow outline), currently the tab bar.

Because we’re on the tab bar, let’s try a “real-life” example of moving bars: Many people who have a wide-screen computer monitor actually find that having the tab bar to the left of the screen is more practical than having it at the top. So let’s see what that looks like. Make sure that the yellow outline is still around the tab bar, and in the “Placement” drop-down box, choose “Left”:

Tab bar set to the left in Opera

Tab bar set to the left in Opera

I’ve added a few extra tabs in the example above to illustrate how the tabs “stack up” when moved to the left margin.

This is also an opportunity to identify other “secondary” bars. Indeed, the Tab bar has other toolbars within it. In the photo above, I’ve activated the secondary bar that contains the new tab button; it has the yellow outline. The trash can and the button for opening the panels (the wrench and screwdriver icon) are also on their own “toolbars within the toolbar”. Go ahead and click on them. You’ll see that the yellow outline appears around just those elements. However if you play around with these, you’ll see that they don’t necessarily react as the “principal” toolbars do; notably, you can’t really change their position, which is logical when you think about it, because they are ‘trapped’ in the Tab bar. Nevertheless, they are toolbars and can be used as such. I’ll explain later.

This layout with the Tab bar to the left, has the advantage of increasing vertical space in the viewing window, sometimes lacking in wide-angle monitors. Dang! that’s neat! Let’s free up even more vertical space by moving the Address bar to the left as well: Without closing the “Appearance” dialog, click the Address bar to activate it (the yellow outline appears around it) and choose “Left” in the “Placement” drop-down menu:

Tab bar and address bar to the left in Opera

Tab bar and address bar to the left in Opera

Hmmmmm, not as neat as I thought it was going to be. The Address and Search fields really need to be on a horizontal toolbar… No problem: just choose “Top” again in the “Placement” drop-down…

The point is that ALL ‘principal’ toolbars can be manipulated in this fashion. ‘Secondary’ toolbars can be manipulated too, but sometimes with lesser, or different results, or via other means.

HOWEVER, their positions relative to one another cannot be changed. What I mean by that is that the principal toolbars are ‘stacked’, if you will, in a certain order, and you cannot change that. For example, the Navigation BAR is always interior to the Tab BAR, vis-à-vis the browser window. You can see in the above pictures how the Address bar is always ‘on the inside’ of the tab bar. When both bars are at the top, the Address bar is below the Tab bar, when we move them to the left, the Address bar is to the right of the Tab bar. In both cases, the Address bar stays “interior”, that is, closer to the middle of the browser. To really nail down this idea, let’s move both of them to the bottom of the browser window:

Exterior-to-interior order of toolbars in Opera

Exterior-to-interior order of toolbars in Opera

And all the toolbars behave this way; they always keep their relative positions from the “most exterior” (the Main bar) to the “most interior” (the View bar)

This means that there is no way to, say (and this is the most frequent request of Opera newcomers), move the navigation BAR “above” (i.e. exterior to) the tab BAR.

BUT this is of very little importance, because – and here’s the big, mega, key point to-be-retained:

Opera’s toolbars are just holders, within which you can do virtually anything as concerns the tools.
You can take ’em out, you can put ’em in, you can move ’em all about and this to any and from any toolbar. Let’s explore this idea…

Moving TOOLS in Opera

If you haven’t done so yet, move all the toolbars back to their default positions so that you have the basic “out of the box” layout in front of you:

Default Opera browser (v. 9.6) setup

Default Opera browser (v. 9.6) setup

So first, let’s nail down this idea of a toolbar being just a holder. To keep your browser active while we do this, let’s use a toolbar that is not essential for making your browser work. If you need to, re-open your Appearance dialog to the Toolbars tab (Tools>Appearance…>Toolbars) and check the “Main Bar” box. The Main Bar appears and has the yellow outline. Leaving the Appearance dialog open, right-click on one of the tools on the Main Bar, let’s start with the “Voice” button, and click “Remove from toolbar”:

Removing tools from toolbars in Opera

Removing tools from toolbars in Opera

Paf! it’s gone. Go ahead and remove all the other tools in the same way. Voilà! You now have an empty toolbar:

An empty toolbar in Opera

An empty toolbar in Opera

And now, you can put pretty much any tool you darn well please on this bar (within certain limits, of course).

In the Appearance dialog click the “Buttons” tab. Here is where all of Opera’s toolbar tools are located. But first let’s make a small detour to explain something important.

