Opera – A to Z: O

O is for Opera. No, not the music, I mean my favourite little web browser. (Yes, this is my one post in the A to Z Challenge that’s going to stray into the technical a teeny bit.) It’s usually included as one of the “top 5” browsers, but most don’t take it very seriously as it doesn’t have a very large market share in most countries (though it does have over 50% market share in Belarus, and quite high usage in many other eastern European countries).

Opera browser logo

Opera browser logo; image from Wikimedia Commons

I first tried it out back when it was “adware” (from version 5), that is, you had to put up with an ad banner across the top of the browser unless you paid to get rid of it. I am usually all for free software (I won’t buy an MS Office license if LibreOffice can do everything I need), but Opera impressed me so much that I actually paid the $30 and bought the ad-free version. I’d been using Netscape before that but got annoyed by its infamous resizing bug and didn’t want to switch to IE because of how it was tied to MS’s operating systems (I used both Windows and Linux at home, Opera was happy on either). From version 8.5 on, it was completely free, and adding amazingly useful features with every major and minor release.

Norwegian company Opera Software ASA pioneered many of the features we take for granted in most other browsers today. It worked great out-of-the-box for normal users, but the customisations and tweaks you could do as a power user were just incredible.

Sadly, in an effort to better compete with other browser makers, Opera in 2013 decided to discontinue development of its “Presto” rendering engine with all its wonderful customisation options at version 12.16, and instead switched to “Blink”, the fork of WebKit from the Chromium project to which Chrome also switched. To do this, all features had to be slowly added back to Opera with each new release, starting at 15 and at version 20 at the time of writing this post (yes, they switched to a pretty much meaningless numbering system like Chrome and Firefox).

I currently use both version 12.16 (Presto) and version 20 (Blink), along with some other browsers for testing (I’m a web developer by day).

Some of my favourite features that Opera (Presto) had:

  • Every piece of the layout, every button, every one of its many toolbars was customisable and skinnable. You could make Opera look and work just the way you preferred.
  • Opera innovated so much: tabbed browsing (still better in Opera Presto than any other browser), CSS support, standards support, mouse gestures (like finger gestures in your smartphone? Opera had them way earlier), mouse and keyboard customisations, pop-up blocking, deleting private data, smart download management, RSS support, torrent support, speed dial, page zoom, sessions, and many, many more features it would take too long to list.
  • Opera’s CIO, Håkon Wium Lie, was one of the inventors and pioneers of CSS, which has made the web so much better in ways not only web developers can understand.
  • Back when (download) size mattered (i.e. smaller was better, most people were on dialup speeds), Opera’s power was packed into a tiny package compared to other browsers.
  • Opera has always been lightning fast, driving the speed competition and ruling the world speed-wise by an enormous margin… until Chrome began to pull ahead in some areas.
  • Opera’s built-in email client had revolutionary features, like storing emails in a database and allowing you to search based on tags that you could apply to emails, rather than using a folder-based system like the other email clients. This feature has now been made common (one could argue standard) by gmail.
  • Incredible flexibility across operating systems, mobile platforms from the latest Android to the oldest Java-enabled phone, and other devices from TVs to game consoles (Wii and DS).
  • Dragonfly, a very versatile and feature-rich inspector and debugger that I prefer to similar tools like Chrome’s inspector or Firebug.
  • Back in the days when too many webmasters and web developers still thought they should sniff browsers instead of features (google that if it doesn’t make sense), Opera allowed you to hide or mask as another browser, changing the user agent string on the fly to prevent being treated like a third-class browser.
  • It worked amazingly well when you ran it from a USB stick (e.g. at work, where you weren’t always allowed to install programs of your choice).
  • … and many more reasons that would take too long to list.

Oh yeah, can’t forget to mention Opera’s Bork edition. Back when the browser wars were raging and Microsoft thought it could get away with anything because it had had over 95% market share and figured it didn’t need to do anything to upgrade or improve its aging browser that was the bane of every web developer’s existence, the MSN website had the gall to feed Opera (and only Opera) a stylesheet that made it look bad, as though it was unable to cleanly render the MSN site. Opera’s complaints went unheard, so Opera responded by creating a special edition of its version 7 browser called the Bork edition, from the Swedish chef in the Muppets who always said, “Bork bork bork bork.” It fixed the display issues on MSN.com, but, more importantly, also turned the text on that site into words that sounded like that Swedish chef were reading the articles. I wish I had a screenshot of that to share, it was absolutely hilarious and made tech news headlines around the world.

Oooh, one more, then I really have to stop. Chrome came out with a fancy film advertising how its incredible speed made Google’s browser faster than a bullet:

Opera’s tongue-in-cheek response? Their browser is faster than a… potato:

Slightly less technical, but way funnier! 😀

About Amos M. Carpenter

Web dev by day, author by night, and generally interested in (and opinionated about) way too many things.

Posted on 17 April, 2014, in A to Z Challenge Part II, Development, Miscellaneous and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. That’s funny – the parts that I understood, anyway! Any suggestions for those of us stuck on Windows XP and reluctant to leave?

    Jemima
    #TeamDamyanti
    Blogging from Alpha to Zulu in April

    • Glad you got a chuckle out of it 🙂

      Suggestions for XP users? Don’t upgrade to anything just because others do, or because Microsoft wants you to. Gradually, fewer and fewer programs will support XP, but just because MS doesn’t officially support XP anymore doesn’t mean it’ll die out quickly. On XP, don’t use IE – MS shot themselves in the foot by not making IE 9+ available for Windows XP, and older IE versions are horrible both in standards support and in terms of security. There is so much great free software out there that will happily run on XP you shouldn’t have to worry for quite a while. My guess is your hardware will give out before your software does, and when you need to buy new hardware, you can worry about picking a good OS then. (On a completely unrelated note, Linux is way more user-friendly for non-techies than most would expect.)

  2. Allison Forsythe

    I wish I had seen the “bork bork bork” stuff on the MSN website! That’s hilarious.

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