Monday, July 9, 2007

Browser Wars: Episode II -- The Fat Lady Sings

I had the series planned out neatly, so the title matched the "Star Wars" theme. Then I did one last bit of testing the browser and realized I had to change the order. It became quite clear to me that the best of the web browsers was Opera.

You're probably asking "What's Opera, Doc?" Opera isn't new: it's been around since at least 1997. Even then, it was considered a top-notch web browser. But Opera figured they needed to charge for its browser. It probably worked for them (they're still in business, after all), but they gave up a chance to be a market leader. They introduced an ad-based version at one point, but now offer the program for free at

I'm very impressed with it. It has all the features of a current web browser (tabbed browsing, search box, RSS feed reader, automatic entering of passwords, pop-up blocking), but always implements them in innovative ways. For instance, holding your mouse over a tab will display a thumbnail of the page, making it easier to keep track of what you have open. It also seems to have all the good features of Firefox (e.g., when you search, it goes automatically to the word without hitting "Enter") along with those features of MSIE that I wish Firefox had (e.g., saving a page as a web archive).

There are also some nice innovations:

Speed Dial. This lets you specify up to nine web pages. Thumbnails of the pages are shown, so changes can be seen. When you create a new tab, the pages are displayed, ready for you to click on.
  • Mouseover tab. Putting your mouse over a tab shows a thumbnail of the page.

  • Fraud Protection. Similar to McAfee Site Advisor, this warns you of fraudulent web pages (though McAfee is more thorough).

  • Remembers. When you open it, it brings up the pages you were viewing when you closed it.

It's also by far the quickest browser to start up when you click it.

Of course, no web browser is perfect. Like any non-MSIE browser, it sometimes has problems with Active-X content. I had trouble displaying videos from, for instance (they are notorious for having problems, though).

It also does not have the number of add-ins that Firefox has. Opera runs widgets -- small programs on your computer -- and has over 1200 of them. But it doesn't have add-ins -- I would love to have something like Firefox's IE Tabs, which allow you to run Internet Explorer within Firefox. And there is little software to be added on: things like McAfee SiteAdvisor or the Google Toolbar are not developed for Opera.

Opera also makes a browser for Windows Mobile devices. I don't think it's as good overall as MSIE Mobile, but it does have one major feature that makes it worth considering: tabbed browsing. Since MSIE Mobile only lets you see one page at a time, this is a major convenience when you want to compare sites.

Opera is definitely worth a look if you want a better web browser.