An interesting thing happened during the past year or so, basically since Microsoft Corp. announced it was getting out of the stand-alone browser suite market: So-called alternative browser suites, from Mozilla to Opera, have introduced some of the most compelling innovations, new features and capabilities the market has ever seen. And although eWEEK Labs tests showed that Opera 7.5, Opera Software ASAs newest release, doesnt quite reach the level of innovation of Opera 7 or Mozilla 1.x, it does feature an interface overhaul and several new features and improvements that make it a welcome upgrade for current users. Opera 7.5, which shipped earlier this month, also is an attractive option for users looking to move from the now-several-years-old Microsoft Internet Explorer.As in Version 7.0, the previous iteration, Opera 7.5 can be used for free with a rotating banner ad in the interface; it can be run without ads for $39. Some of the most compelling new features in this release are in the Opera mail client. Probably the most newsworthy is the ability to subscribe to and read RSS (Resource Description Framework Site Summary) news feeds from the mail client. Weve always preferred reading news feeds in a mail client to a stand-alone reader application, and the Opera feature worked well, with feeds automatically added when we clicked on their links. The mail client also has much better spam-handling capabilities, with an adaptive feature that learns which incoming messages are spam and which are legitimate. We were able to do fast and comprehensive searches through all our mail and news feeds. While weve always liked the browsing interface in Opera, we have to admit that the default setup of Version 7.5 proved to be a little overwhelming and a bit cluttered. Operas good configuration options made it possible to reset the interface more to our liking, but new users may initially be intimidated by the busy new default interface. We liked the addition of the Tools menu for access to history and preferences, and the inclusion of a New Page button was long overdue. Opera 7.5 has some powerful search options, including a dual-engine power search capability, but we would like the option of adding our own site engines to the available search engines list. Opera 7.5 also gains support for integrated spell- checking, but this is not done directly: We had to first download and install the open-source Aspell spell-checker. The spell-checker worked on Linux and Windows, but there was no version of Aspell for the Mac. Opera 7.5 has a new IRC (Internet Relay Chat) client that can run from a panel in the browser. Although its not the best IRC client weve seen, the Opera client is simple to use and has features such as graphical emoticons and direct file transfers. Ideally, however, we would prefer to see Opera integrate with an open-source universal instant message client, such as Gaim. Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com. Check out eWEEK.coms Developer & Web Services Center at http://developer.eweek.com for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.
Beyond the revamped interface and other improvements, another welcome development with Opera 7.5 is that, unlike previous versions, which were initially released just for Windows with other platforms following later, Opera 7.5 is available now for most major platforms, including Linux, Mac OS X, Unix and Windows.