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[Click to Enlarge] Opera 11 features a cleaner look, a new mail pane, tab grouping, a speedup, and ... extensions

"Lights Out" is one of our favorite extensions. It makes watching YouTube videos much easier on the eyes, by blacking out the background..
New browser packs extensions, tab-stacking, faster speed, and lots of other perks

For those of you that missed it, on Thursday Norway's Opera Software ASA released Opera 11.  We've used plenty of browsers in our day, and we can tell you that the Opera browser, like Google's Chrome browser, is headed in a very good direction.

Before we get started, we suggest you take Opera 11 out for a test drive of your own.  You can grab the browser here.  The browser is available in Windows, Linux, and OS X.

I. The Browser

i. Looks

Opera 11 has always looked pretty nice.  With the latest release, Opera has made its Aero Glass a bit more transparent.  Overall the look is cleaner.  All the key buttons (such as your close tabs button "recycle" button on the top right, or you turbo button on the bottom left) are all in easy to reach locations.

The browser looks remarkably similar to Mozilla's Firefox 4.0 beta 7, with a few subtle differences.  It breaks the refresh button out to the left, where Mozilla has this on the right as a smaller button within the address bar.  And the "feedback" button has been replaced by the more useful "Tab Recycling" icon, which allows you to reopen closed tabs.

Firefox 4.0b7 and Chrome 8 were our two previous favorites in terms of looks.  But Opera may be the best looking browser we've tested yet.

We do have one complaint, though.  We would like to see Opera adopt Firefox's method of pressing the "Alt" key to temporarily get the traditional menu bar.  You can get such a bar in Opera, but you have to manually select it ("Menu" > "Show Menu Bar") and deselect it ("File" > "Show Menu Bar").  If this tweak was added, we couldn't imagine a much better interface.

ii. Extensions

As to the functionality, Opera has a lot of nice upgrades.  The biggest one is extensions.

From the Opera homepage you can go to "Add-ons" > "Opera extensions" to access the growing catalog of extensions.

Right now the catalog is relatively small -- only 215 extensions (Mozilla's Firefox has close to 12,800).  Nonetheless, there are some useful ones already available.  We test drove "AdSweep", which is the Opera extensions equivalent of Firefox's "AdBlock".  In our tests it worked flawlessly, blocking ads even on traditionally ad-rich pages like Sports Illustrated.  

We also tested out a pair of video related extensions -- "Turn Off the Lights" and "FastestTube".  For being so simple, we love Turn Off the Lights.  It essentially makes the Browser window black, except for the currently watched video.  For watching internet videos, we now view this as virtually essential.  FastestTube, by contrast, allows you to download YouTube videos.  In our tests this worked with some videos, but others appeared to disallow videos (such as a clip).

In short, there isn't that big an extensions catalog yet, but the current catalog already greatly enhances Opera's web browser.

iii. Turbo

Turbo, introduced with Opera 10.0, is one of our favorite things in Opera.  When tethering to a smartphone, Turbo allows much faster page loads.  If you are using any browser other than Opera when tethering (unless it's work mandated, of course), we'd say you're doing yourself a disservice.  

Note Turbo can not work on https pages due to technical details (but that's a good thing for security).

iv. Tab Stacking

Our second favorite feature in Opera 11 is a new one -- tab stacking.  Firefox 4.0b7's tab grouping is similar, but left us with mixed feelings.  You had to jump into a different window and the process wasn't entirely intuitive.  By contrast, tab stacking is flawlessly executed.  You drag one tab on another, and voilà! it's stacked.  To access your stacked tabs, just click the little arrow next to them to expand or contract a particularly stack.

Tab stacking is an absolute godsend when you have a large amount of tabs open.  It allows you to instantly access groups of similar tabs (e.g. product searches/views or your favorite news sites) without having to view them 24-7.

v. Mail Client

Another feature we really like is Opera's mail panel.  Basically it feels like Thunderbird and a browser fused into one.  Accessing it is a bit less than intuitive (though Opera's tutorial does a pretty good job of explaining).

To access it, you must first go to "Menu" (top of screen) > "Mail and Chat Accounts..."  A dialog will then comes up that allows you to add the necessary details that you need to access your email.

Once complete, you can click the "Panels" button on the far bottom left.  Then just click the envelope icon (left) and the mail panel will instantly appear and begin to populate.  Note, clicking "Inbox" opens a new tab, with your email inbox, as do the other links.

