Product Reviews

Opera 7

Enough look-and-feel improvements to contend with the best browsers.

Like most Microsoft-centric developers (heck, like most users, period), I use Internet Explorer for Web browsing. But Opera 7.00 might just be the browser that woos me away. I took the release version for a test drive and it was overall a very pleasant experience. Here are some of the things that stood out by comparison with IE:

Speed. Sure, the same number of bytes take the same amount of time to download over the same connection. But Opera seems to make marginally more optimal decisions about rendering order. Anyhow, it *felt* faster.

Tabbed browsing. Some people like the MDI design of having all browser sessions open in one Window, some hate it. I can take it or leave it myself, but I suspect if I spent more time in the browser and less bopping around other applications it would grow on me. You can also use SDI sessions if you want, and save groups of sessions together so you can start up just where you left off.

Eye candy. In general, Opera is much prettier than IE. Personally, I'm a big fan of standard UI in most circumstances. But all these colorful and glowing and skinning effects appeal to my magpie aesthetics. Plus there are some useful built-in stylesheets (as well as some silly ones, like the C64-emulator).

Mouse and keyboard shortcuts. If you live in the browser, Opera is much more easily driven from your device of choice than IE is.

Pop-up blocking. Useful. There are third party solutions for IE, but it's good to have this built in.

There are a bunch of other enhancements here as well. I'm sure most of them will appear in IE 7.0 too, but right now, they're actually shipping in this package. Which, by the way, is a pretty small package at a mere 12.6 MB with Java, 3.2 MB without.

I tried Opera out on a bunch of my favorite sites (this is a much better test for the real world than standards compliance, as far as I'm concerned) and it did fine on most everything. The main nuisance is that ASP.NET recognizes it as a down-level browser, even though it isn't. This was true even when I had it set to identify as IE 6.0. For the most part ASP.NET pages degrade gracefully, but it's still a problem (and one that, by the way, COULD be fixed by Microsoft supplying updated ASP.NET configuration files, though I'm not holding my breath for them to do so). If you're thinking about browser alternatives, but not willing to commit to the bloat of Mozilla, Opera is well worth a look.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.

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