Opera Joins IE, Firefox, Safari, Chrome in Web Dev Extension War

An alpha version of the Opera cross-platform Web browser for Windows PC, Apple Mac and Linux systems, including mobile phones and game consoles, now has a framework for running extensions, new ways to integrate mail and news feeds, and a cleaned-up user interface.

The alpha release of the Opera Web browser joins the Web app battle already being fought by Microsoft IE, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari and Google Chrome by girding itself with a standards-based framework for adding extensions to the Web browser. Opera also gained a new mail panel, bookmarks bar, HTML5 support and on-demand plug-in enablement.

Using World Wide Web Consortium widgets and JavaScript as the base will enable Web developers to write Web applications that can be added to the Opera platform. I followed a simple tutorial to create a "Hello World" toolbar button that I was able to add to my Opera 11 browser.

Opera 11 alpha became available on October 21 and can be downloaded at no cost.

While extensions are the highest profile addition to the upstart Opera browser, other, more user-centric convenience features, including bookmarks, are also getting a makeover. The mail panel, which is intended to combine e-mail and news feeds, was not implemented in the early alpha version that I tested.

Extensions are browser add-ons that use Opera's API to enable browser customization previously provided by Opera Widgets and Unite applications. In this alpha version, extensions that build new tabs, windows, buttons, badges and pop-ups are currently available as building blocks for customizing the browsing experience. By using standards-based HTML5 and JavaScript development, Opera has made it easier for developers to tweak extensions they have already written for other browsers and use them in Opera. Based on my cursory look at the alpha functionality, Opera has a reasonable basis for hoping that developers will take a little time to adjust their apps for use on the less widely used browser.

Opera 11, much like Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 beta, uses the windows sides and lower edge to display information. Opera 10.63 and Opera 11 alpha both use the display information about Opera turbo, Link and Unite modes displayed along the bottom of the window. Users who are accustomed to seeing all browsing and Internet options at the top of the screen will need a period of adjustment to look at the sides and bottom of the window for needed information. In Opera 11, the revised bookmarks organizer pops out from the left side. Bookmarks are easy to add and arrange using right click-driven menu choices.

Opera uses this new sidebar on the left side of the window to display icons for history, downloads and notes. The sidebar contents and position are customizable. I would like to see the Opera menu in the upper left corner of the screen moved down so that less window real estate is wasted. As it is, the wide band across the top of the window mimics Microsoft's ribbon interface without adding any of the functionality.

I would like to see browser privacy moved to a more prominent position in Opera 11. For example, in IE 9, "safety" is a primary tab in the interface. As in previous versions of Opera, the "delete private data" tab is buried three layers into the interface. Once users do navigate to the data privacy controls, Opera makes it easy to wipe the history, cached files and cookies, and other Internet detritus that they've picked up.