Our only complaint here would be that we'd like to see the envelope icon automatically accessible when you press the "Panels" button.  Rather than being forced to add the account by sifting through "Menus", it would be far more intuitive just to click the envelope icon and have it automatically launch the setup process if an account hadn't been added.

Still the mail client is superb, so we can't complain too much.

vi. Mouse Gestures

Rounding out the features, there's a new visual interface to mouse gestures.  To intentionally or unintentionally access this new interface, just hold down your right mouse button.  Your list of gestures is instantly displayed.

To be honest, despite testing several versions of Opera over the last few years, we'd never taken the time to really use mouse gestures fully.  Now that it's been presented in a more intuitive way, we've finally started to use them.

Mouse Gestures, we would say, take a bit of readjusting by your brain.  But when you learn how to use them, you'll be quickly performing them, and you'll have to touch the address bar ("Back", "Reload", etc.) far less.  

vii. Safer Address Field

The final improvement worth noting is the addition of new icons next to the address you visit.  Regular web pages say "Web" (or "Turbo" when Turbo mode is active), while https sites show up as "Secure".  The bar also warns you about untrusted sites.  You can click the little icon to get more details about the page you're on.

viii. A note on compatibility

We've had issues with Opera in the past in using sites designed primarily to work with Internet Explorer/Firefox.  As we did not code these sites ourselves, we're not sure quite where the problems lay.  But revisiting these sites, in Opera 11 they all work spectacularly.  In fact, we did not encounter a single site that did not work properly in the browser, thus far.

Compatibility was a big thing in the past preventing us from using Opera as our daily browser.  But we now no longer have misgiving.

II.  The Benchmark

So Opera 11 has a ton of features and looks great.  It also sports a new JavaScript engine that's supposed to be significantly faster.  But how fast is it, exactly?

This time around we stuck with our test procedure from our last "Browser Wars 2" entry.  Our basic goal was to be as comprehensive as possible, including any accurate tests we could find.  

We compare Opera 11 to Firefox 4.0 beta 7, which you can get here, and Chrome 8, which you can get here.

For basic benchmarks, we have included an overall test (Peacekeeper by FutureMark), a CSS Test (How to Create's CSS loading test), two pure Javascript-only tests (Sunspider and Celtic Kane's JSBenchmark), and a composite test of various Javascript and DOM tests (Dojo Toolkit's "TaskSpeed").

We also continue to use Microsoft's rendering tests -- FishIE TankPsychedelic Browser, and Flying Images -- which show off the advantage of hardware acceleration (which still is not up to snuff in Chrome and Opera, as you'll see).  Note, Microsoft also makes all of these tests, so there may be some sort of favoritism there -- but we hope not.

Additionally, we've run Mozilla's Kraken, a lengthy Javascript benchmark that represents Mozilla's crack at making a test similar to Sunspider.  As with the Microsoft rendering tests, we hope there's no tweaks to give Firefox an edge here (but there might be).

The results are as follows:

(Note: IE 9 test results for these same tests are available in the linked previous Browser Wars 2 entry)

i. PeaceKeeper

1. Chrome (8.0.552.224) - 5328
2. Opera (v11.00) - 3627
3. Firefox 4.0b7 - 2594

ii. CSS Test

1. Opera (v11.00) - 9 ms, 4 ms, 5 ms
2. Chrome (8.0.552.224) - 10 ms, 6 ms, 6 ms
3. Firefox 4.0b7 - 30 ms, 8 ms, 8 ms

iii. Sunspider

1. Chrome (8.0.552.224) - 314.3ms ± 3.6%
2. Opera (v11.00) - 459.7ms ± 0.4%
3. Firefox 4.0b7 - 510.0ms ± 6.4%

iv. JSBenchmark (10 trials)

1.Chrome (8.0.552.224) - 434 ± 17
2. Opera (v11.00) - 280 ± 6
3. Firefox 4.0b7 - 260 ± 6

v. Dojo Tool Kit

1. Opera (v11.00) - 329, 710, 481, 458, 331, 164, 166, 170, 312
2. Chrome (8.0.552.224) - 207, 1110, 442, 457, 492, 181, 200, 202, 345 
3. Firefox 4.0b7 - 185, 1358, 599, 761, 551, 345, 337, 339, 553 

vi. FishIE Tank (1000 fish)

