Opera offers an interesting alternative to the Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox Web browsers, but its recent Linux release leaves some room for improvement.Opera previously enjoyed a reputation as the go-to browser of choice for mobile environments. However, Opera Software, the developer, ignored Linux users for quite a long while until now. Opera’s Version 12.16 is a very usable release — but it is not without drawbacks.
Perhaps its biggest accomplishment is creating a library of Firefox-like extensions. These add-ons let users configure the browser to expand the feature base and mimic the functionality of favorite extensions they may have used in the Firefox browser.
As another bonus, Opera brings to Linux users some of the popular browser features Mac and Windows users have enjoyed. It focuses on rebuilding the browser from the ground up and adding a new engine. This Linux version of Opera includes the Speed Dial, Stash and Discover features.
Opera’s limitations are the result — in some cases, at least — of delivering half-baked or mini versions of the Firefox extensions. That impaired performance might weaken the user experience. It could force potential adopters to choose between staying with Opera for its brand-specific interface or returning to Firefox for the fully cooked extensions ecosystem.
The Opera extensions are cataloged on an apps page built around colorful tiles, much like Microsoft’s Windows Store. Unlike both Windows and Firefox, though, the extensions listings in Opera are mostly artsy rather than very informative.
The Opera extensions install much like they do in Firefox, but the extensions lack much in the way of user preference settings. This is mostly due to their “mini” nature.
For example, I rely on the Xmarks bookmark extension. I find that it lets me update and synchronize bookmarks and browsing history among my numerous computers without the clumsiness of each browser’s own sync feature. Xmarks looks and works the same in both Firefox and Chrome.
But the Xmarks Mini extension in Opera is nothing more than a pseudo browser tab — as if I logged onto my account in a browser window. It simply pops up a scrollable list of my bookmarks minus the menu bar. All of the unique Xmarks functionality is stripped from the mini version.
I have not toyed with Opera long enough on any of my computing platforms to judge how well its built-in safe browsing tools work. I use third-party add-ons in other browsers to check for risky sites and sound the alarm for potential security threats on the Internet.
Opera’s privacy settings claim to let you surf the Web without being tracked, as do other browsers. Some industry reports claim that private browsing windows and scripts that tell websites not to track you are largely bogus.
One of Opera’s hallmark features is the Speed Dial page. this works like a home page where you see your bookmarks, folders and recent history displayed. You just click the thumbnail to launch that URL.
Two other nifty Opera features are Stash and Discover. Stash lets you collect Web pages and arrange them in categories. Discover works like an RSS reader. It brings articles and selected content to a central place
Opera Link is a very handy tool. Use it to store your bookmarks, Speed Dial sites and passwords. This feature gives you a quick launch to that content or Web location.
Fast and Furious
I was pleased with Opera’s speedy interface and its ability to load graphics-laden websites with numerous tabs already opened. A digital speed meter is visible in the URL to show how much data and how quickly the browser is connecting.
I really like the Opera Turbo Settings feature. Opera speeds up browsing on slow networks. In the settings panel you can choose to disable the turbo effect, leave it on by default, or automatically enable it when needed.
Caution: Using the Opera Turbo feature may place your personal information at some risk. To speed up page loading, Opera compresses pages and logs some of the information on its servers. This information includes your IP address, the Web addresses of the pages you visit, and time stamps. This information may stay on the server for up to six months.
Opera’s Turbo feature processes the pages you request in its clouds. Opera’s data-saving servers remove extraneous page elements, clip out unseen image pixels, diagnose the state of the Internet connection, and compress the remaining data before downloading it to your screen.
Opera officials assure users that the process will not compromise their private data. Browser documentation states that Opera will never interfere with any secure connections.
So, when you browse a secure site such as a bank or email, Opera Turbo is not active. Your sensitive data is sent directly between your device and the secure site, according to the Opera website.
Look and Feel
Opera’s user interface is highly configurable. It provides many options for displaying different menu rows and sidebars. This lets you create a very minimalistic, bare-bones browsing screen or put large screen size to maximum use by displaying much more than just the website.
With Opera, you can also change the placement of several interface components. This lets you put tabs and sidebars where you want them on the screen.
One of the little specialties I like about the user interface is the Notes panel. This buffer can hold to-do lists, text snippets from Web pages, email message templates, and any other strings of text you want to keep handy. Opera Link makes it possible to synchronize the notes on all your computers and all your devices.
Another built-in component that you can use or ignore is an email manager. The preference settings let you choose which application Opera should use for email.
Opera has its own built-in client. It places your email as integrated tab within the browser. This lets you handle your email accounts as if they were running in a separate email program without interfering with your Web-browsing activity.
Or you can chose for Opera to use your default email client on your computer. It still gets integrated as a display window within the Web browser. Or you can use a specific other email client.
Opera Web browser for Linux is a potential alternative browser. If you are not deeply tied to the Firefox full-feature extensions or the Google ecosystem of productivity apps and services, Opera’s highly configurable interface and mini extensions could be a good fit.
Opera is available in packages compiled for Linux distros that include Arch, CentOS, Debian, Fedora, Gentoo, Memphis, Mandriva, Linux Mint, Saboyan, Red Hat, Slackware, Ubuntu and OpenSuse. It is also available in compressed formats for tar.xz and tar.bz2.
Opera’s developers skimped on making it easy to migrate to Opera from most other browsers. For example, importing contacts, bookmarks and such is limited to html, Konqueror, Firefox and Internet Explorer. If you use Google Chrome, you are out of luck.
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