Programming
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By Craig Buckler

Opera 11 Released

By Craig Buckler

When compared with Google Chrome and, to the other extreme, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Opera has a logical browser release schedule. New editions appear when a solid number of stable features have been added (Opera 10.0 was released 15 months ago).

Opera 11 was released today following a few months beta testing. Most of the features were announced a while back, but let’s take a closer look at the new additions and changes.

Interface

At first glance, very little has changed from 10.x. But if it ain’t broke…

The most noticeable update is the address bar. Like Chrome, Opera now hides the http:// or https:// and displays a graphical “Secure” box and padlock icon. The full URL appears when you click the address — a nice touch.

The “personal bar” has been renamed the “bookmarks bar.” It’s about time! It now appears below the tabs, but can still be docked on any side (useful for small wide-screen displays).

Visual mouse gestures are new. Hold down the right mouse button and map appears showing which action will occur when you move in a certain way. I’ve never been a huge fan of gestures, partly because I prefer keyboard shortcuts and could never remember which mouse movement did what. I may give them another try now.

Tab Stacking

Tab stacking is a great new feature which has stolen Firefox 4’s thunder. Stacking helps those like me who often have 93 tabs open at once; you can group two or more tabs into one master tab by dragging them on top each other. If you haven’t installed Opera yet, this video demonstrates the feature:

Tabs can also be pinned to the left-hand side of the bar. Unlike previous versions, space is saved by only showing the site’s favicon.

Speed

Opera claims their browser is quicker, but, since it’s already one of the fastest available, I’m not convinced many will notice a significant change. However, plug-ins such as Flash now load on demand rather than at start-up.

HTML5

Opera is at the forefront of HTML5 development and offer one of the best standards-compliant browsers. The main addition to version 11 is web sockets: a technology which allows ongoing asynchronous client-server communication which bypasses the standard HTTP request and response round trip.

Extensions … Finally!

Extensions are possibly the most important feature to appear in Opera since tabs in the late 1990’s. Opera fans traditionally argued extensions weren’t necessary because the browser offered better built-in functionality than its competitors. However, extensions were one of the primary reasons Firefox achieved its success, so it’s difficult to understand why Opera held back for so long.

At the time of writing, more than 200 add-ons can be installed from the Opera Extensions repository: https://addons.opera.com/addons/extensions/. A typical selection of advert blockers, GMail checkers, Twitter clients and HTML validation tools are already available. There’s also an XMarks tool so you can finally synchronize bookmarks from other browsers.

Extension development is based on the W3C Widget specification and JavaScript, with a sprinkling of HTML5 and CSS. That’s sensible and web developers will be able to leverage their existing skills. Technically, Opera extensions are more advanced than the bookmarklet-like add-ons in Chrome and Safari. They’re less sophisticated than Firefox’s XUL, but have little of the complexity, either. It’s a good compromise and it will attract developers to the platform. Refer to Getting Started with Opera Extensions for more information.

The big question: can extensions help raise Opera’s profile? The browser deserves a wider audience, so let’s hope it does.

Will you try Opera now extensions are available? Are you tempted to migrate from your existing browser?

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