graphicpush

Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

A Review of Opera 7.5

As many in the web design community know, Opera released a beta of 7.5, their forthcoming browser upgrade. After a few weeks playing with it, I have to say I am mightily impressed with some of the improvements. Unlike the past few “bug fix” updates since the release of version 7, Opera have finally introduced new and compelling features.

As many in the web design community know, Opera released a beta of 7.5, their forthcoming browser upgrade. After a trouble-free port (just drag and drop settings and e-mail) and a few weeks playing with it, I have to say I am mightily impressed with some of the improvements—unlike the past few “bug fix” updates since the release of version 7, Opera have finally introduced new and compelling features.

The interface is hugely improved. Gone are the cold blue “meat locker” icons, and in its place are softer, more elegant XP-styled illustrations. Previously, when I loaded a new instance of Opera 7, the first thing I did was change the skin; now, after several weeks using 7.5, I have yet to find a skin better than the default. (For the more discriminating, old skins load perfectly, without a glitch.)

The fundamental interface has changed as well. Previously, sections like “Mail,” “Contacts” and “Bookmarks” were buttons on the left that could be stretched to resize, but always seemed awkward in their presentation. Opera has revamped this, and the sections are represented by a column of icons that fit nicely to the side, unobtrusive but readily available. These operate not unlike Adobe’s new CS interface, where tabs on the side of the screen launch palettes as needed. Opera also preserved the ability to fully customize the interface, and I was able to add, delete, shift and alter any part of the interface, from buttons to toolbars.

The e-mail client has some minor updates, all good. Opera added a newsreader (supporting 0.9x, 1.0 and 2.0), which is a nice bonus, but the feature is thin, and doesn’t allow the control that stand-alone RSS aggregators boast. It has been widely stated that the Opera e-mail client is a love or hate thing—it either works very well for your working habits, or you will hate it and go right back to Outlook Express. E-mail is categorized into “views” which makes monitoring multiple accounts difficult but finding old messages easy. (Good for me, with over 3,000 in the last two years.)

For the first time, Opera introduces two long-overdue features to the mail section. First, the preferences section now includes the ability to completely turn off the e-mail client and use the software strictly as a browser. Second, a spell checker from the open source Aspell program, which requires a second install. Hopefully, this will be fully integrated in the near future.

Despite my best efforts, I can not find any changes to the actual browser or rendering engine. The changelog specifies overall “stability” and “CSS support” improvements, but nothing has changed for better or worse in any site that I regularly visit.

Other new features in 7.5 include a full IRC client and a system tray icon for new e-mail. (I am loving this last one.) Most importantly, Opera is simultaneously releasing an OSX version, superseding the ancient 6.05. Mac users will finally be able to enjoy the killer features of the 7.x family, although I think most will stick to their Safari browser.

Many people constantly wave the Open Source (ie, Firefox) flag these days. While the idea of slowly taking back the web from Microsoft is great, I use Opera because it is simply better—it is one comprehensive program that is always open, and I don’t have to switch between browser and e-mail client, or worry about updating two separate programs. It is faster, prettier and far more stable than any other browser I use, and its adherence to W3C standards is as good if not better than the Mozilla Foundation.

For developers, this is an essential download. For those wanting something better than IE but are annoyed by the Mozilla groupies, try this one. For those who use Firefox and have the nagging suspicion there’s something even better, I have good news. There is.

commentary + criticism

treego

wrote the following on Tuesday December 14, 2004

Good article and I agree with your overall evaluation….nice job! :)

Anon

wrote the following on Tuesday December 14, 2004

Visit http://snapshot.opera.com/windows/ for more detailed changelogs.

Andrew

wrote the following on Tuesday December 14, 2004

Fabulous review! A few comments: Fourth para, when I first read “newsreader” I thought “usenet newsreader” and was (very) briefly confused. Perhaps “RSS feed reader” to make it totally clear?

Also, same para, regarding your “multiple accounts” issue, did you try the “Account selector”? Customize toolbars, buttons and fields, mail category, the “All accounts” dropdown. Drag to toolbar. It acts as an extra filter to only display messages from the selected account.

Jimmy

wrote the following on Tuesday December 14, 2004

Great review! Opera has been my browser of choice ever since the 7.x family was introduced, and 7.5 is clearly a big leap forward. Just as you, I love the new standard skin, and the new mail features are very welcome.

Another new feature that I appreciate is the fact that favicons are now enabled in bookmarks and on the personal bar. Nothing major, granted, but it’s still nice and it makes it easier to find the bookmark you’re looking for.

miragee

wrote the following on Tuesday December 14, 2004

Great review. I especially agree with this statement:

“The interface is hugely improved. Gone are the cold blue ‘meat locker’ icons, . . . Previously, when I loaded a new instance of Opera 7, the first thing I did was change the skin;”

I’ve been using Opera since the 6.05 version and this 7.5 Version makes me even more passionate about Opera.

Mike

wrote the following on Tuesday December 14, 2004

I have to admit that Opera 7.5 in a giant improvement over previous versions (anything before version 7 was a horrible excuse for a browser), but I can’t support it as a better alternative to FireFox. I don’t find it to be faster at all… prettier maybe, but not faster. CSS & DOM support has improved, but it’s still a little flaky. The email client is still years behind some other standalone applications, but the integration does have positive aspects. Overall it’s a good release and it is starting to mature. I look forward to future releases and to, hopefully, a more refined interface that focuses more on user tasks than hopped up eye-candy.

Matthew

wrote the following on Tuesday December 14, 2004

I find the email client has better features than most email clients so I use it. The whole idea of views as opposed to folders is great. I also find Opera just to be more refined (and yes, faster) than Firefox. Its CSS support is better than Gecko (never had a rendering problem ever, though I come up against them in Gecko occasionally).

Opera rocks :D