Thoughts On Opera 9

With the Opera web-browser free since version 8.5 and now updated to version 9, it’s about time I took a second look at it. The last time I used Opera, the only alternative was Internet Explorer.

Opera has a lot of things going for it. It has pretty much the same features as competing browsers, it’s fast (faster than IE and Firefox), and the web rendering engine seems fair enough (meaning much better than that of IE).

On the downside, Opera suffers from feature creep and has done so since I can remember. Most of these extra features (notes, widgets, style-manager, mouse gestures) would have worked great as extensions – what Firefox is doing – but they’re bundled and enabled by default.

Another mistake is that the standard Opera installation uses a custom skin by default. Skinning applications is a huge usability mistake since users will have to learn a new interface. This move is especially saddening since the optional standard UI support is actually very good.

The bottom line is that Opera 9 appeals a lot to me, mostly due to the speed with which it launches and browses. It might not be enough for me to switch, but it is closer than ever. Unfortunately, Opera 9 will fail commercially until the developers realise that the default configuration should be unskinned, simple and easy.

18 thoughts on “Thoughts On Opera 9”

  1. gareth says:

    Skinning applications is a huge usability mistake since users will have to learn a new interface

    Do you really believe this? its not like a whole new set of rules have to be learnt.. people can cope with a different set of colours or a different font. Few complain about iTunes if fact the UI is often celebrated.

  2. Joen says:

    gareth said:

    Do you really believe this? its not like a whole new set of rules have to be learnt.. people can cope with a different set of colours or a different font.

    Yes, I honestly do believe this. To quote Jakob Nielsen:

    Consistency is one of the most powerful usability principles: when things always behave the same, users don’t have to worry about what will happen. Instead, they know what will happen based on earlier experience. Every time you release an apple over Sir Isaac Newton, it will drop on his head. That’s good.

    The more users’ expectations prove right, the more they will feel in control of the system and the more they will like it. And the more the system breaks users’ expectations, the more they will feel insecure. Oops, maybe if I let go of this apple, it will turn into a tomato and jump a mile into the sky.

    Let’s not forget, Opera is not Winamp, it’s not a widgets launch pad, and it’s not a video player. Opera is a web-browser designed to compete against IE and Firefox.

    Few complain about iTunes if fact the UI is offten celebrated.

    I don’t think that’s entirely true. I’m pretty sure, for instance, that John Gruber isn’t too happy about custom Apple skins, brushed metal, pro skins, etc.

    In the case of yours truly, my feelings are the same. Skinning (as defined by the process of applying a different look than the standard OS look), is a mistake, no matter if it’s iTunes, iMovie, Quicktime, NVIDIA Control Center, Microsoft Office, the list goes on. I don’t mind that Windows itself can change fur (although I don’t use it), since it’ll be an active decision made by the end user.

  3. mo says:

    You know Joen when I hand coded my front page it worked on IE and Firefox, but not Opera.. it took me two days just to make it visible and I still have no complete solution; for me Opera means more tricks for coders to learn, and well some speed advantage for users. I totally don’t like Opera lol, not because I can’t code it, but because in my short use of it, I even noticed it has some CSS problems with WordPress themes, that look completely good in other browsers, I don’t know why Opera should be special. It even handles alignment differently or tr and td..

    I gave up 🙂

    I eagerly look forward to a day when browsers decide on a universal code handling method, well at least where the basics are concerned.

  4. Nik says:

    Interesting you should post about Opera9. We’ve just had a similar conversation at work. Whilst we’re all impressed by the improvements and additional functionality.. it does all seem so right, yet none of us run it as our default browser. It ticks a whole bunch of the boxes as far as what we want from a browser, yet at the end of the day, we all go back to our Safari’s, Firefox’s etc..

    Weird!

  5. Joen says:

    Nik said:

    It ticks a whole bunch of the boxes as far as what we want from a browser, yet at the end of the day, we all go back to our Safari?s, Firefox?s etc..

    Weird!

    Interesting indeed!

