Opera is the third most popular web browser in use at the time of writing1. With an email client and a news reader, it is available for machines using MS Windows, BEOS, MAC OS, LINUX, Solaris, QNX, OS/2 and Symbian OS. It is almost unique these days in being a paid-for browser - unlike its free competition - although a free advert supported mode is available for some of the operating systems supported. Opera also has an intensely loyal following who keep in touch via the Opera news-groups.
How, Where, Why?
It all started back in 1994 when Jon S von Tetzchner and Geir Ivarsøy were commissioned by Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor to develop a web browser. In 1995, they left Telenor, taking the project with them, and set up Opera Software ASA in Norway.
In 1996, the Opera 2.1 for MS Windows (the first public release of Opera) was made available as shareware over the Internet. In 1998, Opera 3 was released and went on to win several awards. Work was also started on porting Opera to other Operating Systems.
By 1999, browsers that supported HTML 4 were becoming the norm and Opera, which only supported up to HTML 3, was looking a bit tired. Opera came back with a bang in 2000, first with Opera 4 and then with the advert-supported Opera 5, which had over two million downloads in its first month of public release.
At the end of 2001, Opera 6 was released for MS Windows and LINUX.
Why is Opera Special?
It's fast! The program is smaller and thus faster than its rivals. Opera has also always strived to meet 100% of the World Wide Web Consortium standards. It has excellent cookie management and is very customisable in look and feel. Its use of a multi-document interface (windows within windows) makes it ideal for h2g2 addicts. It is also available in over 25 languages from Afrikaans to Welsh. Version 6 also includes a handy pop-up killer to get rid of annoying adverts.
Additional features include:
Mouse gestures - These are mouse-generated shortcuts that let you go back and forward between pages by simply right-clicking and sliding left or right, or just open a new page by right-clicking and sliding down.
Continuity of browsing - There are two ways to do this; either 'save windows' before exiting or specify 'continue browsing where I left off last time' in the 'Preferences' menu of Opera.
Integrated search engine - Opera features an integrated search box, the default setting is 'Google' but there is a wide choice of search engines that can specified.
Hotclick - This enables the user to find information related to a certain paragraph or word with a one-two 'Hotclick'. Just highlight the word or paragraph and right-click to translate it or find its specific meaning.
Keyboard shortcuts - These are simple keyboard commands for many routine browsing tasks.
Built-in ICQ client - For those of us that like to chat while browsing.
What's Bad about It?
Plug-ins such as Macromedia Flash and QuickTime create some problems. Opera uses Netscape plug-ins, but only a few plug-in suppliers support Opera, so a lot of the time you have to manually install the plug-in. You can find instructions on how to do this for most popular plug-ins on the Opera Website.
Although it has excellent tools for filtering cookies, once you have accepted a cookie, it can be difficult to get rid of. Unlike other browsers that store cookies as individual text files Opera stores all cookies in a singe file2. Third party tools are available that give you access to this file in order to delete individual cookies.
The email and newsreader sections of Opera are relatively new additions to the program and although they work well they do lack some of the more advanced features you would find in a stand-alone program.
Is Opera for You?
For many, Opera offers a quicker, easier browsing experience. However, installation of some of the plug-ins you may need does require a certain level of technical competence3, But, when all is said and done, it comes down to a simple question: 'Do you want to try something a little different?'