Opera 5.0 Changes Tune to Better Compete

It's tough to move up from no. 3 when nos. 1 and 2 are household names and you're a little-known company from Norway. It's even tougher when the other guys' products are given away for free but you charge for yours.

Its tough to move up from no. 3 when nos. 1 and 2 are household names and youre a little-known company from Norway. Its even tougher when the other guys products are given away for free but you charge for yours.

Accordingly, Opera Software A/S has finally bitten the bullet and released the newest version of its namesake browser, Opera 5.0, as a free product. This removes the primary complaint leveled against Opera and, coupled with some very nice improvements in Version 5.0, will make Opera a serious competitor to both Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer and Netscape Communications Corp.s Netscape 6.

However, although Opera 5.0 is now essentially free, it still isnt "technically" free. The product, which was released earlier this month, includes an advertising banner that will help defray costs.

In addition to price, Opera 5.0 addresses other weaknesses that held back previous versions of the browser, including subpar usability and mail client capability. In tests, eWeek Labs found Opera 5.0 to be a very capable, stable browser with all the necessary features one would expect. Currently, Opera 5.0 is available only for Windows systems. Earlier versions of the browser are available for Linux, Mac OS, BeOS and Epoc.

One of the first things we noticed about Opera 5.0 is that its interface now conforms to what most users expect from a browser. The address bar is at the top of the screen rather than at the bottom, as in earlier versions, and when multiple windows are open, they are displayed in a bar at the bottom of the screen. The browser also now has drop-down history menus in the back and forward buttons.

One of the best new features of Opera 5.0 is the much-more-capable mail client. It consists of nearly all standard mail features, including redirects, filters and an address book, in a clean and easy-to-use interface. The biggest drawbacks are lack of support for Internet Messaging Access Protocol and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. Also, the news group client in Opera is still very basic and not very useful.

Setting New Standards

Many of the strongest aspects of the Opera browser are in its technology. Besides having broad browser support, Opera is streamlined (a 2MB installation without Java) and, other than relatively weak support for Document Object Model, has some of the strongest standards support available for such things as Cascading Style Sheets, Extensible Markup Language and HTML.

Opera has also effectively integrated search capabilities to Version 5.0. Using the built-in search bar, we could search the Web from almost any search engine. Opera can also now resume interrupted downloads—a capability that competing browsers have offered for some time.

Other new features in Opera 5.0 include a print preview option and an improved full-screen mode. The browser also now has America Online Inc.s Mirabilis ICQ client for users looking for instant messaging.