    Could it be a branding issue? I.e. do people buy in to the more extensive branding of Firefox / Safari? The cooler names, icons?

  6. Tina says:

    It’s just like that with me too Nik! Lately Firefox has been bugging me so much, yet I don’t use Opera even though it’s installed on my computer. I think it has to do with not being willing to change. I’m going to try and use Opera a couple of weeks and see if I can get used to it.

    When it comes to the critisism in the blog, I feel that those points are just minor details. I don’t think people mind all those features as long as they’re not forced to use them. Whether the default skin is custom or not would never be the deciding factor for me if I decided not to use a browser.

  7. Nik says:

    I have to say I think it’s much more widely accepted as the browser of choice for mobile devices though.. and if, as we’re all being led to believe, the internet will soon be a ‘mobile internet’ and will only be accessed from portable devices, then I guess they’re onto a good thing in the long run!

  8. Joen says:

    Nik said:

    I have to say I think it?s much more widely accepted as the browser of choice for mobile devices though.. and if, as we?re all being led to believe, the internet will soon be a ?mobile internet? and will only be accessed from portable devices, then I guess they?re onto a good thing in the long run!

    That, and it’ll be the default Nintendo Wii and DS browser.

  9. Gareth says:

    thank you for your in-depth response Joen..

    I totally agree that consistency is one of the most powerful usability principles, this is a rule I live by. I do not believe however, that we should be constricted by this, to pull a quote from one of my UI books:

    Although consistency is a valuable commodity, effective interface design does not require strict adherence to tight constraints – Iuppa, 2002, p.68

    Interactions and metaphors need to maintain total consistency but I think the aesthetic does not, in fact I honestly feel a change of skin can aid usability. I find it interesting that noscope breaks a basic rule of consistency by removing the conventional submit button on your search form.

  10. Joen says:

    Gareth said:

    Interactions and metaphors need to maintain total consistency but I think the aesthetic does not, in fact I honestly feel a change of skin can aid usability.

    In the end, it does of course, always come down to actual execution, I’ll give you that. I even agree that a change of skin can potentially aid usability. Take “Front Row”, for instance, it is skinned in a way that says “lean back and use the remote”.

    Even so, and to the point, Opera is a web-browser. I have no problem with the fact that Opera CAN be skinned, my problem is with the fact that it is skinned by default.

    The standard Opera skin doesn’t, in my opinion, add anything to Opera at all. It’s just… different from the OS skin. This removes the purpose of having a skin.

    Furthermore, it’s not part of a “collection” which it skin-wise can belong to, so it just looks like another app that has a unique skin. One such collection could be iTunes, Safari, and all the other metal apps on OSX. They “share” skin, giving them a sense of belonging. As does Microsoft Office applications. I’m not saying this is a good idea, I’m just saying it makes more sense to skin several apps in the same way, than it does to skin a single app.

    I find it interesting that noscope breaks a basic rule of consistency by removing the conventional submit button on your search form.

    It does indeed break that rule, and I hope this demonstrates that I’m not afraid of “change”. This was a decorative decision, and adds, I think, visually to the design. As I wrote regarding the redesign:

    […] and removed the search button in favor of simply pressing ?Enter?. The latter was purely decorative, as the usable thing would be to leave the button there. Yeah well if I don?t want to follow Jakob Nielsen?s recommendations based on statistical analysis, I don?t have to, so there.

    In other words, if you want to break a rule, it’s okay, just know the consequence.

    The consequence for removing the search button on Noscope is likely that less people will search. Fine, I can accept that.

    The consequence for Opera might be that their browser will be third choice after IE7 and Firefox. At least in my opinion, one of Firefox’ strengths over Netscape was that it wasn’t skinned.

  11. Nik says:

    So, I thought I’d give Opera_9 a go and see how I got on, initially I really started to like it, but then the most annoying part, and the reason I’ve gone back to Safari, is….

