I hate Opera. I really do. And I hate it even more because, unlike Internet Explorer, or Konqueror, I want to like it. When I install the Windows or KDE browser, I spend two minutes with it, go “YUERGH” and flee back to Firefox as fast as I can. With Opera, I want to make it work, and I just can’t. It’s maddening: I know there’s a very good piece of software there, and it seems like the developers want to make it absolutely impossible for me to enjoy it. I tried a few times to make Opera my default browser, and every time I spend hours tweaking and configuring things, and even longer hours searching the web how things should be configured or tweaked. And then I just give up.
Today was no different. Opera 9.5 is out, and I thought, “what the heck. Let’s do this again. Maybe today will be different.” It wasn’t. Opera is still the Darth Vader in browserworld: there’s much good in it. I can feel it. But it’s maddeningly frustrating trying to get it out, and I could get killed while doing it. Well, maybe not killed, but it sure feels like it some times.
Look and feel
Opera 9.5 definitely looks better than all its previous versions. There’s a slick, professional looking new theme, and I like it a lot. I checked out a couple of other skins, but none of them looked as good as the default one. Changing skins was very easy, by the way. Thumbs up.
The layout, however, is a mess. An Opera user once explained to me why it’s a good idea to separate the tabs from the actual window. I think the reasoning is that, that way, every window has it’s own Back, Forward, Reload and so on buttons. Well, I didn’t buy it then and I still don’t. To me, there should be the illusion that the tabs are actually attached to the windows. Otherwise, switching tabs isn’t really switching tabs at all, it’s like clicking taskbar buttons to get the right window, and I had enough of that in my IE6 days.
The way around this is to open the main toolbar, which isn’t actually activated by default, drag everything from the address bar to the main bar, and then delete the address bar. Clunky.
Furthermore, I like my bookmarks on the left side of the browser. For me, that’s the easiest way to go through them all. Opera can do this, but it also opens a “panel chooser”, where you can choose what you want to see in the sidepanel: bookmarks, email contacts, etc. It’s still there if you just have your bookmarks on that panel. That should be on auto-hide by default.
Think I’m nitpicking? Maybe I am, but the whole panel/bar/everything layout in opera is confusing. Getting rid of the “New Tab” button (a huge, horrible monstrosity stolen from IE7) means treating it like a bar: rightclick > Customize > find “Placement” in a preferences window and switch it to “Off”. After that, I had no idea how to put it back.
Those or just two examples, but I spent quite some time struggling with panels and bars and other things, and quite often they ended up everywhere except where I wanted them.
Fonts also weren’t as nice as in Firefox, and the Preferences window for changing them was confusing, with 23 (twenty-three!) categories to change the font of. Browserbar. Browsermenu. Browserpanel. Browsertooltips. The list goes on. The result? I wasn’t able to change the fonts in the displayed web pages, and I felt pretty stupid about that. (Edit: Hold on, I just found it. It’s in the Webpage tab, instead of the Advanced one.)
Configuration: applications in applications
I already hinted at it, but configuring this beast was a perplexing activity. You can configure Opera until your face looks blue, but the main Preferences window only has five tabs (and as I found out, font config seems to be in two of those). Most of the configuration is in the Advanced tab. It’s decent enough for normal browsing, but Opera is also a mail-client and a bittorrent client. Where can you edit the preferences for that? Not in any normal place, that’s for sure. For example, when you add an email-account, “E-mail” appears in the menu, but the preferences aren’t there. But if you open the e-mail panel and right-click your address, there they are. If there’s any other way to reach them, I haven’t found it.
That mail client is called M2 by the way, and it’s marvelous. Setting up an email account is very easy, it’s fast, it has a nice, simple layout, and it stores all the attachments in neat, organized folders. In short, it beats Thunderbird hands down. But it’s not a standalone mail client…it’s stuck in a browser that wants to be everything. I won’t keep Opera around just for its mail client.
The bittorrent client? Brilliant idea. But here I can’t even find a preferences window, not unless I download a torrent first. Then, it’ll ask me for the portnumber, and where to save it. I accidentally put the wrong portnumber the first time, and then couldn’t change it anymore. Not unless I messed around in about:config…or started another torrent.
Opera is even an irc-client, one that works just fine. I used it to ask a question in the opera channel (which was promptly answered). It works just fine…
But all this means that, eventually, you have a dozen tabs open: some websites, one to manage your bookmarks, your email, your downloads (including torrents), and a some chat windows. And several toolbars. And a sidepanel, which can be your bookmarks, contacts, email directories, or widgets, and I haven’t even looked into those. It’s pure chaos.
There’s so much to like in Opera. It has a nice, default skin. It’s fast. I love the idea of expanding the download manager to handle torrents. The mail client is top notch. But the scattered, and often unintuitive preferences, together with the scattered and chaotic layout just buries the good in a landslide of confusion.
To illustrate how frustrated I was: originally I meant to use Opera for a week. After two hours, I uninstalled it. Then, I re-installed it, and tried again. And as I type this, I’m uninstalling it again, and I’m returning to Firefox for web browsing, Thunderbird for e-mail, Transmission for downloading torrents and irssi for irc. It feels like returning to trusted friends and family: familiar, reliable…maybe just a little bit boring. But that seductive temptress, with the sexy shiny interface and the attractive features…she doesn’t seem to like me at all.