For a few years during the height of Internet Explorers dominance and the depth of Netscapes follies, Opera was the clear choice as the alternative Web browser. But given the recent and rapid rise of Firefox, Operas status has greatly diminished.
Opera is still a very good Web browser and, with the April release of Opera 8.0, Opera Software ASA shows that its still clearly No. 1 when it comes to Web browser innovation. Many of the standard features found in the current generation of browsers, such as cookie management and tabbed browsing, were introduced in the Opera browser.
While the improvements in Opera 8.0 arent monumental, users who are willing to try new things in Web browsing will find Opera 8.0 to be a very intuitive and friendly application to use.
Opera ran well on all of our test systems and for the most part properly displayed all Web pages, although we did run into problems on a few sites, including the home page of espn.com.
One of the most talked-about new features in Opera is a simple whitelist tool that attempts to prevent the Web-site spoofing common in phishing and other fraud-based attacks. Opera does this by supporting only top-level domains that have controls over the Internationalized Domain Name technology that lets sites be described in their native languages. Although this will help to stop some attacks, those who use international character domain names may run into problems.
Opera 8.0 also provides much more information about Web pages secured through SSL. When visiting a secure page, users can click on the new security bar to get detailed information about the page and a score on its security rating—3 being the highest rating.
For the general browsing experience, Opera 8.0 has a cleaner interface than the previous versions, although we still found it a little too cluttered until we had adjusted it to our liking.
One of the coolest—and, surprisingly, most useful—new features in Opera 8.0 is the inclusion of a trash barrel on the address bar, which allowed us to see all pop-up pages that had been blocked, and also see any pages or tabs that we had closed. Since we often found that wed closed a Web page prematurely, this proved to be a very handy feature for getting back pages we had closed.
Another new interface feature we liked was the way Opera could be set to automatically resize the width of a page to fit within the window. This made many pages much more viewable and cut down on annoying horizontal scrolling.
One potential drawback is that, unlike Mozilla-based browsers and IE, Opera cannot log in to Web sites that use Windows authentication.
Currently, Opera 8.0 is available on Windows and Linux systems, and a Mac OS X version is expected in the near future. Opera is available in a free version with an embedded advertising window or without advertising for $39.
For more information, go to www.opera.com.
eWEEK Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.