1. Firefox 4.0b7 - 35 fps
2. Chrome (8.0.552.224) - 3 fps
3. Opera (v11.00) - 20 fps (did not render properly)

vii. Psychedelic Browser (Hallucinogenic Mode)

1. Firefox 4.0b7 - 599 RPM
2. Chrome (8.0.552.224) - 38 RPM (standard mode only...)
3. Opera (v11.00) - 10 RPM (standard mode only...)

viii. Flying Images (256 images)

1. Firefox 4.0b7 - 50 fps
2. Chrome (8.0.552.224) - 15 fps
3. Opera (v11.00) - 9 fps (rendering issues)

ix. Kraken

1. Firefox 4.0b7 - 12119.4ms +/- 0.8%
2. Opera (v11.00) - 20804.8ms +/- 1.2%
3. Chrome (8.0.552.224) - 25400.9ms +/- 0.4%

x. Conclusions

Unlike some past rounds of browser wars, it's tough to call a clear winner here.  Opera 11 and Chrome 8 tend to split the Javascript/CSS tests.  But Firefox runs away with the rendering tests, thanks to its GPU acceleration.  Firefox 4.0b7 also earned the best score in Kraken, but Mozilla writes this benchmark, so we have a sneaking suspicions its written some sort of optimizations in its JS engine to enhance its results, given that its JS engine was far slower than Opera and Chrome's in third-party tests.

III. Final Thoughts

We would strongly recommend that readers test out Opera 11, as it's proven itself to be a great browser in our testing.  While many have embraced Firefox, it tends to lag a bit behind Opera and Chrome in terms of features and speed.  Firefox 4 certainly has some promising new features, it remains to be seen whether it is enough to hold off a surging Chrome.

Opera 11 could propel the Norwegian browser maker to similar success, we feel.  Assuming enough people actually try the new browser, we're guessing a number will enjoy it enough to make it their day-to-day browser.

Of course Opera, Google, and Mozilla all have their work cut out for them as there's always the dark horse candidate in this race -- Microsoft Internet Explorer 9.  After years of inferior releases, Microsoft finally looks ready to release a modern browser.

For now, Opera can celebrate the fact that it got this impressive release out the door ahead of Firefox 4 and IE 9's release versions.

All testing was done on a 64-bit Windows 7 Professional Edition. The hardware used was a MacBook Pro with an Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T9600, a NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT GPU, and 4 GB of DDR RAM.

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As an Opera User for 3+ years
By Belard on 12/18/2010 8:02:12 PM , Rating: 2
Many years ago, I really wanted to get OFF of IE - I tried FF 2.0 and it did and STILL doesn't work with my needs and even to this day, almost any time I open FF - there is something being updated, added, etc before I even actually USE the browser.

Now, if anything - FF is trying to LOOK more like Opera. Opera 11 looks almost like Opera 10. I'm about to do the upgrade, but looking at the screen shots- there are tweaks here and there.

Many of the features you talk about, have been part of Opera 10 for a long long time. And I was even active during the beta-test of Opera 10, in which the UI would change weekly as we'd give the design time our opinions. At one point, the HOME button looked TOO good and out of place with the other Navigation buttons and the Opera team fixed that really quick.

Things like the TAB recycle-bin (to re-open a closed tab) has been there since Opera 9... it works great.

A great feature of Opera is that it SIMPLY saves your tabs, doesn't bug you about what to close or save, it does it. And when you bring Opera back up (from a reboot / etc) - it saves your browsing history IE: you can STILL press the BACK button and get somewhere.

The DOWN side of Opera is that its a memory hog with how it caches and hold pages. :(

IE7~8 never came close to Opera (IE7 was the reason I tried FF and went to Opera). There are some sites that REFUSE to work with Opera, just because of the name.

The MENU-BAR... yes, when they hid it into Opera's "Start" button - it was a bit un-nerving. And the ALT-key like in IE doesn't work that way (it open the menu)... but after a while, you'll realize THE NEW style works. Most of the functions are there, but arrange better.

A good trick that *I* change in Opera... is that I TURN on the VIEW BAR (under appearances) - then I drag and copy the FIND IN PAGE search box and Find-Next-on-Page button over to the Status bar. I also copy the SHOW/HIDE images and move it to the ZOOM area tab on the bottom. Then turn off the View bar. This is the OLD-style Opera 8 and older.

