Opera continues to ride the cutting edge of Web browser development, despite only accounting for a modest 2.29% market share globally (NetApplications Oct. 2010), or 3.24 per cent if you include Opera mini — Opera's stripped-down version for smartphones and tablets. That's good enough for fifth and sixth most-popular browsers overall — the Web browser category is nothing if not fragmented, with many niche players.
A little over a month ago, we posted a test drive report on the Opera version 11 public alpha release, which introduced the next Opera browser's new extensions support. We found Opera 11a to be both stable and gratifyingly speedy, and have kept on using it over the past four weeks, never returning to the current version 10.65 final release.
This week, Opera released the first version 11 public beta, introducing several more new feature enhancements, the most significant being stackable tabs, visual mouse gestures, and address field enhancements.
Opera was a tabbed browser windows pioneer, introducing limited tabs support with Opera 4 in 2005, and tabs reach a new degree of sophistication with Opera 11's new tab-stacking feature that lets you keep clusters of web pages organized in groups, a particular boon to users - who - frequently have more than a dozen tabbed pages up. Tab stacking facilitates keeping dozens of web pages open, organised and under control.
To use Tab stacking, simply and drag one tab over another and release the mouse button. You've just created your first tab stack. You can keep adding more tabs to your stack by dragging them on top of one another. Mouse over the stack, hover, and it will display pop-down thumbnail images of all the pages in your stack, from which you can select the one you want brought forward by clicking on it. Pressing the arrow beside the stack expands your tabs back into traditional display mode.
Check out this instructional video to learn more.
Opera was the first browser to add mouse gesture support (with Opera 5.1 in April 2001), and is still one of the few that support this feature. Mouse Gestures enable the user to perform common tasks with a flicks of the mouse.
However, in in Opera 11 you get even more. Just hold down the right mouse button for a few seconds and the visual mouse gestures palette will appear with graphic instructions on how to trigger various gestures.
For more on using Opera's gestures, visit here.
The third major new feature in Opera 11 is an enhanced and safer address field. All open web pages gets a badge to the left of the address field. The badge replaces protocols like HTTP, HTTPS and opera:, which are shown only when focusing on the address field. Clicking on the badge displays information on the security state of the current Web page.
Opera claims that Opera 11 renders web pages and crunches code faster than any other browser. I'm not sure it's always faster than Google's Chrome or Safari, but it's certainly in the top-tier of OS X browsers for performance. Opera says its developers have been hard at work fine-tuning the Opera Presto browser engine to put Opera even further ahead in a number of benchmarks, and that in Opera 11, pages load faster and complex applications run more smoothly.
I do have to report that Opera's customary rock-solid stability has taken bit of a hit in this beta build. I've experienced a few crashes already, which were a rarity with the alpha build. I'm sure they'll get that ironed out for the final release. In the meantime, Opera, long my all-round favorite Web browser, now gives me several more good reasons to prefer it.
You can download the Opera version 11 beta from here.