Opera released the first public alpha build of its browser this week. Being an Opera user and fan I'd been eagerly anticipating trying it out, since the developers gave us a heads up in a blog entry a couple weeks ago.
My first impression upon taking Opera 11 for a test drive was that while it doesn't look much, if any, different from its immediate predecessors, it's wicked fast. Based on several hours of browsing a variety of sites that I visit regularly, my impression is that it's
received a significant speed boost from the current final version 10.65, which itself is no slouch in the speed department. Google's Chrome may still have a slight Edge, but there's not much in it.
However, Opera 11's marquee new feature is that it now supports Firefox-style extensions. Roughly two dozen extensions are offered so far from Opera's extensions catalogue. Installing an extension is simplicity itself. Just click on the “install” button for the
extension you want from the catalogue list, and in a few seconds you will get a confirmation that the extension has been installed.
I've never been a big browser extensions fan, although there are a handful of useful ones that I use with Firefox, and I expect that will be the case with Opera as well. However two that particularly caught my eye were Translate, which adds a pop-up dialogue when you open a non-English language web page to ask whether you want to translate the
page content into English.
Actually, Chrome has a similar function that accesses Google Translate built-in. It appears that the Opera Translate extension taps into AltaVista Babel Fish technology, but I could be mistaken about that. Anyway I found that it works quite well within the limitations of machine translation. Very convenient.
The other extension that I installed is one that shrinks the address URL on the currently open page by accessing bitly.com's URL shortener.
When you install the Bit.ly Extension, a tiny Bit.ly icon appears at the extreme right of the Opera navigation and address field bar, a click on which toggles the shortening function. Also very slick.
Based on that limited amount of experimentation, it appears that it all works quite smoothly, and the entire browser is admirably stable for an alpha build. However that's consistent with my long time experience running alpha and beta Opera versions, which usually give the impression of being more solid than some other browsers' final versions. It's early days yet, but so far I have not encountered any noticeable instability or bugginess whatsoever.
Incidentally, if you want to experiment with the Opera 11 alpha, it installs its own dedicated preferences folder and leaves the preferences folder for your installed Opera final version untouched. I just dragged in a copy of my bookmarks address list file from Opera 10.65 preferences folder, restarted the browser, and I was in business. Installation of the application (Macintosh version) is a simple drag-and-drop from the mounted disk image to the applications folder. To avoid the alpha replacing my Opera 10.65 install, I dragged the Opera 11 a application file to the desktop first and added its version number to the filename before depositing it in the applications folder.
Other new features in Opera 11 include an option to have plug-ins such as Flash content load only when clicked on. This is especially helpful for speeding up browsing on computers that have difficulty handling lots of plugged-in content. Just check the “Enable plug-ins only on demand” box in Preferences - Advanced.
I don't use Opera's built-in email client, but if you do, a new mail panel in version 11 gives you control over the order in which your accounts and mail items show up. You can just drag items where you want them. You can also now create folders for organising your mail and newsfeeds. A smart behaviour is implemented that can show the mail
panel when you are using it, and hide it when you leave a mail tab.
A new bookmarks bar can be enabled that has replaced the personal bar for quick access to your favorite bookmarks.
I'm enjoying Opera 11 alpha the so much that I have no intention of reverting to version 10.6.5. How often can you say that about alpha grade software that you check out?
You can download the new Opera 11 alpha here.