A Second Night at the Opera (Opera Browser 5.12)

by Rob Zorn

The Fastest Browser on EarthIn the Jan/Feb 2001 Newsletter, we reviewed Opera 4.02. You can find that newsletter here, or the review alone here. Opera is a relatively new browser on the scene, but it is gaining pretty quickly in popularity. It claims to be the "fastest browser on earth" and many have been impressed by the speed (compared to Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator) at which it zips around the Internet.

In my review of version 4.02, however, I found it necessary to highlight some unfortunate problems with Opera, and I am pleased to see that these problems have been largely addressed in later versions. Opera used to struggle terribly with JavaScript (the computer scripts web designers use to achieve dynamic things on web sites such as mouseovers and other bells and whistles) and now it only struggles a little bit, so little that you'd hardly notice. Opera used to be unable to display transparent images, but it seems to handle them fine now. Opera used to fail to display "alt tags" (the little yellow windows with writing that pop up when you mouse over an image) and unfortunately, it still fails to do so. It used to be a little hard to find your way around in (Preferences, configuration, etc) but it's now as user-friendly as Explorer or Navigator, if not moreso. In short, the main theme of my last review was that Opera was certainly faster than the bigger browsers (in my own experience, it leaves Explorer for dead - no contest) but that it had enough quirks and hiccups to make it hard to recommend unequivocally.

With the latest release (Opera 5.12) I am now prepared to recommend the browser quite heartily. I wrote a lot in my first review about why it might be faster (I'm really not sure) so I won't repeat a lot of that this time. I will say however, that the good things I found about Opera have all remained. I'm especially grateful for the neat way in which it informs you of the speed and progress it's making while downloading the page. If you're thinking about trying Opera, you may want to read the earlier review. I've already indicated that I think you would do well to try it, so this time I'd like to spend time on how to go about getting and using it yourself.

It used to be that you had two choices with downloading Opera. You could pay $39 U.S. or you could download their free version which contained a small advertising box in the top right-hand corner. It seems that these days, they're only offering the free version with the advertising. This is not much of a problem. The advertising is generally unobtrusive, never offensive, and the browser remains considerably faster despite the fact that it is downloading ads to you every now and then. By the way, there is nothing to fear from these advertisements. They're downloaded to the ad section of the Opera browser only, and don't muck about with anything on your hard drive.

First of all, use your usual browser to surf over to www.opera.com and click on the "Download Here" button pictured to the left of this paragraph. The Opera web site will quickly analyse which is the best version of Opera for you, and present you with its findings. You can probably stick with what it chooses for you, but there is a button you can click if you'd like to do something different. Next, click a dot into the With Java (EXE, 9.8MB) option, select the nearest location from the drop down list. Bob's you uncle, click the "Download Now" button, and the download will commence. I recommend saving it to your desktop.

Once you've downloaded the browser (the ten Megabytes will take a while), simply double-click it on your desktop to begin installation. It'll ask you a few questions as it installs. If you're not sure, simply click Yes each time. It knows what it's doing, but just like most software, it gives you the option to be the boss during installation if you wish.

Opera will add an icon to your desktop for you to doubleclick when you want to try it as a browser. If it doesn't, you'll be able to find it under Start/Programs...

Unfortunately, when you first run Opera, its default settings open three windows (three separate browser pages) that automatically link to and open Opera related pages. You can get rid of this easily by adjusting your settings. Click the File menu and then Preferences. Select "Start and Exit from the left hand column, and set the dot into the "Show single window with global homepage" option. You can set your homepage by clicking Navigation/Set Global Homepage. Just enter in the page you would like Opera to open when it starts up (e.g. http://www.actrix.co.nz/) and that should take care of that.

Other settings are as easy with Opera as they are with any other browser. Just click File then preferences to receive the list of options. Have a play with various settings and see how you go and what you like.

I don't bother with the Opera e-mail function. I'm more than happy with Outlook Express as my mail client (preferring it greatly over Microsoft Outlook) but Opera's E-mail client is easy to set up and use, and looks just about as functional as any other.

That'll probably do for now. Perhaps in future newsletters I can add a few tips about getting the most out of Opera. I do encourage you to give it a go, though. If you're new to computers and the Internet, and perhaps a little intimidated by the new and unfamiliar, Opera is probably a good program on which to cut your new downloading teeth. And if you'd like to e-mail me your thoughts on how the browser works for you, I'd love to hear from you!

It would seem appropriate to publish a letter I received from a non-Actrix customer commenting on this Opera review. Bjoern is quite right, but I guess the issue for users is more what they have come to expect from a browser rather than whether the browser is behaving according to W3 standards. I guess the issues are complicated.

I would like to comment on your review "A second night at the Opera" (available at http://editor.actrix.co.nz/byarticle/opera2.htm).  In it, you write:

'Opera used to fail to display "alt tags" (the little yellow windows with writing that pop up when you mouse over an image) and unfortunately, it still fails to do so.'

Actually, Opera is the only browser who is doing this *right*, according to the arguments presented in this article: http://www.htmlhelp.com/feature/art3.htm. Look for the header 'ALT text as "tooltips"'.

ALT attributes (not tags) are by definition not supposed to be tooltips  - they are *alternative* texts, to be shown only when the image in question is unavailable.

Opera does display the correct attribute, TITLE, as tooltips.

MSIE [Internet Explorer] displays TITLE as tooltips, but it is still in error as it also   displays ALT as tooltips, which can and will cause confusion and encourage incorrect use of the ALT attribute.
Bjoern Braendewall