Opera 9 is a good Internet browser. It is light-years ahead of Microsoft's new Internet Explorer 7 beta. But should you trade in our current Editors' Choice browser Firefox 1.5? No. While Opera 9 is free to download and offers a number of built-in goodies, such as BitTorrent media support and desktop Widgets, these are not necessarily features that everyone needs. For a look inside, see our Opera 9 slide show. We really do like Opera 9, but we like it more as the cool, cutting-edge browser that it is and not as our everyday workhorse for the Internet. For that, we highly recommend the more extensible Firefox browser instead.
It's easy to download and install Opera. As with Internet Explorer and Firefox, upon first use of Opera, the browser invites you to import your current Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds and mail from previous versions of Opera or other browsers.
The basic interface shares many of the same features as IE and Firefox, but after using Opera 9 for a few days, we noticed a few irritating interface omissions. For example, in IE, Netscape, and Firefox, you can right-click over the Back arrow to see a menu that lists your most recently viewed pages. In Opera, a simple mouseover reveals only the URL of the last page visited; a right-click offers a choice to either "remove from toolbar" or "customize" the icon, but there's no mention of the pages you've visited. On the other hand, Opera's double-back arrow and double-forward arrow are quite unique and very nice, allowing you to jump back by domain, rather than returning to each page viewed within a given domain. While Firefox offers many extensions to customize its look and feel, Opera, drawing upon a much smaller developer community, offers only a few skins, keyboard shortcuts, and preset RSS feeds.
We think the inclusion of BitTorrent within Opera 9 is a bit overblown. True, offering a built-in media viewer is very cutting-edge, and eventually other browsers are likely to adopt built-in BitTorrent-like media players. Currently, however, you'll have a hard time finding legal BitTorrent to download. Though some U.S-based commercial television networks have announced their support for the technology and will start offering it in the fall of 2006, for now there's nothing. Also, in random tests, we found that although we could download two-thirds of a file very quickly using the peer-to-peer technology employed by BitTorrent, the download often hung during the final third. While individual downloads will always vary depending upon their source computers, we had several incomplete downloads of various sizes. Finally, not all corporate environments allow BitTorrent, so you may encounter firewall difficulties, as well.
Opera 9 embraces AJAX technology by offering tiny desktop applets called Widgets. Widgets offer specific functionality, such as currency conversion, that stays on top of your desktop screen. But Widgets are not new; they're available all over the Internet and will be a part of Microsoft Windows Vista when it launches next year. It's unclear why the browser needs this feature--other than because it's cool.
One truly handy feature within Opera saves, then reopens, frequently used tabs whenever you relaunch the browser. If you order your tabs the way I do, you'll appreciate the time savings here. Speaking of saving time with tabs, Opera now allows you to mouse over any tab to see a thumbnail of the current content, but the images are too small, with more than half of the preview window displaying the URL of the site. In addition to providing built-in zoom to magnify Web pages, there's Opera Voice, which will read aloud Web content.
Another useful feature is the new trash can icon. Say you accidentally close a Web page that you want to keep open. With Opera's trash can, you can reload that page quickly without having to dig through the browser's history file.
Like Firefox and Internet Explorer 7 beta, Opera 9 allows you to customize and manage your search engines and frequently used passwords, as well as block site content and pop-ups. We were less impressed by Opera's default handling of RSS feeds; the page is clunky and not as stylized as that found in the new versions of IE and Firefox
As for overall security, Opera remains one of the more secure browsers on the market, but that'll change as more and more users start adopting it. Of the vulnerabilities that have been discovered, Opera has been excellent in patching them quickly.
For technical support, Opera enjoys a passionate and devoted fan base that makes its user forums a good place to request technical support. Unfortunately, there are few FAQs on the Opera site, and there is no telephone support.
While we really like Opera 9, its many features are somewhat esoteric for most people who simply want a good, secure browser. For that we recommend Firefox 1.5. But for the technically adventurous, Opera 9 will shine.