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Chrome and Firefox rule on Windows, but on OS X, Opera is the browser to beat.

OS X’s native browser, Safari, is excellent. It’s polished and super efficient, and comes with some unique features. But if you’re looking for more flexibility in a browser, Safari falls short. Eternal favorites Chrome and Firefox can give you that flexibility, but not without some heavy compromises.

As Apple, Google, and Mozilla, keep innovating and improvising in the browser space, the power will no doubt keep shifting from one player to another. Maybe even Vivaldi and Microsoft Edge will join the race as serious contenders. But for now, I think that Opera, the underdog in the browser wars, comes out ahead on OS X.

Here are three reasons why Opera could work great as the primary browser on your Mac.

A Fair Balance of Speed and Efficiency

Despite constant improvements, Firefox and Chrome continue to be resource hogs on OS X. On the other hand, Safari consumes just the bare minimum of resources. Opera falls somewhere in between. While it’s not as efficient as Safari, it doesn’t swing to the other extreme as Firefox does. Besides, it stacks up well in usability and customizability as we’ll see further.

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Chrome is known to reduce battery life by a good 2-3 hours. Users are reporting that Opera also falls into this category. But it seems that battery life is in general poor on Yosemite as compared to previous versions. That’s why I have been willing to take my chances with Opera and focus on other battery-saving measures Calibrate & Maintain Your MacBook Battery For Best Performance Calibrate & Maintain Your MacBook Battery For Best Performance If you correctly calibrate and maintain your MacBook battery, it's possible to improve performance and put off replacing it for as long as possible. Read More .

chrome-on-mac

Rigorous browser benchmark testing like Matt did Browser Wars: Firefox vs. Chrome vs. Opera, The Definitive Benchmark Browser Wars: Firefox vs. Chrome vs. Opera, The Definitive Benchmark If you could only choose one browser, which one would it be? Which is best: Firefox, Chrome or Opera? We'll show you. Read More  (on Windows) was beyond me. I relied on a few random tests and my daily browsing experience to make my decision to switch browsers.

Chrome’s response was slow and erratic in comparison with that of the other browsers. Firefox was okay, but sometimes it wouldn’t load pages unless I disabled Avast’s Web shield. Opera’s and Safari’s response was the smoothest.

The Activity Monitor revealed that Firefox consumed a horrifying amount of memory — way more than the other three browsers. Chrome, and on occasion Opera, was at the top in energy consumption. These results seem to be more or less consistent with the consensus across the Web. I suggest you use Mark’s tips on how to use the Activity Monitor Activity Monitor: The Mac Equivalent of Ctrl+Alt+Delete Activity Monitor: The Mac Equivalent of Ctrl+Alt+Delete If you want to be a fairly proficient Mac user, it is necessary to know what Activity Monitor is, and how to read and use it. As usual, that's where we come in. Read More  and do a few tests of your own.

activity-monitor

Switching from Firefox/Chrome to Opera on your Mac could well turn out to be a relief. Switching from Safari would be a compromise that doesn’t feel like one.

A Good Amount of Flexibility

Safari’s clean and minimalist approach Faster, Sleeker, Better: How To Switch From Chrome/Firefox To Safari Faster, Sleeker, Better: How To Switch From Chrome/Firefox To Safari Thinking about using Safari on your Mac, but worried you might lose features and bookmarks? Here's a quick guide to comfortably moving to Apple's web browser, without missing out. Read More to Web browsing is appealing to many, including myself. Its latest version may be the lightest, speediest one yet. But if you have come to depend on the resourcefulness of Chrome extensions or the flexibility of Firefox, Safari feels quite limiting despite the customizations that are possible The Ultimate Guide to Customizing Safari on Mac The Ultimate Guide to Customizing Safari on Mac Customize Safari. From adding favicons to your tabs to changing how Reader Mode looks, Apple's web browser is way more flexible than you think. Read More . This is where Opera can come to your rescue.

