For all my daily browsing, I prefer “Opera”:http://www.opera.com/ over “Firefox.”:http://getfirefox.com/
Yes, I know Firefox is open-source and all that. I am also aware that Firefox is a great browser. I know that Firefox has extensions, and I know that Firefox’s rendering engine is great, and I know that Firefox makes Internet Explorer look and feel like the piece of crapware it is. I even think Firefox is fundamentally good software. I even think Firefox is _great software._
It’s just that I think _Opera provides me with the best Internet Experience_ – I think it _beats Firefox any day._ Opera’s feature list fits my usage pattern like a custom-tailored suit – without customization.
h3. Opera Mail (Also Known As M2)
!(lJust) /download/223/mail.png (M2 offers several innovative approaches to e-mail)!
I already praised M2 at the beginning of last year, in my piece “E-Mail: Solved.”:http://virtuelvis.com/archives/30.html
I’m going to repeat my praise here: Opera Mail/M2 uses a database-centric approach to e-mail, where all mail is kept in one big storage, and all you do to view the mail is to access it from any of the views the mail resides in.
This database-centric approach to mail means I no longer have to choose where to put my e-mail. I rather choose where to fetch it from:
* Mail is available from regular Received/Sent/Outbox views
* An “Active Contacts” view is automatically created when you receive mail from your contacts
* An “Active Threads” view is automatically created when mail arrives in a mail/news thread you are actively participating in.
* Your mailing list mail is automatically put in a mailing list view
* Attachments are organized by file type in the various attachment views – so finding that .jpg or .zip is easy.
* If you have searched for mail, a view is automatically created for that search. Additionally, new mail that matches your search also goes into this search.
* You can label your mail – If you know you have labeled a mail as “Mail back”, you can always find it in the “Mail back” view.
* If I need, I can create custom views of my mail: These views can either be learning views, or I can specify certain rigid rules for these views. Or I can do both.
* There is also the “Spam” view, where Opera puts spam and viruses, using an in-built learning filter.
Other mail clients, such as the web based “GMail”:http://www.gmail.com/ have grown some of these features, but in my humble opinion, Opera still beat these hands down.
Firefox doesn’t really do mail. You can set up a mail notifier, and use a menu item to launch your system default mail client – but it’s not the same as always having your mail client ready.
h3. Mail safety
!/download/223/mailview.png (Opera offers flexible display of mail)!
When viewing mail in Opera, you can choose whether you want to read HTML mail, and you can suppress any external embeds, so that those nasty tracking images won’t bite you.
Ok, I’ll admit: This is not really Firefox’s fault, since it doesn’t _have_ a mail client – it’s just here to make you choose another mail client than Outlook Express – I’m sick and tired of having my mailbox filled with the viruses you have been infected with.
!/download/223/rss.png (Opera’s integral RSS reader makes subscribing to newsfeeds easy)!
An integral part of Opera Mail/M2 is the RSS Reader. M2’s RSS probably offers the _easiest_ way to subscribe to newsfeeds. It’s basically as easy as this: Locate a link to a newsfeed, open it, and Opera will subscribe you. When Opera 7.50 acquired RSS features, I created a small flash movie, showing the “ease of newsfeed subscription”:http://virtuelvis.com/download/173/opera.html
With the up and coming Opera 7.60 – which is available as a technical preview, if you follow the “Opera Beta forum”:http://my.opera.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?s=&forumid=31 – this has gotten even easier. When a site uses “RSS autodiscovery”:http://diveintomark.org/archives/2002/05/30/rss_autodiscovery a small RSS icon shows up in the address bar, and subscription is then a two-click process. Click to add, click to confirm.
When you have added an RSS newsfeed, the news items will reside in appropriate views in the M2 mail client, and will show up just the way ordinary mail messages, or Usenet messages – and you can search it, filter it and do anything you would do with ordinary mail.
Firefox’s approach to RSS is called “Live bookmarks” and is just the titles of the RSS items kept in your bookmarks. If you want the content of the newsfeed items, without manually visiting the web pages, you still have to resort to a third-party RSS client – again, Thunderbird being one.
h3. Quick customization
!(lJust) /download/223/f12.png (F12 allows you to quickly customize Opera)!
One of the aspects I find imporant is to be able to turn some settings on and off quickly – for instance, turning off those annoying animated images, or turn Java or plugins on and off at ease.
By pressing F12, Opera brings up a context menu, allowing you to toggle some of the most common options, without visiting the browser preferences.
In Firefox, you _have_ to visit the Options panel for almost any change you want to make.
h3. The Navigation toolbar
!/download/223/linkbar.png (The navigation panel offers easy access to common links)!
When a web site uses appropriate
elements on the page, Opera’s link panel will light up – offering you some often-used links, such as home/previous/next/search. This means that for these web sites, you won’t ever have to locate the links on the page: They always sit at the top of the page, just below your address bar. Many, if not most blogs to some extent use these features, this makes Opera an ideal blog browser.
If this feature isn’t enabled in your install of Opera, you can easily do so by selecting View/Toolbars/Navigation bar from the application menu.
h3. The Wand
!/download/223/wand.png (Opera has an integral password manager)!
Ok, so Firefox also sports a password manager – I just like Opera’s better:
# Opera’s password manager does not prefill form elements. Instead it just adds a subtle yellow outline to form elements that will be filled when proceeding.
# Opera’s password manager is available separately from the preferences.
# You can log in at a site, by going “Forward”, either through navigating forward, or by using the forward mouse gesture. In Firefox you have to actively focus the form element, before you can proceed.
h3. Mouse gestures
Mouse gestures are _native_ to Opera – in Firefox they’re strap-ons; You have to choose between one of seven gesture-related extensions, with different functional levels.
Opera’s gestures have a sensible default setup, suitable for most users – but you can, if you want, make the mouse gestures perform black magic – every aspect of gestures can be customized.
h3. Spatial navigation
So, the mouse is not for you? You can use Opera pretty much by keyboard. Just hold down shift, and use the arrow keys: Opera will navigate from link to link mostly following the visual order – you don’t have to tab your way through a gazillion links to reach those right-hand sidebar links.
!/download/223/notes.png (Opera allows you to attach notes to web pages)!
While I like Opera’s bookmark feature, I really find that Opera’s Notes feature is an even better bookmark feature: Whenever I have a link that I need to revisit later, I can just mark some text on the current page, press Ctrl-Shift-C to add the selected text to a note. From the Notes panel, I can then add any additional comments.
This is pretty much how I also do my sidebar links – the only thing I’m missing from my notes panel, is a big, flashy “Blog this!” button.
h3. What about the ads?
There are those that will complain about the ads in Opera.
If you want to use the free, ad-sponsored flavor of Opera, you can choose between Google AdSense ads, occupying a narrow strip at the top of your browser window. Some people actually find these useful.
If you for some reason don’t like the Google Ads, you can choose a generic selection of graphic ads instead.
If you don’t want ads at all, an Opera licence is just USD $39. Student and volume discounts are granted. Opera also has a “higher education program”:http://www.opera.com/education/
h3. There _is_ more
I could have continued praising Opera’s advantages almost perpetually. But I’m not. Instead, I’m going to suggest that you try it yourself. You might just find that you like it. You might find that you don’t need to download any strap-ons, err, extensions. You might find that Opera *just works* out-of-the-box.
_(Updated) Disclaimer: At the time of writing this piece, I was independent of Opera as a company, but I have since been hired by Opera Software in the “Web Applications”:http://my.opera.com/webapplications/ department. I still believe my arguments for choosing Opera over Firefox holds true for me._