March 21st, 2007 - by Golgotha

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Note: This is merely a product review being provided by the author for educational and informational purposes only

Nothing that is stated in this article is meant, nor shall be used to imply, construe or otherwise hint of a product endorsement

The content of this article is merely the personal opinion of the author, and should not under any circumstances whatsoever be used to imply, construe, or otherwise hint of an endorsement by

I’m not making this up

It really is a Web browser

Time after time, when helping other Web designers and developers, I see the same “advice” used all the time

“You’re coding for Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer is displaying it wrong

Code for FireFox; then hack for IE

” Not only is this harmful to the health of your Web site (which I’ll cover in a future article), but it also leads people to believe that there are only two browsers on the market (Internet Explorer and FireFox)

I’m sure that Microsoft, Google and the Mozilla Foundation appreciate the free advertising, but I like to keep all the options on the table

Opera is one of those options

A (not so) brief history of the Opera Web browser

The brain-child of Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner and Geir Ivarsøy, Opera got its start in 1994 as a research project at Telenor, Norway’s largest telecommunications company

A year later, the project was spun off as an independent development company called Opera Software ASA

1997 saw the release of the first public version of Opera Software’s desktop browser, Opera 2

1

Despite being a leader in such technologies as MDI (Multiple Document Interface), which allowed the user to run more than one browser window while using just one instance of the program, managed logins, mouse gestures (introduced in Opera 8

0), integrated search, blocking in-line content, saved sessions, the browser’s own trash can, and tabbed browsing (which was based on MDI), the browser was horrible

Its rendering engine lagged behind the other desktop browser vendors for years, and thus was quickly regarded as an “also-ran” browser (for example, Opera 3

6 was roughly equal to Netscape Navigator 3

x, and really didn’t improve that much until Opera 7 came out in 2003), despite being older than either Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer (both Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer were originally forks of the NCSA’s Mosaic Web browser)

But given that this was the height of the “browser wars” between Microsoft Corporation and Netscape Communications, I can tell you that nobody really noticed, nor did they probably care

Nor did people care that Opera Software’s vision of an emerging “Internet device market” materialized in the form of a project to port their browser to multiple platforms (such as Windows PC, Apple Macintosh and Unix/Linux boxes)

This decision would ultimately lead Opera to become the market leader in the mobile and hand-held device industry, with their browser being the dominant software on various Internet-capable devices, such as PDAs (personal digital assistants), Web-enabled cell phones, even Sony’s PSP (PlayStation Portable) and Nintendo’s Wii gaming console

Not bad for a company that looks towards the future, a future in which they are not only the leaders of the non-standard device market, but also a promising alternative to the traditional device market (your computer) as well

Fast-forward to 2001

That year, Opera Software signed an agreement with Symbian Ltd

to incorporate the browser on smart phones

Later that year, Opera 5 (which is the first version I was exposed to) reached a record 5 million downloads (it reached ten million desktop browser downloads two years later)

You might not think that’s incredible, but it is for the simple fact that at the time, Opera was not free

It was commercial software, with a $40 price tag

That’s right folks; if you wanted to use this browser, you had to pay for it

It was also the first browser to have tabbed browsing (yep, that’s correct; Opera had it first, not Mozilla FireFox)

So, if the browser sucked so much, why wasn’t it relegated to the scrap heap with the other also-rans and has-beens? Because Opera wasn’t satisfied with just making money on the mobile market, that’s why

Think about it

You’re a mobile browser vendor, and you want to be the leader of that market

Yet when most people hear the word browser, they think of Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer (nowadays it’s Internet Explorer and FireFox)

So how do you change that? Give your red-headed stepchild a makeover, that’s how

And that’s exactly what they did

They re-wrote the browser from the ground up, starting with a new rendering engine, which they nicknamed “Presto”

The new rendering engine finally supported the W3C DOM Level 2 (though not completely), CSS 1 and 2, ECMAScript (an international client-side scripting standard very similar to JavaScript), and improved HTML 4

01 support, plus complete support for Wireless Markup Language versions 1

3 and 2

0

Add to that XML, HTTP 1

1, JavaScript 1

3, 128-bit encryption, SSL 2 and 3, and you had one heck of a punch

Opera 7 also introduced a new email client, M2, which included an integrated spam filter, new features like QuickFind and QuickReply, and automatically sorted and categorized emails by contact

It also supported POP3, IMAP, ESMTP and threaded displays, plus news servers with password authentication

Opera 7 also had “The Wand” – and I do not mean the magician’s wand either (thought it might as well be)

Not only did it let you “remember” passwords, but you could also log in to your favorite Web site with one single click of the wand, or by pressing CTRL (Cmd on a Mac) + Enter (Return on a Mac)

Pretty neat, huh?