Searching for text with OPERA is a beauty that NO OTHER browser does. Start typing in the word(s) in the box (as I said above) the screen goes DARK and highlights the words your looking for - ALL of them.

I'm off to give Opera 11 and try!

PS: Its amazing that Google's Chrome is version 1.0~8.0 in 2 years. You can't tell the difference, visually between them. While Opera goes through more major changes that you can tell. Tweaks, fixes, UI adjustments. I use Chrome when I have too. Right clicking on an image with OPERA tells you so much; size, file name, and location that is selectable for copy. Chrome is my 2nd choice browser... if there wasn't Opera, Chrome would be my first.

Overall... glad that IE continues and will continue to lose market share.

RE: As an Opera User for 3+ years
By WTFzilla on 12/18/2010 10:15:06 PM , Rating: 1
The DOWN side of Opera is that its a memory hog with how it caches and hold pages.

Not at all. Opera dynamically adapts the memory usage, unlike the crude memory handling of other browsers.

If you have more memory available, it uses more to do things faster. If you have less, it uses less.

RE: As an Opera User for 3+ years
By fepcoder on 12/19/2010 11:50:44 AM , Rating: 2
Feels really fast. Chrome on my system is ungodly slow. I think that Chrome is highly file system I/O dependent. I'm often burning DVDs, so I don't have much excess file system bandwidth. So, Chrome is the slowest browser that I've every used. Opera feels really snappy.

This is on a Core2Duo E8400 box with 4GB RAM running Windows 7 64-bit while burning DVDs.

RE: As an Opera User for 3+ years
By B3an on 12/20/2010 7:52:26 AM , Rating: 2
I think that Chrome is highly file system I/O dependent.

Thats true. On my SSD's it flies and is the fastest browser, but on my old laptop with a 5400RPM HDD it's one of the slowest browsers.

RE: As an Opera User for 3+ years
By jonmcc33 on 12/19/2010 9:31:25 AM , Rating: 4
As stated, the memory use is for the memory that you have available. If you have less system RAM then Opera uses less memory. The good thing is that when using up a lot of memory, Opera doesn't slow to a crawl. It will also drop memory use as you close out tabs. I remember once I had Firefox open for a few days and after some heavy use it was up to 1.3GB memory for the firefox.exe process. It was slower than a snail and even after I closed all tabs (just left one open) it was still using 1.3GB memory. How's that for a memory leak that apparently doesn't exist?

Good job of pointing out the Find feature in Opera. I too like how the entire page dims and all the words that match your search are highlighted so you have no problem seeing it.

Also, way to point out Chrome's rampant version jumps but no change at all in it's UI. Google apparently doesn't pay attention to standards for software versions. A few minor internal tweaks and it's suddenly whole versions higher.

RE: As an Opera User for 3+ years
By Pirks on 12/19/10, Rating: -1
RE: As an Opera User for 3+ years
By Belard on 12/21/2010 1:23:12 AM , Rating: 2
Uh.... Opera's TEXT search function has been around LONG before Safari came about. The dimming of the screen is "new" for Opera 10... that was the only change. The "Speed Dial" feature has been around for about 4-5 years, which replaces my "home" page.

Tabbing : Opera standard long time ago. Its simplified UI is still the cleanest and most customizable and more understandable designs. Safari uses a broken flow layout.
R1: Nav & Address Bar
R2: View & Quick Links Bar
R3: Tabs
R4: Browser Space

Even Chrome has a default Links bar thats between the Tab/Address & Browser space.

I have these browsers for web development. I use Opera as my primary personal browser.

A: Some sites block Opera, Safari and Chrome on purpose. :(

B: With the tools I have to use, Opera isn't 100% compatible (But I'll try again with ver. 11) in some functions, but it is in looks (colors / font codes / etc). Chrome is most compatible. FF get some things wrong (Get blue when it should be red) and some odd shifting. Safari... A few oddities, nothing major. IE8, the most screw up compared to the others and its the BEST MS has... I don't even try to fix anything for IE.

C: All these browsers are a good thing. I do wish Opera had more market share... they don't have Apple or Google to help and lost years trying to sell their browser when IE and Netscape were free.

D: Almost every part of Opera is customizable, you can move buttons anywhere. Their skins are vast (Which includes button) - but since 10.x, the default Opera skin has been the best IMHO.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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