For starters, Opera includes some of the features that we have come to love on Chrome and Firefox. There are narrow tabs with favicons, keyword searches, pinned tabs, true full screen mode — all that’s missing in Safari (at least for now). Opera has a Firefox-like interface that’s familiar and easy to use.

safari-full-screen

What’s more, you can bring the power of Chrome extensions (not apps, mind) to Opera with Download Chrome Extension. You can’t do this on Firefox, but on Opera you can because the latter runs on the same Webkit-based (Blink) engine as Chrome does. The bottom line is that Opera is perfect for Firefox lovers who wish for the potential of Chrome extensions to come paired with the familiarity of Firefox’s interface.

Note: Before you install an extension from the Chrome Web Store, check if the same one already exists in Opera’s collection of add-ons.

Once you install Download Chrome Extension, you can install any Chrome extension via the Chrome Web Store. Instead of an Add to Chrome button, you’ll see an Add to Opera button. Any extension you install this way will appear disabled by default. You’ll have to visit Opera’s Extensions section to activate it.

download-chrome-extensions

A Unique Blend of Features

Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that Opera’s Chrome-like or Firefox-like features are the only thing going for it. It has various nifty features of its own — some of which aren’t available in other browsers unless you use specific add-ons.

To begin with, there’s Opera’s inviting, grid-based visual take on bookmarks Opera: My Way To Store, Organise and Share Bookmarks [MacBook Air and Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro Giveaway] Opera: My Way To Store, Organise and Share Bookmarks [MacBook Air and Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro Giveaway] I've always been interested in the latest shiny thing so when I was asked to review Opera's feature-filled latest release, Opera 26, I jumped at the chance. Read More . There’s also the innovative Opera Turbo feature. It compresses pages for faster viewing at the click of a button. This comes in handy when you’re working with a bad Internet connection. Then there’s the Discover feature that brings you top stories from around the Web. You can customize what you see based on region as well as areas of interest.

opera-bookmarks

Opera allows you to do a great deal with tabs. You can clone them, pin them, and group them into a speed dial folder. You can also preview them and cycle through them by recency. This is quite time saving, but if you want to revert to the old way of cycling through tabs, you can do so via the browser settings.

Pick from Opera’s decent set of extensions and themes to make Opera feel like home. Add custom keyboard shortcuts and mouse gestures to smooth and speed up your browsing experience.

You can embed certain extensions into the sidebar for quick access. You can also back up and sync your browser data and settings across devices with an Opera account.

It looks like everything you can do in Firefox and Chrome, you can do in Opera, and a lot more besides. As you go about exploring Opera, you’ll realize what an underrated browser it is.

opera-preferences

Side note: My Mac (running Yosemite 10.10.3) kept dropping its Wi-Fi connection every couple of minutes. This is a known issue that I tried to fix with help from the Web. I kept Bluetooth turned off, regenerated network configuration files, used a custom DNS, and tried a few other fixes. Switching from Safari/Firefox to Opera fixed the problem for me. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe it wasn’t. But I haven’t experienced the Wi-Fi disconnection since the switch.

Give Opera a Chance

Is Opera the right browser The Best Mac Apps The Best Mac Apps From email clients to system utilities, time savers to productivity boons; on this page you'll find the best Mac software used by MakeUseOf staff and readers alike. Read More for your Mac? Only you can tell. But it won’t hurt to experiment with it to see if you like it.

Of course, if you use Firefox for its adherence to open source principles, switching to a closed-source browser like Opera should give you pause for thought. If you’re coming from Chrome or Safari, this is less of a concern.

Which is your main browser on the Mac? Are you happy with it or does it feel like you’re “settling” till an improved one comes along? Which OS X browser do you wish would up its game? Share your experiences in the comments.