With a Web browser that had finally caught up with the standards, plus innovative features that everyone and their uncle would soon rip off wholesale, Opera finally had a winner

But there was still a catch

The price was not right

Sorry Bob Barker, but Opera still wasn’t free

Unless you wanted to put up with ads that were built into the browser chrome, you had to shell out $40 for the “premium” version of the browser (which, in addition to removing the ads also gave you direct access to Opera’s help desk)

All that changed on 20 September 2005 with the release of Opera 8

5

On that day, Opera Software released the first truly free version of their flagship desktop browser

No longer did you have to pay for it, or put up with the annoying advertisements

Just download and go

Opera 9

0 beta was also released around that time; one person I know took one look at it and said “This is a BETA? Seems just as stable (so far) as 8

5 was

You can tell they are appeasing Firefox converts with the addition of opera:config which is functionally identical to about:config

while the addition of support for XSLT, Web Forms 2

0 and Canvas2D puts it back ahead of the curve on innovation

Enough of the history lesson, though

You want to see what Opera 9 has under the hood, don’t you?

A Peek Under the Hood

Mafia Guy: “You got the stuff?”
Customer: “Yeah, I got the stuff

You got the money? I want to see the money!”
Mafia Guy: “No, no, no

You don’t see the money until I see the stuff


Stewie Griffin: “Oh for God’s sake there’s only one way to put an end to this nuisance

HE’S WEARING A WIRE!”
Mafia Guy: “WHAT? You son of a—” (shots fired)
Stewie Griffin: *yawn* (goes back to sleep)

Unlike the above excerpt from “Family Guy” you don’t have to pay anything to use Opera anymore

It’s free

Not “free as in freedom” (like with FireFox) but “free as in beer

” So, what does Opera have under the hood? Good question

I’m going to start with the basics

First off, Opera is a browser

A computer program available as a free download from

willbeta

com/lose-weight-exercise/”>loseWeight Exercise the tabs that are stored there

If you ever close the entire browser, don’t worry

You won’t Weight Exercise anything (other than what is in the trash can)

All you have to do is re-start Opera, and it will ask you if you want to continue where you left off, start with a clean slate, or start with Opera’s home page

I’ve had this happen to me on occasion, and I always choose to pick up where I left off when it happens (in fact, while writing this article, I had two copies of Opera open when the browser crashed on me unexpectedly; not only did the browser ask me where I wanted to continue, but also re-opened both copies and reloaded all the tabs in them as well)

You can also save your “session” with Opera for later

I’ve never used it, but it’s fairly easy to do

Just click File > Sessions > Save This Session

Then give your session a name and save it

You can have Opera start with your session each and every single time

I don’t do this, but like I said, I don’t use sessions anyway

Searching for Web sites and pages is also very easy with Opera

Next to the address bar is the integrated search bar; it will let you search sites like Google, eBay, Amazon

com and others

Click on the search field, type in the words you want to search for, then press Enter

If you want to see multiple search results, right-click and select “Open in Background Tab” to make the link open in a background browser tab (you can also press Ctrl+Shift when clicking)

Not only that, but you can also use the fast-forward button to make Opera go to the next search results page

If that wasn’t enough, you can also use the address bar, by typing a letter followed by a space and the search term, item or page you want to look for

For a list of available search field shortcuts, go to Tools > Preferences > Search

You can add new shortcuts by clicking the “Add” button and filling in the details of that site’s search engine

To make things even easier when adding a search engine to the integrated search bar, right-click in the search field and select Create Search

Opera will then add the new search engine to its list, allowing you to search that site directly from your browser

Not In My Browser (Yuck)

The Truth About Browser Security

A browser is only as secure as the developers who created it and the person who’s using it

This is a proven fact

Every browser vendor says their browser is the most secure

I hate to say it, but unless you’re using Opera, you don’t have the most secure browser

I use Internet Explorer, FireFox and Opera on a regular basis, along with AVG Anti-Virus, Lavasoft Ad-Aware SE, Spybot Search & Destroy, SpywareBlaster and Microsoft’s Windows Firewall on Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2

