While Mozilla prepares to set a Guinness World Record on Tuesday with its release of Firefox 3, and Apple continues to push Safari on Windows and the iPhone, you'd think that there was no more room for web browser alternatives to Internet Explorer—but you'd be wrong. This week, to much less fanfare than Apple, Microsoft, and even Mozilla gets, Opera released its newest version 9.5 and it's not out of the browser race by any means. What sets Opera apart from Firefox? Take a tour of some of the new and improved features that keep Opera a viable alternative to IE, Safari, and—yes, even Firefox.
While Firefox is undoubtedly a robust browser, you get many of Firefox's killer with add-ons—but a number of those features are baked right into Opera 9.5.
For example, Opera includes mouse gestures, a fluid and easy to use interface. The gestures cover a wide range of browsing commands, including the basics like moving backwards and forwards, scrolling, opening new pages, but also more advanced gestures like tab selection and panning. (Try it: in Opera, go back to the previous page by holding the right mouse button then click the left button. To go forward again, hold down left and click right.)
Serving as a default homepage, Opera Speed Dial is a handy launchpad for your browsing experience. Laid out across the screen in like a telephone keypad, screen captures from your selected websites act as links to help you quickly navigate to your favourite locations.
Opera Link synchronises your Bookmarks, Personal Bar, Notes, and Speed Dial across multiple computers and mobile phones with Opera Mobile. When you are away from your computer or mobile phone the information is still accessible via the Opera Link web site.
Opera's built-in note taking feature ensures you always have a scratch pad handy. Access notes directly through the menu bar or using the Ctrl+6 key combination. The note feature is well integrated into Opera, too. Highlight text on a web page and hit Ctrl+Shift+C to copy it to a note. You can also right-click in a web page form (like a new email message) to paste in note contents.
Too engrossed in your browsing to fire up your BitTorrent client? No problem. Opera includes a spartan but effective BitTorrent client built-in. Keep an eye on both your torrents and regular downloads at the same time, both are managed through the Transfers window to make grabbing the newest distributions of your favourite software even easier.
If you're feeling particularly adventurous or just have a strong desire to shout from your cubicle, Opera has a voice control feature. Note: the feature requires an additional 10.5MB download, but is more than worth it to be able to issue commands to your web browser like Jean Luc Picard standing confidently on his bridge. Unfortunately, upon further investigation "Opera: Take us to warp 5" did not yield the anticipated outcome. Aside from accepting commands the Voice feature will also talk back. Highlight the text you wish to listen to, and you're one "Opera: Read" away from browsing with your eyes closed.
Saved Login Details with the Wand
Auto-Complete's younger and more observant brother, Wand makes filling in login prompts and applications text boxes a breeze. Logins and prompts that Wand recognises are highlighted in yellow. Click the Wand icon to the right of the address bar or Ctrl+Enter and the Wand auto-completes logins and forms for you. Have multiple logins for the same site? Wand remembers and will prompt you to select the proper login.
Fit to Width
Another small but handy feature in Opera is Fit To Width, which reduces pages to fit the size of the browsing window. Mileage varies depending on the web site—CSS style tables sometimes realign themselves poorly—but Fit To Width is still useful and often cited by the users of other browsers as a small feature they'd love to see in their browser of choice.
We know there are some die-hard Opera fans lurking in our readership. Shout out what it is you love about the browser. Is there a favourite feature we overlooked? Tell us about it in the comments. Opera 9.5 is a free download for Windows, Mac, and Linux.