Is Opera 10.5 the Best Browser Ever?

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Opera 10.5Opera has one of the most rapid browser release schedules and 10.5 is now available — just in time for Microsoft’s EU browser choice screen. You’ll need to download it from, although automatic updates from previous versions will appear shortly.

Opera 10.5 is a significant update — other browser vendors would have bumped up the major version number. Here’s what you can expect:

  • excellent W3C standards support
  • a private browsing mode
  • native widgets — independent applications which continue to work when the browser isn’t running
  • a new interface
  • a new JavaScript and graphics engine — Opera claim it’s the fastest browser on Earth.

These last two aspects are the biggest changes…

Stunning Surfing

Opera’s always been one of the better-looking browsers, but Jon Hicks has made 10.5 look glorious. The most noticeable change is the Chrome-like removal of the title bar and menu.

Opera screen

The red ‘O’ icon can be clicked to access the most frequently-used options and show the menu bar if you want it.

Opera screen

The whole interface can be configured to your taste. Icons can be added and removed, panels can be re-arranged, and even the window color can be changed.

It’s also the first non-Microsoft browser to offer a fully-integrated Windows 7/Vista experience with Aero, jumplists and taskbar tab support. It’s a welcome addition and many users will appreciate the productivity benefits.

Finally, Opera has removed the irritating modal dialog boxes and replaced them with page overlays or panels. “Find in Page” is the best I’ve seen — it dims the page content and highlights all instances of the word. I expect competing browsers will replicate that feature soon.

Opera screen

Superior Speed

Although it has a reputation for speed, Google Chrome appeared to overtake Opera during the past year.

Opera is making bold claims about their new Carakan JavaScript engine. I tested it using the SunSpider benchmark and Opera came out top. It was only 1% faster than Chrome, but more than twice as fast as Firefox 3.6. JavaScript benchmarks don’t tell the whole story and your experience could be different, but the engine is certainly one of the quickest.

Every vendor claims their browser is the fastest — even Microsoft — and “proof” can be offered with tests that exploit known optimizations. However, one of the best independent reviews of the top five browsers is available at Tom’s Hardware. In summary:

  • Opera and Chrome come out top, but Chrome just edges ahead with more second places.
  • Opera is especially fast when handling plugins such as Flash, Silverlight and Java. YouTube pages load are almost twice as fast as Firefox and three times faster than Chrome.
  • Opera’s memory usage is higher for a single tab, although the differences reduce as more tabs are opened.

Forget the charts, though. Browser margins in most of the tests are measured in milliseconds and the differences will be imperceivable. What matters is how fast the browser feels to you on your machine. In my experience, Opera is more than a match for Chrome and it offers far more features.

Is Opera “the fastest browser on Earth”? I find no reason to dispute their claim.

Switch Straightaway?

OK, so Opera’s fast. It looks fabulous. It has more features out of the box than any competitor. It offers great developer tools. Standards support is excellent and it’s usually the first to pass ACID tests. And almost every aspect of the browser can customized or configured.

Yet it’s not my default browser. Opera retains a tiny 2% market share which has barely changed during the past decade. Continue reading The Problem With Opera…

Have you switched to Opera 10.5? What do you love about the browser? What do you dislike?

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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