The browser is available for free download from the Opera Web site in four languages: English, German, Dutch and Polish. Additional languages will follow. Also on Tuesday, Opera released a beta edition of Version 8 for the Macintosh computer.
"The vast majority of Internet users have had to deal with a slow and insecure browser for too long," Hakon Wium Lie, chief technology officer at Oslo, Norway-based Opera Software ASA, said in a statement. "People are spending more time online, and with the increase in online fraud, it is vital that they have a browser that is fast, secure and easy to use."
The release of Opera 8 may further turn up the competitive heat on Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer, which has lost market share to the Mozilla Foundations open-source Firefox browser.
Key new security features in Opera 8 include a security information field that displays the trustworthiness of banking and shopping Web sites, according to Opera officials.
This field, which is automatically started when the user visits a secure site, measures security levels in a range from one to three. It also displays the sites certificate owner of record, so users can judge whether they feel secure enough to execute purchases and credit card transactions on the site.
The feature aims to reduce the chances that users will sign into a "spoofed" site that dupes them into executing fraudulent transactions that result in the theft of cash or their identity.
Opera officials claim that the browsers tight coding and speedy rendering engine make it the fastest browser in the market for loading pages and displaying text. The browser also offers fast navigation features such as providing keyboard shortcuts and giving users the option of opening all of their favorite pages at once.
The browser includes a tabbed interface to give users rapid access to navigation features. It is also highly self-contained, with no need to download extensions to gain access to special features or enhancements, according to Opera officials.
The browser also has a new voice feature that lets users surf the Web using voice commands and have the computer read documents aloud for them. The voice feature is currently offered in English only and runs on Windows 2000 and XP.
The browser also has what Opera is calling the Extensible Rendering Architecture, which gives users new options for viewing pages. This provides a "fit to window width" capability, eliminating the need to scroll pages horizontally, and lets users magnify pages and text while still fitting them within a window on the screen.
By clicking on a trash-can icon in the upper-right corner of the Opera browser screen, users can access all closed windows and previously accessed pages. They can also use this feature to review blocked pop-ups.