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Opera 8.5

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on November 18, 2005
(Issue 2346, The Music Man – And His Computer)

While everyone has been oohing and aahing over Netscape's new browser – and trading gossip on Microsoft's next-generation Internet Explorer now in beta – Opera quietly made a significant move in the browser market in September when they dropped their inline advertising business model.

With the new Opera 8.5 browser, you no longer have to either buy an upgrade or else tolerate advertising in your browser window fed by Opera. Now, like Netscape, Mozilla, IE and Apple's Safari, Opera is a completely free download.

As with the the Netscape, IE and Apple browsers, Opera's new business model seems to be portal driven – the default home page in Opera is their portal.

Except that, and this odd, there don't seem to be an advertisements on the Opera portal, either. They're offering free blog space, free online photo album storage, and a forums area. Clicking around in there didn't bring up any ads, either.

So, in fact, for the time being, Opera's model for revenue generation is a bit of a mystery.

Feature rich

However they're paying for it, the new Opera browser is sweet. Opera was the first browser to offer tabbed browsing – something every browser but IE now offers (and IE 7, now in beta testing, reportedly includes tabbed browsing). It's just as ingrained in the new Opera as ever.

The skins – a series of new icons and buttons to change the look of your browser (or any software application that supports skins – are easier to download and install than anywhere else. Simply to go your Opera browser, then click Tools>Appearance. You can browse skins on Opera's servers there - including user uploads. Downloading and installing is as easy as clicking on Download under any skin entry – and there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of skins to browse through. (One weakness: No way to search through skins – they're simply organized as newest, most popular and editor's picks. The WinAmp music player lets you sort by theme (i.e., bands, operating systems, anime, etc. That would be handy here, too.)

Like Mozilla and Netscape, Opera now has a password manager – making it easy to enter passwords on sites you visit a lot, like blogs, webmail or forums that require a login.

One feature not found elsewhere - at least not that I've seen – is a magnification tool under View. You can zoom in to 200 percent, or all the way out to 50 percent. Pretty handy for seeing details of photos, or blowing up text on sites whose stylesheets is giving you small print. You can also overrule any site's stylesheet in favor of your own – something most of the other browsers also offer, but Opera's implementation is much more intuitive and easy to use.

In terms of customization, Opera gives you far more control over which menus and buttons to display than any other browser.

Opera 8.5 seems as stable as previous versions, which have all been rock-solid. There have been fewer security holes found in Opera than in other browsers.

Privacy and security remain priorities with Opera. Under Tools is an entry marked Delete Private Data. Clicking this button gives you the option of either wiping all your recent browser activity, or clicking Advanced to select which activities (passwords, cookies, etc.) you want to wipe.

Oh, and the download – including the Java Runtime Environment – is small; under 4 Mb for the Windows version, which includes a mail and news reader as well.

Now that it is completely free, with no advertising, there's really no excuse for not at least checking it out.

More about the portal

As mentioned, Opera has beefed up their portal at There are now groups – or forums, much like Yahoo and MSN grous; blogs, and photo albums. There is even now an Opera Web mail – although at just 3Mb of storage, you wonder how much use it will get given that HotMail, Netscape, Yahoo and others start at about 250Mb, and Google's Gmail tops them all at over a gigabyte of e-mail storage.

Still, you may find what you're looking for in terms of other people at Opera that you just didn't find elsewhere. It's another option, and that can hardly be a bad thing.