Opera 9.5 Syncs Up Web Browsers

Click here to see screenshotsREVIEW: It has a tiny percentage of market share compared with the bigger players such as Microsoft and Mozilla. And if you ask your non-techie friends if they've every heard of it they'll probably say that they don't like opera music. But one can easily make a very good case that, outside of the early Mosaic and Netscape Web browsers, no other Web browser has been as innovative or introduced more new features and interface standards than the Opera browser. And with the release of Opera 9.5, Opera has succeeded in some small innovations in browser usage and has streamlined and improved what was already the most powerful and customizable browser interface available today. But this isn't as groundbreaking or innovative as some of the past Opera releases. And while Opera 9.5 adds some new security features and capabilities, these don't live up to the innovation and ease of use one normally expects from Opera.

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Opera 9.5

REVIEW: It has a tiny percentage of market share compared with the bigger players such as Microsoft and Mozilla. And if you ask your non-techie friends if they've every heard of it they'll probably say that they don't like opera music. But one can easily make a very good case that, outside of the early Mosaic and Netscape Web browsers, no other Web browser has been as innovative or introduced more new features and interface standards than the Opera browser. And with the release of Opera 9.5, Opera has succeeded in some small innovations in browser usage and has streamlined and improved what was already the most powerful and customizable browser interface available today. But this isn't as groundbreaking or innovative as some of the past Opera releases. And while Opera 9.5 adds some new security features and capabilities, these don't live up to the innovation and ease of use one normally expects from Opera. Probably the biggest new feature in Opera 9.5 is Opera Link. This feature makes it possible to synchronize browser settings such as bookmarks across multiple browsers. On the face of it this isn't that groundbreaking of a feature; in fact, one can find similar features in old Netscape browsers. But Opera Link includes a few tweaks not found in similar implementations. Synchronization is done through a free My Opera account (which also provides some nice social networking and Web 2.0 capabilities) and users can synchronize bookmarks, Opera notes (essentially small comments about Web sites), personal bar information and Speed Dial Web sites. Most importantly, while these settings can be synchronized with Opera browsers on other PC systems (including Linux, Mac and Windows systems), the Opera Link feature can also synchronize with mobile devices running the free Opera Mini 4 browser. This is useful for keeping the same information on your mobile that is on your desktop system. Another new feature in Opera 9.5 is the very powerful Quick Find. With this feature I could begin typing a term in the browser address bar and Opera would perform a deep search across the browser history, checking not only the URL and the headline but also the text of Web pages I had browsed earlier. This proves to be very useful for finding that Web page you visited that mentioned something useful but didn't have the term in the headline. While it's not a new feature in this release, Opera 9.5 does increase the functionality of the Speed Dial feature, which has quickly become one of my favorite browser interface features (so much so that I've also updated my Firefox installations with an extension that emulates it). Speed Dial lets users define Web sites that they regularly visit. Then, whenever they open a new window or browser tab, thumbnails of the sites are displayed, making it easy to jump to those sites. The general interface in Opera 9.5 has been updated to have the look and feel of the current chrome and three-dimensional interfaces common in browser and operating systems today. Also, the already very good keyboard shortcuts in Opera have been improved, making it possible to do anything within the browser using the keyboard. Much attention has been paid to the new security and anti-fraud features in Opera 9.5, but for the most part these don't stand out. Opera 9.5 now supports Extended Validation SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates, which display a green security bar in the browser when a site uses these more secure certificates for connections (though as my colleague Larry Seltzer points out, this feature has been toned down in its strength). Also, Opera 9.5 can identify potentially malicious web sites and displays a warning when users attempt to browse to them. However, in my test this feature failed to come up when I browsed to some sites that Google and stopbadware.org had flagged as containing malware. I'll keep checking in coming days to see if this was based on different classifications that the Opera security partners use or was based on the newness of the release. Also, while it is possible to report fraudulent sites, this was more difficult than in other browsers. If a site was using SSL, I could click on the security bar to bring up a window with a fraud reporting option. However, if the site wasn't using SSL (which is the case with most malware sites), I had to use site info, which is inside an advanced menu. Like most browsers of the newest generation, Opera claims improved speed and performance for this release, and in my tests it seemed to perform fine. More importantly, in initial tests of this release and longer tests with the betas, I didn't run into any sites that would not display properly in Opera 9.5. Overall standards support in Opera 9.5 is very good, as is typically the case with Opera. Opera 9.5 aces the Web Standards Project's Acid2 test and scored a very good 83 on the newer Acid3 test. As always, Opera is available for multiple operating systems, including Linux, Mac and Windows. The newest Opera browser can be downloaded at www.opera.com.