Each time I update my malware blockers and run my scans, they catch garbage that gets through both IE and FireFox (usually just tracking cookies, but two viruses did manage to slip through FireFox last year)

Nothing has gotten past Opera since I started using it in 2003

Nothing

Period

End of story

So what makes Opera so secure? Well, for starters, Opera determines how it handles files based on the MIME-type of the file it’s been told to use (or download)

On top of that, Opera doesn’t support ActiveX or VBScript, instead relying on Sun Microsystems’ Java platform (I recommend that you turn this feature off) and open Internet standards

However, Opera can still be vulnerable to macro viruses embedded in Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), so don’t use the browser to view those files

Use the program that was intended to view these types of files instead (this is true regardless of what browser you use)

For more information on browser security (and browsing best practices), please visit Opera’s pages on browser security at

26 Responses to “Web Browser Wednesday – Going to the Opera (Part 1)”

1 Golgotha

I can’t wait for the Opera DS browser to hit the US!

2 cpradio

I am a huge fan of Opera up until they didn’t provide a Linux version for 64 bit machines. I used to use the Save Sessions feature constantly.

As a web developer, I was constantly working on the same projects each week, so I could start Opera, click my Saved Session and it would open all of the projects I was working on that week. Complete life saver. Though you could also do this by bookmarking each tab into the same folder and right click on the folder choosing Open Folder in Tabs (or something similar).

3 Richie

A few corrections, if I may…

– “mouse gestures (introduced in Opera 8.0)” -> Not quite. They were introduced in 5.10.

– “even Sony’s PSP (PlayStation Portable)” -> No, but in the market-leading portable console, Nintendo DS.

– “It’s also relatively small, with the international English version coming in at 6.14 MB. While not as small as FireFox (4.5 MB last I checked)” -> No, Firefox’s English installer is 5.7 MB, while Opera’s English installer is 4.7. The international Opera installer is bigger, but includes support for lots of languages.

– “Tabbed browsing was introduced with Opera 5” -> Actually, an older browser called InternetWorks had it first apparently. But MDI probably was a first by Opera. And tabs were introduced in Opera 4.

– “they catch garbage that gets through both IE and FireFox (usually just tracking cookies” -> The same cookies would probably be accepted by Opera, but cookies are not a problem. Both Opera, Firefox and IE offer a convenient way to disable them.

– “Opera can still be vulnerable to macro viruses embedded in Microsoft Office applications” -> Not really. But plugins that open these could (but those aren’t made by Opera or part of the browser).

Regarding the popup blocker, it is set to “block unwanted” by default. And actually, Opera was the first browser with a popup blocker, although it used to be called something like “don’t allow pages to open windows” or something like that.

4 Dan Schulz

Hi Richie,

Thanks for the correction about the size of the FireFox installer. I finally got around to downloading FF2 (I’m on dialup with a third-rate ISP), and yes, it was 5.7 MB. The previous FireFox distribution I had (1.5.x) was 4.5 MB.

I didn’t change my cookie permissions, but I noticed right away that the tracking cookies were not being accepted by Opera (while FireFox and Internet Explorer were more than happy to let them through).

As for the rest, do you have any links to sources I could check out (not saying I don’t believe you, but I’d like to check them out for myself – that way if I am proven to be wrong, I can edit the article to reflect the correction)? (By the way, I’m pretty sure that tabbed browsing WAS introduced in its “current form” in Opera 5. 😉 )

5 Tommy Olsson

A very well-written article, Dan. I’m already looking forward to the next part.

I’ve used Opera since V5.12, but I didn’t have it as my primary browser until V8.0. Now I use Opera at work (Windows XP), at home (Linux) and on my mobile (Opera Mini). I don’t think I could live without it. 🙂

Opera is the perfect browser for a web developer/designer, especially one who cares about standards compliance and accessibility. One or two keystrokes or mouse clicks allow you to disable style sheets, images, JavaScript, plug-ins, etc.

6 Richie

Tabs were added in Opera 4. In Opera 6, a second tabbed mode was added where you could primarily open new windows rather than tabs (since a lot of people were used to tabless browsing). Then there were some changes through various versions. But the tabs first appeared in Opera 4. They didn’t look like tabs, but that’s what they were 🙂

Not sure what specifically you need links for. Mouse gestures in 5.10 is just something I remember from back then. It’s fairly common knowledge that PSP uses the Netfront browser (which is apparently not very good), while Nintendo DS uses Opera. Nintendo DS outsells PSP by something like six to one…

As for macro viruses, well, I think it goes without saying that Opera itself cannot be vulnerable since it doesn’t support Word documents and certainly not macros. You would have to open an infected document in word or something.

