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Here at MakeUseOf, we give Opera its fair share of coverage. But all of these Opera-related articles will probably interest you only if you’ve tried Opera before. With Google Chrome and Firefox each making such a strong case for itself as the ultimate browser, it is sometimes easy to forget Opera. But in truth, Opera 11 is an absolutely amazing browser.
While I currently use Firefox as my main browser, I find myself turning to Opera again and again, several times every week. It can be difficult to switch to a different “primary” browser, especially if you’re already set up in another browser with all of your favorite extensions and tweaks.
But if you take Opera as a “secondary” browser and only use it now and then, you may just fall in love with it. Here are some of the main reasons why Opera rocks and you should try it out.
It Feels Fast
For me, this is the number one reason to use Opera. I had Chrome customized to the gills, but it was slow. Yes, Chrome was slow for me. I don’t necessarily mean webpage rendering, but general performance and responsiveness – the application itself would just freeze for seconds at a time on my computer. I made sure to install the minimum number of extensions, and would constantly disable extensions I found I didn’t use much, but that didn’t really help. The reason I speak of Chrome in past tense is that I’ve since switched to Firefox, but even Firefox is not immune to slowdowns (even though there are quite a few tricks to deal with that, which I will share in another post).
The bottom line is the same in both cases: Whether I am using Firefox or Chrome, some of the things that make them great can also make them slow. Opera is very powerful without any extensions: Above you can see its built-in content blocking feature, which is something neither Firefox nor Chrome have natively. Thanks to its power, you actually need a minimum number of extensions to enjoy a great browsing experience – and that translates to better speed. Add Opera Turbo, and you get one seriously fast browser.
Try this with your browser: Put your mouse right under the tabs (between the tabs and address bar), and pull down. What happened? Nothing? That’s because you’re not using Opera. With Opera, this simple gesture “unpacks” the tab bar, and makes every tab into a miniature thumbnail of the webpage. This is an extremely useful feature when researching a focused topic: Above you can see three tabs that all start with the word “Opera”, two of which have the same favicon. With Tab Previews, it’s much easier to switch to the exact tab I need without having to read a long caption to see which of the three similar pages it might be.
Opera also has tab thumbnails that pop up when you hover over a tab; it is one of the first (if not the very first) browser to feature tabs, and it continues to innovate with tabs to this day.
The Original Speed Dial
Yet another highly emulated feature, Opera’s Speed Dial is the original, and it is still the best in class. Chrome’s “modern” New Tab screen doesn’t even let you pick the websites you want to pin (!), and Firefox’s latest cutting-edge build, 10.0.2, doesn’t even have a New Tab page – it just shows a blank window. Sure, you can install extensions to simulate Opera’s awesome native functionality, but these are serious memory hogs. I’ve written about Speed Dial 2 for Chrome, and it is an excellent add-on, but it took over 20MB of RAM on my system even when it wasn’t being shown. With Opera, I get better functionality baked in, without having to install an add-on.
We don’t all have 100Mbps fiber-to-the-home connections. On a slower broadband connection, not to mention a dialup connection, Opera’s Turbo feature can make a real difference. It’s a similar feature to the one offered for mobile browsers to reduce data plan usage: Opera compresses every page you browse on their own servers, and then you get it from Opera (not from the original server). You can think of it as a built-in proxy with compression, and it works quite well.
It is built very thoughtfully, with an Automatic mode that switches compression on only when you’re connected to a slow network. So if you’re using your laptop at home with your fast connection, Turbo switches itself off; at the coffee shop with the crappy Wi-Fi, it switches back on, and delivers a better browsing experience than your fellow latte drinkers get.
Customizable Keyboard Shortcuts
As some of you may remember, I use the alternative (and highly superior) Colemak keyboard layout. Because my keys are laid out differently, sometimes I find it easier to customize shortcut keys to be easier to reach. This doesn’t happen often (Colemak keeps zxcvb on the same places as QWERTY, for just that reason), but it’s nice to have the option. Opera includes a built-in feature that lets me tweak the keys however I see fit – again, no add-on needed.
If this post didn’t make you want to at least try out Opera, I don’t know what will. Seriously – this is one gorgeous browser that doesn’t get enough love. Next time you’re frustrated with your current browser, just go and give it a spin. You don’t have to switch entirely – but even as a backup browser, Opera is a must.