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imageYou have to give it to Opera; it’s stayed in there.

Starting as a research project in 1994, Opera has been responsible for some world changing innovations (think tabbed browsing) and yet never seemed to achieve the kind of success it deserved.

But this isn’t a history lesson, it’s an article on a few of the killer features of Opera that keep me using it each day. I use Firefox and Flock pretty frequently as well, but Opera, as of version 9.5 has become my favourite.

This isn’t just a list of Opera features, these are what genuinely make life easier for me, and what makes me want to use Opera for my daily web browsing. So for example I haven’t included Mouse Gestures with this list. Why? Because even though it is much more productive, I haven’t yet got in the habit of using it.

1. The Interface

I’ve liked the Opera interface ever since they removed the pathetic banner ads and instead focused on creating a free browser to rival Firefox. If only they made this decision earlier, things may have been a little different.

Whatever the case, Opera 9.5 introduced what I think is a fantastic new interface and theme which is both attractive, useful and unique. My only complaint would be that the tab-bar colour is maybe slightly on the dark side, occasionally making it hard to locate tabs.


You can of course download more skins, and customize various toolbars and buttons yourself, but personally I haven’t bothered changing many default settings as it works fine for me and I think that this shows in the great design.

A new theme may seem cosmetic and hardly something to increase productivity, so I’ll just give you a quick example of how small things make such a big difference:

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The left screenshot is a menu from Opera, the the right, from Firefox 3. I realise they don’t have the same functions, but the addition of the icons to the most used items in the Opera menu both breaks it up and makes it easier for the eye to find where an item is.

A “˜recycle bin’ has been added to the end of the tab bar and provides a list of recently closed tabs. Again, simple and useful. I find myself needing to use it all the time, and it’s a lot quicker then having look through the browsing history.>

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2. Speed Dial

What can I say about Speed Dial?

It’s one of those things like tabbed browsing, so simple that you wonder why no one did it before, and yet so useful you would hate to be without it.

Also, chicks love it.

No seriously, Opera is a browser that seems to appeal more to women, and I’ve had discussions with a few people who back that up. In fact I would be really interested if any of you want to let me know in the comments wether or not you think this is true.

My theory is that the average female uses the internet for a mere handful of tasks”¦ perhaps email, MSN, MySpace, FaceBook and a couple more sites. They couldn’t care less about what browser they use and are unlikely to ever feel the need for extensions like Firefox.

Speed Dial is just so simple, point, click, add: instant access”¦ add that to the easy to use interface and page loading speed and you have a winner.


3. Bit-Torrent and Download Manager

Opera has a simple Bit-torrent manager as well as an enhanced Download manager, significantly better then you’ll find in either Internet Explorer 7 (With the IE Pro add-on) or Firefox 3.

The complaints have been the Bit-torrent manager is far too slow, and I agree it’s not a great client. However your satisfaction will depend on what kind of user you are. I use Bit-torrent but only occasionally and I’m more interested in reducing the number of applications running then having the best possible Bit-torrent software. I’m happy with having Opera torrent files and slowly downloading them. I’m in no rush.

4. Saved Sessions

Just close Opera safe in the knowledge you can come back later and resume where you left off. And yes, I know Firefox 3 has this now as well, but that doesn’t diminish its usefulness in Opera and I like it.

5. Mail Client

The Opera Mail Client is under-rated in my opinion as it really is quite useful, particularly with 9.5’s general update and improved Gmail integration.

As you know Gmail provides free Pop3 and SMTP access, which makes using Opera Mail all the more useful as you can use it either as an offline client like you’re used to, or as a way to access mail through SMTP and not have to reload the Gmail web interface whenever you use your email.

You can organise multiple accounts. However one thing I noticed is that emails can only be created in plain-text, no formatting, which I find I bit annoying.

To get the most out of this feature I suggest using it in conjunction with Opera Link, another feature which will synchronise your Opera profile across multiple locations including desktop versions and mobile devices.

6. Search, History and Indexing

I must admit to being surprised by the fuss some Firefox fans kicked up about the new “Awesome Bar” in Firefox 3.

Sure, I haven’t yet adjusted myself to taking advantage to all the possibilities offered by it, but when I first saw the new design and larger fonts it just made finding pages in my browsing history so much easier.

In contrast the Opera URL history now seems a little cramped, but it’s still pretty effective and if it had more spacing between results would be very similar to Firefox.

All pages you’ve visited are now indexed and you can search based on any word or subject you remember being vaguely associated with the page you visited.

Before you ask why I’ve left out some great Opera features just remember this is just what I personally find most useful, feel free to tell us what it is you like most about it.

And finally, before someone corrects me, I know Opera wasn’t the first browser to invent or implement tabbed browsing. Netcaptor introduced it way back in 1997, Opera was the browser which first brought it to public attention in 2001, and then sadly to mainstream usage through Mozilla Phoenix (early Firefox) in 2002.

So, that’s what I love about the Opera browser. What do YOU love about it? Let’s see if our tastes match.

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