7 Golgotha

I love my Nintendo DS Lite – just no browser in the US for it; yet…

[…] The history of the Opera browser and more By Daniel Goldman March 23rd, 2007 1:33 PM EDT Dan Schulz from the Search-This blog wrote a lengthy article in which he covers the history of Opera and a look at some of the popular Opera features. It’s a long and rather interesting read. […]

9 GT500

IRT: Dan Schulz

Here some some pages that you can read about the history of Opera:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opera_browser

http://www.markschenk.com/opera/history.html

http://operawiki.info/OperaInnovations

I can no longer find any statements as to when Opera added tabs, and Opera 5 was the first version I ever used, so I can’t say if Opera 4 had anything like it. If I remember right, a tab-like interface was added in 2000, but everyone has removed that information from their Opera articles.

There is a lot of false statements that Opera invented tabs in 1994, but that is clearly not true, as can be seen in screenshots here: http://www.igd.fhg.de/archive/1995_www95/proceedings/posters/31/

10 _renny_

You might want to take a look at this:

http://operawiki.info/OperaInnovations

11 Aleksey

Very good article. While I knew most of the non-technical info, I still enjoyed it 😉

12 FataL

Nice article!
But don’t forget to make corrections that Richie added. I cought almost all of them by myself also.

13 Dan Schulz

I’ll add the corrections either on Sunday or Monday (I’ll be gone tomorrow). Ironically, my main source of the historical info was the Opera site itself. Hmm…

14 ikyju

And What about Opera Show?
(presentations similar to powerpoint files except they are html files and can be visualized into Opera)
http://www.opera.com/support/tutorials/operashow/

15 Michelx

Nice site. You are doing a great service to the web

16 Dan Schulz

I’ll be covering that as well. It’s a more “advanced” feature that many “typical” users (think first time users) may not even be aware exists.

Hopefully I’ll put that little problem to rest when I finish this. 🙂

17 GT500

I’m sure that the reason that Opera’s website lists version 8 as the first with tabbed browsing is because it was the first with an traditional tabbed document interface. All previous versions of Opera had nothing but a full-blown MDI, with tab-like buttons on a toolbar that allowed easy switching between pages. The toolbar can be compared to the Windows taskbar in look and functionality. This toolbar was called the “Page Bar” in reference to the fact that it let you switch between open pages.

In Opera 6 the buttons on the Page Bar took on the look of tabs, but they were still switching pages in an MDI.

18 Willem

I assume it is because what is compared are browsers, but to me one of the main attractions of Opera continues to be the incorporation of E-mail and notes. All within that same small footprint…making it more attractive that say IE and Outlook, Firefox and Thunderbird, combinations I have used in the past but would never return to….

19 Golgotha

I just wanna say thanks to all you passionate Opera people for stopping by and sharing. It helps us to make our articles even better!

Much Thanks,
mark

20 Kelson

Very nice history! One minor correction. You refer to “FireFox” a number of times in the article. The name is actually “Firefox” — only the first F is capitalized.

21 Dan Schulz

I’ve seen it used both ways – mainly in print publications. I guess it’s just a personal preference. 😉

22 mors

> Opera 3.6 was roughly equal to Netscape Navigator 3.x

uh ? well, probably interface-wise, because Opera 3 had full support for CSS 1, thing that at that time both IE and Netscape lacked.

[…] Dan Schulz a Search-This blog tulajdonosa írt egy hosszú cikket, amiben beszámol az Opera történetérõl és átnéz pár kedveltebb Opera tulajdonságot is. Ez egy terjedelmes, és méginkább érdekesebb cikk, amit ajánlok elolvasni. […]

24 Flavio

Try the “30 Days to becoming an Opera Lover”:
http://operalover.tntluoma.com

25 What is Opera?

One thing that you didn’t mention is Opera’s real killer feature: standards compliance. Opera has always been the leader in standards compliance, and was the second browser to pass the acid2 test (behind konqueror).

26 Absolute Code

I love Opera and I’m glad to hear it’s not dead!

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