Ever wonder what features will be found in the next generation of Web browsers? Well, usually there's one easy way to find out: Just check out the latest version of Opera.
Opera may not be the best known or most used Web browser out there, but, over the years, it has been one of the most innovative. Often, features that become mainstays across browsers appeared first in Opera.
So, with the release of the Opera 10 beta, is Opera continuing to out-innovate the competition? Well, while the Opera 10 beta isn't the most innovative version of Opera that I've seen, it does have some nice new capabilities and features that are likely to make their way into other browsers in the future.
One of the more talked-about new features in Opera 10 is Turbo mode. Turbo mode uses compression technology in an attempt to speed slow Internet connections. Turbo mode is targeted mainly at users still stuck on dial-up connections, but it can also be useful for bad Wi-Fi connections.
To test the Turbo mode, I used Opera on a dial-up connection and from the farthest reaches of my Wi-Fi network. Turbo mode can't make a slow connection fast, but most Web pages loaded up more quickly than in other Web browsers with it turned on. (Turbo mode can be configured to kick in only when a connection starts to slow down.)
The beta of Opera 10 also features a revamped look and feel, as well as some very nice improvements to tabbed windows. In Opera 10 it is now possible to resize the tabs bar and have it display thumbnails of sites within the tabs. I found this handy for quickly looking through multiple tabs from the same site. I also liked that I could resize a tab window back to its normal thin and thumbnail-free size.
The Speed Dial feature in Opera makes it possible to launch a new tab and get a display of live thumbnails of frequently visited Websites. This is a great feature, and it has been copied in both Google Chrome and Apple Safari.
In the beta of Opera 10, users can customize their Speed Dial page in a number of ways.
As always, users can choose what sites are shown in Speed Dial and drag and drop the order in which they are displayed. Advanced customization options let users control the layout and even add a background image.
Although Opera is usually a leader, it does sometimes follow. For example, the Opera 10 beta adds Web integration, a feature found in other browsers that makes it possible to use Web-based applications such as Webmail to handle actions within the browser, such as clicking on a mail-to link.
The current versions of Firefox and Chrome have better implementations of Web integration than that found in Opera 10. For example, when I clicked on a mail-to link in a Web page using Opera 10, a window popped up that provided options on how to handle it. Webmail was one of the options, but I was limited to a few preset options. Options in the other browsers, in contrast, include the most popular services, such as Gmail and Yahoo mail.
The beta of Opera 10 also includes some small changes, including a resizable search field and improvements to the built-in spell checker. Unlike previous versions of Opera, which required that users download and install new versions, the Opera 10 beta allows users to set the browser to update automatically. No new versions of Opera were released during the time I tested the new browser, so I was unable to test this functionality.
The Opera Web browser has always been very strong when it comes to standards support, and it looks like Opera 10 will be no exception. Standards support overall is very good, and the beta of Opera 10 gets a perfect score in the Web Standards Project's Acid3 test.
To try out the latest beta of the Opera Web browser, go to www.opera.com/next.
Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.