Just like people, software providers are followers or leaders. Some are cautious about real innovation, always reluctant to try out new things, while others are constantly seeking ways to improve their products and to innovate in their technology areas.
An excellent example of the latter is Opera Software, with its eponymously named Web browser. Opera was the first to offer many of the browser features that we commonly use today, such as tabbed browsing and cookie management.
This trend carried on in last years Opera 8, which eWeek Labs lauded for providing innovative features such as phishing prevention tools and site security checks. These features are now being added to competing Web browsers.
So its a good bet that if you want to see the features that other Web browsers will be adding in a year or two, you should download Opera 9 (www.opera.com), which was released on June 20. The free Opera 9 is available in Windows, Linux, Solaris, BSD and Mac OS X versions.
In our tests, we found Opera 9 to be one of the best Web browsing tools weve used in a long time, which is why we are giving Opera 9 an eWeek Labs Analysts Choice award.
Unlike Opera 8, which had significant browser interface changes, Opera 9s big changes are mainly in the areas of management and configuration options.
One of the coolest and most valuable new features in Opera 9 is its search customization feature. On any Web site to which we surfed with Opera 9, we could right-click in a search field and then choose to add the sites search engine to our list of integrated engines. We could even make it our default search engine. This is a feature that we have been looking for in browsers for a long time now, and Opera 9 has finally pulled it off.
Another well-implemented new feature made it possible to selectively block content within a Web site. By right-clicking on the site, an interface came up showing the site grayed out. We could then hold down the Shift key and click on specific images, ads and other components, and they would be blocked the next time we went to that site.
A new site-settings feature made it possible to define controls and settings on a site-by-site basis. So, for example, we could define how we wanted to deal with pop-ups or cookies on a site.
Now integrated directly within the Opera browser is a Bit-Torrent client, useful for downloading very large files (both legit and nonlegit ones). This client worked very well in our tests, and during downloads of Linux ISO files it provided good feedback and was very lightweight. However, BitTorrent users should keep in mind that if you close the browser, the download stops. Many BitTorrent clients, in contrast, just switch to a minimized mode.
A new widgets feature made it possible to download (or create for developers) small pop-up applications that run within the browser. The selection from the Opera Web site was fairly limited at the time of our testing, although we did like the password generator widget.
Opera 9 includes many small interface changes and navigation enhancements that will let users more quickly open tabs or access specific search sites. And Opera has caught up in one of the few areas in which it lags behind rival browsers: It is now possible to carry out advanced customizations of the browser by typing opera:config into the address bar.
Standards support in Opera 9 is very good overall—in a few days of surfing, we didnt run into any problems on any sites. Opera 9 also is one of the few browsers out there that can pass the Web Standards Projects Acid2 standards test (webstandards.org/action/acid2), something that neither Firefox nor Internet Explorer can yet claim.
Comes with most popular Linux distributions (www.konqueror.org)
Microsofts Internet Explorer
Still the market-share king, though not the dominant force it once was; the upcoming Version 7 should finally vault IE into the modern age (www.microsoft.com/ie)
Mozilla Foundations Firefox
Has become the top choice as far as an alternative to IE—and for good reason, with a strong feature set and flexible user interface (www.mozilla.com)
Mozilla Foundations Mozilla Suite
Doesnt see the level of updates that its Firefox sibling does but is still well-liked by many users (www.mozilla.org)
The default browser on the Mac OS X operating system (www.apple.com)