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Mac owners offer mixed reviews of Opera

Can the Mac operating system support another Web browser? That's what Opera Software is hoping.

Can the Mac operating system support another Web browser?

That's what the Oslo, Norway-based Opera Software is testing with an early preview of the Opera 5.0 browser.

Opera Software already has full versions of its $39 browser for Linux, BeOS, EPOC and various forms of Windows. The company also offers a free version of Opera 5.0 for Windows, albeit with ads, and plans to do the same for Mac and Linux.

"From day one, there was a huge interest in the browser," said Pal Hvistendahl, Opera's communication manager. "This has continued as the news has--and continues to--spread through the Net."

The Opera 5.0 preview is far from complete. At launch, a splash screen warns: "This version of Opera is not for permanent use." When it was released in late February, the company dubbed it a "technology preview." Opera Software added that although the preview would not harm computers, it was likely to have numerous bugs and crash frequently.

But Mac-centric Web sites and message boards have been buzzing about the browser since the preliminary release.

Tony Leggett, assistant editor of news and opinion Web site MacEdition, said that even the early, pre-test version of Opera had, in his testing, performed better than the established market leaders, Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape's Navigator, as well as Netscape 6, the next-generation and long-awaited version of that company's browser.

Backing Opera's claim that it's "the fastest browser on Earth," Leggett praised the browser for loading Web pages featuring long, threaded discussions in about one-third the time it takes for Internet Explorer to render the page.

Several items are not included in Opera's latest release, such as Java support, file uploading, a full keyboard-based user interface, AppleScript support and cookies. In addition, there are oddities that could be expected early in the development process, such as the inability to quit the application if no browser windows are open.

However, not everyone is singing Opera's praises. Joe Gillespie, who writes and publishes the monthly Web Page Design for Designers site, acknowledges Opera's speed but asks: "What is the point of being fast and wrong?" He points out errors he found in the new version's implementation of Cascading Style Sheets, JavaScript and animated GIF (graphics interchange format) displays. For example, certain fonts specified by Cascading Style Sheets show up at a smaller screen size.

In a market dominated by two free products--Navigator and IE--Opera is not the only attempt at an alternative, for-profit product. Over the last few years, the iCab Co. has been releasing preview versions of its iCab Web browser. Originally, the German company had planned that the final release would be available for a fee. That policy was recently changed. In addition to the iCab Pro, which will cost $29, there will be a free version with unspecified differences.