Editors' note: On September 20, 2005, Opera stopped charging for its ad-free browser. We revisited the product and revised our rating upward. (9/20/05)
The Opera 8 Web browser has a lot going for it: a tabbed interface, tons of customizable skins, and some innovative navigation tools. Opera has always been on the cutting edge of browser innovation and was once considered the best alternative to Mozilla Firefox came along. Now, as of September 20, 2005, the Opera browser is free, but its reputation in the public's mind as a "paid browser" may take a while to subside. Opera 8 offers a few features found in neither IE nor Firefox. If you're an early adopter or if you're dissatisfied with IE, Netscape, and Firefox, then Opera's definitely with a look. We downloaded and installed Opera in less than three minutes. Although $39 is a reasonable price for software that is as sophisticated and reliable as Opera, we doubt many users will pay to browse the Web. A free version of Opera also exists, but it includes a small advertising banner across the top of the browser window. As adware goes, the Opera banners are innocuous. Still, with screen real estate at a premium, we didn't like the added distraction at the top the page.until
Although the software doesn't automatically import your bookmarks from Internet Explorer, it will walk you through the steps to do it manually. At first launch, Opera offers users a hypertext tutorial. This is a great feature, although the Opera interface is intuitive and Explorer-like enough for consumers to use without any training.
Opera offers a few improvements on conventional browser design. Like Firefox, Opera offers tabbed browser windows and a built-in Google Search bar in the upper-right corner. The search bar comes with a drop-down menu that connects you to other engines, including Amazon, eBay, and CNET Networks Download.com. On the left-hand side, Opera's collapsible panel displays your favorite sites, History, Transfers, and Notes. Notes is an applet that not only allows you to type in messages but also copy and save text from Web pages with a single right-click.