  1. Delores
    June 28, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    I can honestly say that of the 3 browsers, Opera is the only one that I've never known to crash at all. The only time I run into issues with Opera is when there's an ISP issue. It is a bit slower when I use a Proxy so I configured it not to use one and that helped quite a bit. Chrome and Firefox are faster. Firefox 47 has become my favorite even over Chrome. However, even though I consider Chrome my go to browser, Opera is THE MOST reliable standby.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      July 5, 2016 at 5:34 pm

      Good to hear from a fellow Opera fan :)

  2. Angus Edward
    July 25, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    So, with the same three pages open in Firefox and Opera on my Mac Mini, the Activity Monitor shows that Firefox is using 686.5 MB of memory, whereas Opera is using 251.1 MB. Wow! However, as is often the case, the proverbial devil is in the details.

    The rub comes when you look closer and notice that Opera shows another 1507.5 MB of memory being used by 11 instances of "Opera Helper", for a total of 1758.5 MB of memory for Opera, versus 251.1 for Firefox. I'm not sure why Opera Helper has so many instances open (nearly two-thirds of them auto-quit when I quit the program but three remained), but I do know that the overall effect on memory commitment is far higher for Opera than Firefox.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      July 26, 2015 at 5:06 am

      After disabling Adobe Flash and setting plugins to Click to play, quite a few of those Opera Helper instances disappeared. Chrome seems to have a similar issue with the Chrome Helper, so any fixes for that might work for Opera too.

  3. Val Lopez
    July 24, 2015 at 4:59 am

    I've been using Opera for years since version 9. Even though I prefer the Presto-based Opera back then, Opera chromium still has the features and performance I need (though most of them were stripped-off from presto Opera). I only use Chrome or Firefox for some specific tasks or things I need done. Mostly from them having exclusive addons/extensions made for those browsers only. Yeah I can go to the Chrome Web Store and download extensions for Opera. But sometimes compatibility issues still slips in.

    Thank god for Vivaldi though. Chrome extensions plus Presto-Opera features rolled into one. Now that is, at least for me, a dream-come-true browser. Having the features you need without having to install bloaty extensions is fabulous. Not to mention less security risks. I'd only install some if I really need them. Though it's still in alpha stages and performance is still abysmal to say the least, I have high hopes for Vivaldi especially when the stable build rolls in.

    I believe there has been layoffs in Opera ASA just recently. Some, if not most of there desktop team devs switched to Vivaldi just these past months.

  4. David Luu
    July 23, 2015 at 6:48 am

    unknown2070270179, what type of plugins are you referring to in particular? If you mean like Flash, Shockwave, PDF, Java plugins, most browsers have that support.

    Or are you referring to Firefox addons/extensions? If this, while there aren't exact 1 to 1 match between FF addons vs Chrome/Opera extensions/addons, you will find comparable ones across browsers (except for Safari and IE). Sometimes I even find I like certain addons/extensions in one browser that others don't have but I've never found a whole lot from FF that I missed in other browsers. Firebug and it's related addons are probably it, but I can live without them as well.

  5. Fraser Smith
    July 23, 2015 at 2:30 am

    I would switch from Chrome to Opera instantly if it weren't for two killer features in Chrome:

    1) Profiles. I have a Work profile and a Personal profile. Easily accessible with a simple menu choice. Yes, with Opera I can open a new window for my Work tabs, but it's not as streamlined as Chrome profiles.

    2) Inline translation. I live in China. Every time I visit a Chinese language page, Chrome immediately offers to translate it for me and does so seamlessly. There's an extension for Opera that occasionally works. Occasionally isn't really good enough.

    I'm liking what I see of Vivaldi too, but I'll wait until it includes a way to interact with Chrome extensions. Right now, it will install them, but without any UI.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      July 23, 2015 at 9:31 am

      You're right, Fraser. There are a few of those key features that can leave you trapped in Chrome. I guess we all have our own set of deal breakers that render a browser useless :)

      The profile and translate features do come across as must-haves for many of us, so I hope they get implemented in the near future.

  6. unknown2070270179
    July 22, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    Plugins, plugins, plugins.

    That's what keeps me on Firefox, plugins. Until i can do all that with another browser, there's almost no chance i will even check it out.

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