The Internet goes to the Opera

Almost everyone uses one of the free browsers from Netscape or Microsoft. I do a fair amount of Web work, and because I need to see what everyone else will see, I have installed the current versions of both Communicator and Internet Explorer.

But as my default browser, I have installed Opera. It’s a modest program (available at produced by a software team in Oslo, Norway. The full installation program is less than 1.4 MB in size. But it’s not free — the charge is $US35 per copy.

I first installed Opera nearly two years ago; this column is about my reasons for staying with the program. Opera is a small fraction of the size of either Communicator or Internet Explorer and loads in a fraction of the time. All of the published performance tests conclude that it loads pages faster than either of the big two, but I don’t find that a compelling argument. In my experience, the Internet itself is the slowest part of loading pages. Opera helps, but not by all that much.

With all of the new Web page layout features, it’s still not possible to control the screen resolution used by users. Opera lets me increase or decrease effective screen resolution — I can see the impact of different screens on a page design.

The other browsers let me increase or decrease type size on-the-fly. That isn’t the same thing at all. Opera lets me scale all page elements — graphics as well as text — from between 30 per cent and 1,000 per cent of normal size.

Opera lets me see two (or more) Web pages side-by-side, within the program. This is a standard capability that, for example, is available in all office applications — Word, WordPro and WordPerfect can all do it. It’s an easy way to visually compare two documents. The other browsers let you open a second page, but for some unclear reasons, the second page appears in a second copy of the program. Visual comparisons are more difficult. And you can’t use the standard Ctrl-Tab to switch between pages.

Opera comes with JavaScript, but not Java. To add Java, you must install a plug-in from Sun that’s larger than the browser itself. The advantage is that you get the current version of Java. The disadvantage is that it must be separately installed.

On a number of smaller technical points, I like the decisions that were made. By design, it’s easy to get around the program using only the keyboard. It offers more practical configuration options than either of the big two. And its hot list is good.

Opera’s e-mail is good enough for newsgroups. Indeed, newsgroup support is excellent. But Opera does not offer a full e-mail program. That’s fine with me — I prefer to keep my browser and my e-mail separate. A year ago, Opera was a program specifically designed for people with special needs. It had advantages, but it was just a bit peculiar. The program has matured. Today, I feel good telling people to give it a try. And $US35 is a small price to pay for a really good browser.

Fabian is a Toronto-based management and systems consultant. He can be found at