Opera 15 arrives with Chromium-based rapid-release revamp

The Norwegian browser maker completes the first step of its transition to the browser engine used by Google's Chrome. Sync, tabs, and themes are due in the next version.

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Opera Stash lets you file away screenshots of Web pages for future reference.
Opera Stash lets you file away screenshots of Web pages for future reference. Opera Software

The Opera Software browser brain transplant that began on Android is now complete for Windows and OS X users, too.

The Norwegian company has been rebuilding Opera on the same browser engine Google uses within Chrome, scrapping its own Presto engine. The first fruits of the transformation arrived on Android devices, but now the new Opera 15 has been released for personal computers, too.

A browser engine's job is to process all the HTML, JavaScript, and CSS instructions on a Web page or Web app then render the result on the screen. Although Opera is following Chrome at this low level by using the engine with the open-source Chromium project, it's got a number of interface features that distinguish it from Google's browser. Among them:

• Speed Dial, long an Opera feature for presenting frequently used Web pages, now lets people group multiple links into folders.

• Off-Road Mode uses Opera's proxy-browsing infrastructure to speed performance with slow networks. With the technology, Opera servers send boiled-down versions of Web pages. The feature automatically turns itself off when you get back to a fast connection.

• The Stash feature can be used to collect screenshots of Web pages in a centralized location for future reference. The interface shows small versions of the pages that you can expand, and you can label snapshots with keywords to find them later.

• Opera Discover presents a selection of Web pages based on a user's expressed interests such as regional news or sporting events.

Opera Discover shows links to updated sites based on user preferences for subjects like sports, travel, and local news.
Opera Discover shows links to updated sites based on user preferences for subjects like sports, travel, and local news. Opera Software

Opera fans who want the rest of their old interface back should be patient, Lars Boilesen, Opera Software's chief executive, said in a statement: "Stay tuned for some of our most beloved features as we continue to develop the next generation of Opera."

One hot item to rebuild is synchronization of browser settings and data through the Opera Link effort, Opera Product Management Director Sebastian Baberowski said in a blog post Tuesday. Also on the list for the next release are themes to customize the browser's appearance and Opera's more visual system for tab management.

Opera plans to keep its older Presto-based 12.x browser updated with security patches, and the company is working on an update, 12.6, Baberowski said:

We have neither asked nor forced our 12.x users to upgrade to Opera 15, as we know that some features that are important to you are still to come. So, while you are very welcome to test and use Opera 15, Opera 12.x will still be alive for some time. You can expect that we will keep Opera 12.x up to date and secure. In the future, once we are comfortable with the feature set, we may ask you to upgrade.

Opera has hung onto a small fraction of browser usage on the PC, and its Opera Mini browser continues to have a reasonable foothold in the mobile market. But Opera Mini is chiefly used on the lower-end phones that are losing out to modern Android and iOS smartphones. Opera concluded it would be better to devote its engineering resources to the Chromium project than to continue with its independent Presto work.

Google releases new versions of Chrome about every six weeks to distribute new technology as soon as possible, and Firefox has followed the same approach. Now Opera, which had been accelerating its development already, plans to move faster as well with its own rapid-release process. The company has been contributing code to the Chromium project, too.

Chromium began with the WebKit browser engine also used in Apple's Safari, but to enable more substantial changes, Google forked that software project into its own Blink project.

Opera released a beta version of the Chromium-based browser in late May under the Opera Next label. Opera releases three versions of its browser: stable, Opera Next, and for the most adventurous, Opera Developer.