The first choice in the “Category” column is “Default”. This is a particularly important one to understand. It shows you the default tool setup for the toolbar that is currently active for manipulation (with a yellow outline). In theory, you still have the Main bar active, so the default category shows you the default tools for that bar: “Open”, “Save”, “Print”, etc. Now click your Address bar in the browser: the tools just changed to the defaults of the Address bar. See how that works? Now, activate again the main bar in your browser, the one that you just emptied. Something very important to notice: in the Default category, you have a button entitled, “Reset Toolbars to Its Defaults”. If you push that button, Opera does just that, it resets the currently active toolbar to its default settings:

The default buttons screen in Opera

The default buttons screen in Opera

This is REALLY valuable, if you accidentally modify a toolbar without wanting to. Keep that one in a corner or your noggin’ for future use.

Now, let’s get back to our sheep, as the French say. Go ahead and click on all of the choices in the “Category” column to discover the wide array of tools that are available.

That’s a bunch, huh? What’s cool is that you can put virtually any of these tools on virtually any toolbar.

Let’s say you want to create a “Super Search Bar”, where you have instant access to all the major search engines…

Go to the “Search” category. Drag and Drop the Google search field (the one that does not have the little drop-down arrow) to the currently empty Main bar in your browser. Now do the same with the Yahoo!, Ask and Widipedia search fields, then click “OK” in the Appearance dialog. You now have your own personal Super Search Bar!:

A custom "Search Bar" in Opera

A custom "Search Bar" in Opera

Go ahead, give it a try; if you use the Google field, it opens in Google, etc.

So, what we’ve just demonstrated is that Opera’s default toolbar setups are there just because that’s what most people need most of the time. But they are in no way, shape or form set in stone, and you can change them to suit your needs.

The Super Search Bar idea is neat, so neat that in reality you already have it as a Panel. So, let’s continue learning with another example.

Let’s take the example we spoke of earlier, i.e. putting the “Navigation bar” above the “Tab bar”.

Open your Appearance dialog again (this time just press Shift+F12) and go to the Toolbars tab. Reactivate the Main bar by clicking on it in your browser window; its going to serve us again. As you did the first time to remove its default tools, click-right on each of the search fields and then click on “Remove from toolbar” to empty the bar.

Now let’s learn something new. As we saw, all of Opera’s tools can be found on the “Buttons” tab of the Appearance dialog. But you can also drag and drop tools from one toolbar to another, although in this case what you really do is “drag and copy”. Let’s see how that works.

The Appearance dialog remains open. This time, in your browser, click on the first button on the Address bar (the “rewind” button) and drag and drop it to the currently empty main bar. The button is now copied to the Main bar.

In all probability, the copy will probably have the word “rewind” beside it. That’s because the Main bar is using the style, “Images and text on right”. Let’s change that before going any further.

Make sure the Main bar has its yellow outline. If not click on it to activate it for modification. On the Appearance dialog choose “Images only” in the “Styles” drop-down box, located in the bottom half of the Toolbars tab. Now you only have the icon, like on the default Address bar.

Lets get back now to “dragging and copying” the Address bar tools to the Main bar. Just drag and drop each button and text field, one after the other. When your done dragging and dropping it’ll look like this:

Tools copied from one bar to another in Opera

Tools copied from one bar to another in Opera

The navigation tools that we just copied to the Main bar are completely active and will behave exactly as they did on their default Address bar location. In other words, your Main bar, can now serve as your Address bar. This means that we no longer need the original Address bar, so we need to make it disappear. To do so, either click it in the browser window and select “Off” in the Placement drop-down menu, or simply uncheck the Address bar check-box in the upper part of the Appearance dialog. Click “OK” and you’ve got your navigation tools above the tabs, like in Internet Explorer or Firefox:

Opera with navigation tools above the tab bar

Opera with navigation tools above the tab bar

One thing though, although I’ve just told you how to do this, I don’t actually recommend doing it.

Pop quiz!

Return your browser to it’s default layout in less than ten clicks.

Ready? Go!

Did you figure it all out? Of course you did! And if you remembered to reset the Main bar back to its defaults you are now an Opera toolbar Jedi Night.

Let’s make you a Jedi Master…

Working with the exceptions

As we’ve seen, Opera has its “principal” toolbars, which are all listed in the upper part of the Toolbars tab on the Appearance dialog. It also has “secondary” toolbars that serve special purposes or are located in specialized elements of the browser (the Panels, the Bookmarks managment window, etc.).

