Monday, March 20, 2006

Some Notes on the Opera 9.0 Technology Preview

I've been using the Opera 9.0 Technology Preview (code named Merlin) for a few weeks now. I installed it when I read that it fixed a bug with Bloglines' site that prevented you from using some of the drop-down lists on the 'add a feed' page.

Something most people won't care about but is probably important in the grand scheme of things is that it almost passes the Acid2 web standards test. (apparently it passes completely in internal builds.) This does a couple of things: it serves as a rebuke ot the gargantuan Gecko engine development model, showing that a small team can get results faster than a large, spread-out development effort, and it shows that at least someone is paying attention to web standards. (Though without Microsoft this will continue to be irrelevant.)

On practical matters, it's still much faster than Firefox, both at loading pages and especially in the user interface, which is much snappier and doesn't have the cumbersome feeling that Firefox has (and didn't escape from when the project split from the main Mozilla Seamonkey browser suite.) This snappier feel is what caused me to start using Opera more and more often over Firefox in the first place, so I'm glad it's still here.

Opera still isn't up to snuff when it comes to advvanced Javascript stuff. I'm writing this post in Opera and see a grand total of two blogger UI buttons, to spell-check and insert an image (neither of which work properly.) The practically WYSISYG nature of the post editor in Firefox and IE puts this experience to shame. The MySpace blog post maker also doesn't work properly, but it still looks likei t should, it just doesn't let you actually make a post using the fancy-looking interface. This is why I still keep a copy of FireFox around.

I haven't used most of the non-browser features of opera, like the RSS reader, the e-mail client or the address book, and I'm wishing there was an easy way to disable the internal handling of bittorrent downloads, which is probably nice for Joe user who doesn't know what Azureus is but could still greatly benefit from the functionality, but which doesn't seem to work at full-speed for me the few times I've tried a download. I've been stuck at 5k/s or so with no way of telling how many seeds there were in a swarm. WhenI stopped this and resumed the same torrent in Azureus I suddenly started getting 40k/s. So something is definitely not working there.

I am, however, very much enjoying the IRC client that comes with it. I just had to fill in my nickname and other basic info once after clicking on an irc:// url and subsequently this information is stored and I can go from surfing to chatting in under 3 seconds, and the chat window is just another tab in your browser.

Speaking of tabs, Opera now lets you open separate windows by hitting Ctrl-N, and new tabs within one window with Ctrl-T, just like FireFox, instead of forcing you into one or the other. Opening a new window or tab is much faster than with Firefox, and you don't get the impression that your CPU is suddenly jumping up to 100% usage when you do it.

Another neat thing I just discovered about the tabs is that if you hover your mouse over a tab a little tooltip will show up with a tiny preview thumbnail of the page. Not terrribly useful since you have to wait half a second to see it, which would have let you click on it, see the page, and click back, but it's a cool little bit of eye-candy.

I never got used to mouse gestures, but I love the fact that the z and x keys work as back and forward buttons. Little touches like that are probably things that get halted in committee when someone on the Firefox development juggernaut suggests them, being told to make it a plug-in, but as little touches in a program really make a difference to user experience. Also it's widely reported by others that Opera's mouse gestures work better anyway.

So in conclusion, I'm more or less happy with the direction Opera seems to be moving in. I would still welcome a few improvements in Javascript which probably aren't forthcoming, but it's not enough to make me go back to FireFox. If you're using Opera 8.x now moving up to the Beta is certianly doable, I haven't noticed any stability problems at all.

Oh, one last bug that I just ran into, when you edit a post in Blogger, for some reason it sets the post time back to 1990, making it look like your post has disappeared. THIS IS BAD. I should actually go file a bug report about this one.
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By al - 11:57 PM |

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