Opera is planning to turn to its users as it attempts to determine which features should be prioritized for the next major release of its flagship product.
Although the popularity of Opera is difficult to gauge (due to the fact that many Opera users customize the agent string), the Norwegian-made web browser has not been able to achieve the popularity or momentum that Firefox enjoys on the desktop. In an attempt to boost stagnant market share, the company decided to make the desktop version available for free, as the embedded versions of Opera available for mobile phones, PDAs, and other portable devices generate a majority of the company’s revenue. Opera recently gained a potent new ally when Nintendo decided to integrate the browser into its next-generation gaming console, the Wii, and create an Opera cartridge for the Nintendo DS portable system.
While I am primarily a Firefox user, I regularly install new Opera releases and I spend a considerable amount of time with the browser. I have considered switching full time in the past, particularly during those revelatory moments of suffering when I open up my system monitor utility and realize that Firefox has managed to consume 700 or 800 MB of memory. Now that Opera is easily accessible in Ubuntu (the Linux distribution of choice here in the Strategic Penguin Command Center of the Ars Orbiting HQ), the big switch is really starting to look appealing. When I learned about Opera’s interest in user input, I asked myself this question: what features would it take for Opera 10 to crush my will to resist?
With integrated support for IRC, RSS, e-mail, BitTorrent, desktop gadgets, and enough features to make half of the applications on my desktop redundant, the Opera web browser is practically one lisp interpreter short of being the next Emacs. With all of that, what is it still missing? I think Opera needs better tools for web developers. For script analysis and debugging, I rely on the popular Venkman and Firebug extensions for Firefox. Until I can do graphical, breakpoint debugging in Opera, I wont be able to use it for serious web development. I frequently use the Beagle search tool to find pages I have visited based on their text content. This features depends on the Beagle Indexer extension for Firefox. I would like to see Opera 10 include an optional indexing system that will enable users to find pages in their history by searching the content of the pages rather than just the title. Ideally, the browser could also make it possible for external services like Google Desktop, Beagle, and Spotlight to leverage this index.
As long as we are talking about the future of Opera, let’s take the opportunity to gaze further into the future. The XBL 2.0 working draft was published last month, and now is the time for Opera to get involved and start participating in the draft refinement process. I for one would love to eventually see XUL and XBL fully implemented in the Opera web browser. I have been working frequently with XULRunner, and I am convinced that XUL technology has lot of potential for portable application development in the future. The biggest problems with XULRunner are the hefty size of the runtime environment and its excessive resource consumption. What if the folks at Opera leveraged their expertise and made a commercial XUL runtime that is compact, portable, and resource efficient enough to facilitate deployment of XUL applications on an enormous variety of mobile devices? I know I would certainly pay for a developer license.
What features would you like to see in Opera 10?