According to the latest stats from TheCounter.com, the market for web browsers has not changed much in the past few months. Internet Explorer still rules the roost with 86 percent share. Firefox seems to have leveled off at 10 percent after a slow climb, and the Macintosh platform makes its appearance with Safari registering a 2 percent share. The browser that everyone forgets about, Opera, winds up in fourth place with a single percentage point.
Opera is determined to do something about that statistic. Starting with version 8.5, the company made the formerly paid-for (or ad-supported) browser a completely free download. Now, they have just released version 9 of its venerable browser, after a two-month public beta period. Version 9 contains many new features integrated into the browser, yet still manages to be a fairly light download (6.2MB) and doesn’t seem to use any more memory than other browsers with fewer features.
Opera 9 contains many new features over its predecessor. One nifty addition is an integrated BitTorrent client, which adds torrent downloads to the standard file download transfer window. While it lacks many of the useful features of a full-blown BT client, such as being able to select individual files inside a package to download, or set a throttle on upload speeds, it is so cleanly integrated into the rest of the interface that I wound up using it for almost all my BitTorrent downloads. With more and more sites using torrents to save on bandwidth costs, this feature is a welcome addition.
The other major new feature is the addition of widgets. OS X 10.4 owners would find Opera’s Widgets feature remarkably similar to Dashboard—so similar, in fact, that since the beta the feature appears to have been scaled down somewhat. In the beta, you could hit a single key (or click on a tab at the top of the screen) and the Windows desktop would go dark (although not black) and the widgets would appear on top. In the final release, there appears to be no hotkey to activate widgets, the screen does not go dark when they are activated, and running widgets appear as sub-windows under the main Opera entry on the Windows Task Bar. This seems a less useful implementation of widgets than in the Beta version. However, just as with Dashboard, Opera widgets are easy to create and the community has already developed a whole host of neat tools. I’m already using the dictionary widget and the currency converter at work. Opera widgets will work on all supported platforms, including OS X, but they are not the same as Dashboard widgets. When the user closes the Opera program, all the widgets go with it.
Opera can also claim the title as the first browser to completely pass the Acid2 test for CSS compliance. While passing the Acid2 test is no guarantee that web sites will appear properly in any browser, it shows that Opera is serious about standards compliance. While browsing the web, I did not run across any sites that Opera refused to render properly, although undoubtedly there are some.
Opera 9 with 55 windows loaded. Memory usage is 80MB. Note the custom tab arrangement!
To celebrate the launch of Opera 9, the company is planning a major marketing campaign that is set to kick off with a big event on Thursday in Seattle, WA. Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner is expected to appear, and major technology executives as well as key members of the W3C organization have been invited. The event may combine the announcements of Opera 9 with the company’s alliance with Nintendo. Opera makes most of its money out of the embedded market (mostly mobile phones), but can Opera take a major bite out of the desktop browser market as well? That remains to be seen, but they have made at least one more convert with this reporter.