Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Opera 8.0 previews & betas

Recent heated discussions inside Opera have led to the versioning change making what was originally intended to be Opera 7.60 to now instead be Opera 8.0. A preview (alpha) for the Mac (changelog) has been released, as well as betas for UNIX (changelog) and Windows (changelog). Planned feature set remains the same, which means that what was formerly 8.0 targetted features (such as per-site preferences) will be future features. To recap the changes since the last major version:

This blog entry will be heavily biased towards Opera, for no other reason than that I think it’s the second best browser all over, and perhaps the best for many. It still lacks some capabilities of the Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple competitors but those are not general user (joe sixpack) oriented features. Also note that Opera is a power user - but not web developer - geared Swiss army knife-like application, and that’s the viewpoint I’ll take.

Interface is slimmer and slicker, and doesn’t feel especially clogged any longer, in difference from how the early 7.0, 7.1 and 7.2 versions felt. Well, I think even 7.5 users will find improvements in the user interface. It’s not entirely Windows like and still not quite Mac like on the respective platform. It stands out by for example not using the same keyboard shortcuts as most other applications for the same tasks, but when you’re used to it that becomes a minor problem.

Opera claims to be the fastest browser around and in most cases I would not dispute them. Their rendering engine seems to be superior (when it comes to speed) to Gecko, Trident, Tasman and WebCore/KHTML for both static rendering and in many cases also incremental rendering. However, the browser takes quite some time to load (more than Firefox and Internet Explorer on Windows, more than everybody but MSN on Mac). The ECMAScript engine, linear_b, is getting faster. It’s second to only Microsoft JScript when it comes to number crunching, it’s second only to Mozilla SpiderMonkey when it comes to most object and DOM handling. There are some cases where it does very bad, though. I’ve not done any testing of it’s liveconnect speed, so I can’t say anything about that. Also a benefit over Gecko is that the entirety of Opera doesn’t slow down if a single page is doing some heavy duty scripting - Opera keeps being snappy and responsive.

Standards support is excellent, as usual. CSS is except for a few CSS3 adoptions in Safari and Mozilla every bit on par with them. DOM support is the area where Opera has long been lagging behind Gecko, but with the exception of DOM2StyleSheets I would say that Opera are no longer behind. Being the first browser with DOM3LS support is a welcome initiative as well. The addition of XMLHttpRequest object makes the remote scripting features every bit as powerful as those in Mozilla.

Opera has improved lots of small things. It’s session handling features and ability to recall closed tabs is a feature I would welcome Mozilla to replicate. Improved popup handling is another welcome feature.

On Windows, Opera has the XHTML+Voice support I talked about for the previews. This makes Opera the first combined graphical and aural user agent. I’ve also heard from testers of the Opera voice support that it’s ahead of the competition in many ways, among others that you don’t need a Californian accent to make voice commands work, and that it has support for the CSS3 Speech module.

Of course, there’s more, but that’s what you have the changelogs for. I’ll round this up by saying that Opera has made improvements lately that have made it a browser that might very well be the best one for you. It’s certainly made itself worthy of a permanent position on my dock.

For more, visit the Opera Beta Testing forum.

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