Here’s a few major points:

The Menu Tool Bar, isn’t.

The Menu Tool bar is not, in fact, a “toolbar” as we’ve loosely defined them here. This element of the browser is correctly called just the “Menu”. You cannot move it or move things to it. You can however turn it off via the Preferences editor, replace it with a menu button from the Opera Browser Wiki or make keyboard or mouse gesture shortcuts to make it disappear and reappear, and still more. See Tamil’s excellent how-to on manipulating the Menu if you’d like to explore that further.

The Personal Bar is, but has limits

The Personal Bar is an extension of the Bookmark function. You can use it to have easy access to your most frequently used bookmarks. Activate it on the Toolbars tab of the Appearance menu. Open either the Bookmarks manager (Bookmarks>Manage bookmarks…) or the Bookmarks panel, right-click a bookmark and click “Show on Personal Bar”. Note that if you drag and drop a webpage to the Personal Bar, it will create a bookmark in your bookmark folder.

The Personal Bar can be manipulated via the bottom half of the Appearance dialog, but the only tools that you can add there, other than bookmarks, are search fields. You can’t, for example, move navigation buttons to the Personal Bar.

Conversely, you cannot move the Personal Bar functions to other toolbars.

However, it is handy to know that you can drag and drop a website to any toolbar. To see how this works, close your Appearance dialog if it’s still open, click and hold on any of the tabs that you have open (or alternatively the favicon in the address field) then drag the tab over the Address bar (for example). Press the “Shift” key to ‘unlock’ the Address bar (in versions 9.50 and later), and drop the tab (let go of the mouse button) onto the Address bar. An icon will appear, on which you can click to go instantly to the website. In the image below, you can see that I have a New York Times icon and number of stars on my Address bar; all these are webpages that I’ve temporarily placed there.

When you make a shortcut to a website using a bar other than the Personal Bar, it is not added to your bookmarks; this can be quite handy.

Toolbars within toolbars are full-fledged toolbars, except that you can’t really move them

Although immobile, the toolbars within other toolbars are still extremely useful. Use your imagination! For example, in my Opera browser, I’ve deleted the button that opens the Panels (because I open them using F4), and instead I’ve placed on its toolbar the new tab button (because it stays in one place that way) and a menu drop-down button, which let’s me inactivate the normal menu to gain a bit of vertical viewing space (see the link to Tamil’s blog post on the subject above). It looks like this (I use the Windows Native skin):

Toolbars within other toolbars can be handy in Opera

Toolbars within other toolbars can be handy in Opera

You could even create a minimalist’s approach by adding your basic navigation buttons to this ‘toolbar within the toolbar’ and inactivating the Address bar, thus putting navigation and tabs on a single line:

Set free the minimalist within you

Don’t forget the Panel toolbars

Click on the Panels icon (we were just discussing its toolbar), or if you’ve adopted one of the preceding suggestions, press F4 and then click on one of the ‘subicons’, let’s say the Bookmarks icon:

Opera's panel toolbars can also come in handy

Opera's panel toolbars can also come in handy

These too can be used and manipulated like all the others. Press Shift+F12 to activate the Appearance dialog and click on the Toolbars tab. In your browser window click on one of the toolbars in the Bookmarks Panel to activate it for modification, and experiment as you did for the other toolbars. Or do a little brain-storming to see how you may be able to put these to use. For example, as you’ve seen, I’ve gotten in the habit of temporarily storing webpages on my Address Bar, but it would in fact be much more logical to store them on the toolbar of the Bookmarks Panel; that way, I would have my permanent bookmarks and temporary bookmarks in one place (gotta change my habits there).

In summary

  • You can move Opera’s principal toolbars to any side of the browser or even turn them completely off. You can also manipulate how they display icons and how they behave in certain conditions.
  • There are also secondary toolbars that can be manipulated as well, although they may have certain limitations due to their location or function in the browser.
  • More importantly, virtually any “tool” in Opera (buttons, input fields, etc) can be removed from or added to virtually any of the principal toolbars and most of the secondary bars. This allows you to change the original intent of a toolbar to better suit your needs.

This amazing flexibility is limited almost exclusively by your imagination: dig in, experiment, dare. And don’t forget, you always have the “Reset Toolbar to Its Defaults” button if you get lost!

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