I won’t deny that I have a soft spot for Opera (the browser, not the art form). We go way back—to the days when tabbed browsing was a novelty offered up only by them. Compared to the behemoths, Opera of that time was greased lightning, loading pages significantly faster. And when they came up with another wonderful innovation called ‘Delete Private Data’, I was certain that we’d grow old together.
Sadly, things have changed. There’s no denying that Opera is still a very good browser, but their USPs have been usurped by the competition. The split-second difference in the loading speeds no longer makes any difference to most users, and for all their perfect ACID test scores, when it comes down to interface and ease of use, Opera—I regret to say—is somewhat lagging behind.
Safari and Chrome’s streamlined selves are far less unwieldy than Opera, while Firefox’s extensions support—and therefore customisability—is unmatched. The Speed Dial, which I was massively in love with at some point, is now offered in different flavours by the others; the visual tabs don’t really add to functionality besides eating up screen real estate; bookmarks syncing is available now almost across the board; and the inability to start the browser in private mode is the one reason I once abandoned Safari.
Though Opera has started to built its own extensions marketplace, it still has a long way to go. The add-ons I swear by—mainly to block ads and scripts—don’t work very well in Opera, and I’ve found its content-blocking feature wanting as well. But the biggest disappointment has been tabbed browsing: it seems like stability takes a massive blow if you have loads of tabs open. How ironical that the browser that pioneered tabbed browsing now falters in the same department.
Some part of me wants to back this once-tiny Norwegian company that makes this once-path-breaking browser, a company with neither the backing of a massive open source community nor a massive multinational corporation. My office computer—an iMac running Mac OSX Snow Leopard—has Opera as its default browser. The add-ons used are just Opera AdBlock and Ghostery; Opera Link is turned off. Yet, I find a significant lag in response the moment the number of tabs goes up to more than about half a dozen. Add a few more and the browser becomes more or less unusable.
Anyway, it is with a heavy heart that I’ve decided to abandon Opera for the desktop for the moment. I still use Opera Mini on my Android phone, and am grateful for the pre-processing of pages to limit my data expenditure. But on the desktop, I’m sorry to say, Firefox has been my browser of choice for a while, and Opera at the moment just doesn’t provide enough of an incentive to switch.
Almost a decade ago, I had had the opportunity to meet Jon von Tetzchner, the founder and once-CEO of Opera Software, and I was disarmed at his willingness to talk about the problems with the browser at that point. In June 2011, von Tetzchner, who was then a strategic adviser to Opera, left the company citing differences with the board and management on ‘on how to keep evolving Opera’. Would things have been different if he had stayed?