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