A day at the Opera, part two

July 13, 2010

I’ve blogged about Opera before, and at the time (version 9.5), I didn’t like it at all. It felt too clunky and too difficult to configure to keep it around, and at the time I switched back to Firefox. I semi-regularly kept trying the new versions, and each time came to the same conclusions.

Now, I have switched browsers in the meantime. Firefox became a bit too slow, too outdated for me, and for a while, there was a GTK issue which meant scrolling Google Reader was very cumbersome and slow. That meant I switched to Chrome on Windows XP (at work), Chromium on Linux.

Now however, there is a new version, 10.60, and it’s just so much better. I already like the layout before, but it’s even better now. Tabs are on top, just like Chrome and the new Firefox Beta (but unlike Firefox, the tabs are also on top in the XP version), and the Menu button means there’s even more space for the actual web page. Firefox, again, borrowed this design for the upcoming 4.0 release, but again, not in the XP version. The default skin/colour scheme is modern and unobtrusive without being boring. It’s all good.

It’s fast too, as fast as Chrome, maybe even faster. The only reference I have is how it feels, and if there’s a difference, it’s not very big. It’s definitely faster than Safari and Firefox on the same machine though (a Thinkpad T42).

The only thing that could improve is the download manager. One, it’s displayed in a separate tab. Nothing wrong with that, but I prefer the Chrome way of displaying the downloads at the bottom, with the possibility of opening a download manager in a new tab, but only if you want to. Secondly, I wanted it to store cbr and cbz files automatically in the downloads folder, which has always worked in any browser I used. Opera however keeps asking what to do with the file, and where to store it. I only need to hit Enter twice each time, so it’s not like it’s much extra work, but it’s annoying nonetheless.  Funnily enough, I don’t seem to have the same problem in the Linux version, which I installed on Ubuntu 10.04 yesterday.

In any case, where I couldn’t recommend Opera before, I really think it’s as good as Chrome and Firefox now. Try it out.

Sander

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A day with Opera

June 12, 2008

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.

Conclusion

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.

Sander


Open Source Applications: Firefox

May 13, 2008

One of the things about using linux that can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, is the fact that most software you’re used to in Windows doesn’t run on it. So no Explorer, Internet Explorer, Winamp, iTunes, MSN Messenger, uTorrent, whatever. Of course you can argue that much of the MS software is bloated and crappy (IE and MSN come to mind), but that’s besides the point. You’re used to them, so switching takes a bit of work. With me it wasn’t any different.

What helped tremendously was the most famous piece of software that runs on both Windows and Linux (and indeed, Apple’s OS X too), which is Firefox. In fact, it was because of Firefox I realised there are alternatives to anything Windows comes up with. I had been using Total Commander and Trillian before (alternatives to Internet Explorer and MSN Messenger respectively), but they’re Windows-exclusive. I haven’t touched either of them in years, but Firefox stayed with me.

I remember it was who first recommended it to me, back when it was still called Phoenix, late 2002. I think it was version 0.3 or 0.4, which makes me one of the earliest adopters. It’s a silly thing to be proud of, and yet I am 😉 Even back them it blew me away with all its features, most of which are now adopted in other browsers. Tabbed browsing eliminated the need to have several browser windows open, which cluttered the taskbar. At this point, I regularly have up to ten or fifteen tabs open, something I could never have managed in Internet Explorer (which was at version 6 at that point, and didn’t have tabbed browsing, or indeed much of anything). Other wow-inducing features included the spell-checker, find-as-you-type, the download manager, and the oh so handy searchbar in the top right of the screen. Even better, if after all this I still felt there was a feature I’d like, I’d just hop over to the Firefox extensions page (called add-ons these days), and install it. My favourites have always been Tab Mix Plus, for even better tabbed browsing, and AdBlock Plus. Seriously, whenever I’m using another computer, I’m baffled how many crap commercials are displayed, to the point that I don’t even recognise some sites anymore.

So is it the perfect browser? Well, it’s close. Besides everything I just mentioned, it’s generally regarded as more secure. It’s debatable of course, but here’s an article that sheds some light on the subject.
There are still some websites that don’t display just right in Firefox, which is mostly because web designers don’t make their sites according to standards, but according to how Internet Explorer renders them. However, Firefox’s market share keeps rising, and now is at almost 18%.
It’s not really light-weight either. Although I always felt it’s snappier than Internet Explorer or, for example, Konqueror, it’s far from the speeds browsers like Epiphany or Kazehakase can achieve (keep in mind I mean the speed of the browser itself, not the time which it takes to load pages). However, with those light-weight browsers I always feel like I lose too much functionality, or my favourite key-shortcuts, or they’re just plain ugly. I always switched back to Firefox.

So if you’re one of the people still reading this (despite the depressing lack of updates, and the even more depressing linux-related topics), go and try Firefox. It’s the best browser out there.

San