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Opera 10.5 brings new JavaScript engine

Opera Software releases a new browser for Windows that sports faster JavaScript and HTML5 video.

Goodbye Futhark, hello Carakan.

With Tuesday's release of Opera 10.5 for Windows, it's time for a new JavaScript engine. Opera's new Carakan engine is much faster than Futhark, an important consideration given the increasing demands Web applications put on the Web-based programming language.

My earlier tests on a dual-core Windows XP machine showed Google's V8 JavaScript engine still ahead of the Opera 10.5 beta, but Opera won out in several others' testing. Other rivals in JavaScript are Safari's Nitro, nee Squirrel Extreme, and Firefox's new JaegerMonkey, which combines Nitro with its earlier TraceMonkey JavaScript Engine.

Internet Explorer has long been the slowest of the five browsers at JavaScript, but Microsoft has pledged to improve scripting speed in Internet Explorer 9. So far, I've been unable to discover any amusing code names for its work.

JavaScript is just one attribute of a browser, of course. Other performance characteristics are how fast a browser can arrange all the elements of a Web page and handle the increasingly important CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) technology used in page design. Also new in Opera 10.5 is a graphics system called Vega that should improve performance, Opera said.

And of course there are features. One important one is HTML5 video. Opera supports the Ogg Theora technology favored by Mozilla in Firefox but not by Apple in Safari; Chrome supports both Ogg Theora and the format Apple prefers, H.264.

My personal favorite Opera feature is Turbo mode, which uses the company's servers to deliver lightweight versions of Web pages to those suffering slow Net connections. Generally I find Opera fairly snappy to use, including my tests today with the final version of 10.5.

Others include visual previews of tabs, which I switch off since it find it harder to keep my place when shuffling between tabs; Opera Link to synchronize data such as bookmarks and history among different computers; mouse gestures to control the browser navigation with swipes and sweeps rather than clicks and button presses; Speed Dial to populate otherwise empty new-tab pages with useful material such as favorite Web pages; built-in BitTorrent support; private browsing to keep traces of where you've been off your computer; and the newer Unite service to share video, audio, or other information directly from your computer.

The Windows beta preceded the Mac OS X and Linux versions, and it appears Opera is using the same timing for the final release of 10.5

Opera accounted for about 2.4 percent of the browser usage in February, fifth among browsers, according to data from Net Applications.

Opera touts a variety of features in 10.5 that it says are unique.
Opera touts a variety of features in 10.5 that it says are unique.