    The tabs toolbar is above the navigation toolbar… with the ‘Start new Tab’ button, right where my back button usually is… how many times have I started a blank tab when I wanted to go back a page? Too many times to stick with Opera_9!

    I’ve tried the prefs, and you can move toolbars top/bottom, but not it seems move them up or down within their current position.

    Oh, Joen.. how about a ‘Add Comment’ link at the bottom of the post? It’s a whole lotta scrolling to get to this comment box on posts like this! 🙂

  12. Joen says:

    Nik said:

    The tabs toolbar is above the navigation toolbar… with the ?Start new Tab? button, right where my back button usually is… how many times have I started a blank tab when I wanted to go back a page? Too many times to stick with Opera_9!

    I?ve tried the prefs, and you can move toolbars top/bottom, but not it seems move them up or down within their current position.

    I have actually thought a lot about the tab metaphor, and I have an upcoming post where I give a suggestion as to how I think a good tabbed browsing toolbar layout would be. In this, I actually also have the tabs above the address bar / browsing buttons, as those things are subsets of each tab.

    But I agree, it should be possible to move around the toolbars, and I actually tried doing this myself.

    Oh, Joen.. how about a ?Add Comment? link at the bottom of the post? It?s a whole lotta scrolling to get to this comment box on posts like this! 🙂

    Will do.

  13. Chichikov says:

    I guess I’m in the minority but I’ve been using Opera for years and love it. I agree that it does come with a lot of stuff “turned on” that I don’t really use (notes, for example), but I think it beats IE and Firefox hands down. One thing everyone overlooks are the mouse gestures. You even mentioned it as a negative! I feel crippled in a browser where and can’t move my mouse left to go back a page, or diagonal to close a tab. Who moves their mouse all the way to the toolbar to go back a page – complete waste of time.

    I’ve tried to use Firefox, but I just spent my time installing and uninstalling plugins, a majority of which were not worth installing. I like Opera because everything works and works well. Sure it takes a little while to configure to my taste, but its years ahead of any other browser.

    By the way, for all you mouse gesture lovers out there, check out StrokeIt. It’s an awesome application that brings mouse gestures to every application!

  14. Joen says:

    I guess I?m in the minority but I?ve been using Opera for years and love it. I agree that it does come with a lot of stuff ?turned on? that I don?t really use (notes, for example), but I think it beats IE and Firefox hands down. One thing everyone overlooks are the mouse gestures. You even mentioned it as a negative! I feel crippled in a browser where and can?t move my mouse left to go back a page, or diagonal to close a tab. Who moves their mouse all the way to the toolbar to go back a page – complete waste of time.

    Technically, you’re in the minority. But not necessarily anymore. I’ve been warming to Opera more and more.

    As for the mouse gestures as a negative, I was merely annoyed because they conflicted with my StrokeIt. I’m no longer sure it’s a bad idea they’re disabled by default.

    I am compiling a list of “recommendations” for Opera in order to achieve marketshare. I did study communication, graphic design, usability and interface design, so I have some ideas I’d like to throw out in the open.

  15. ACook says:

    Sometimes I’m a bit miffed by the complains about the features in opera compared to firefox. When they don’t interfere with your browsing experience, and don’t result in a bigger install or memory usage than FF or IE, aren’t you just searching for things to complain about?

    Personally I see no reason for widgets in opera. my desktop is cluttered enough without them. So I don’t use them. Torrents? don’t use internet, doesn’t bother me. Notes? didn’t use them, but grown to love’m. M2 ? don’t even notice it’s there… It’s not like the old netscape suite where it was always present and doubled the install size.

    Re skins, FF’s looks different from IE, does that make it bad? Not sure what the problem here is?

    Do you perhaps mean the default icon set, which I consistently have to adjust to the way they used to have it up til about v7.5 or so?

    Navigation buttons not on the adresbar but in the main bar, and instead of the nav buttons page specific view mode buttons (fit to width, print preview, images, user stylesheets)

  16. Joen says:

    Re skins, FF?s looks different from IE, does that make it bad?

    Not necessarily. But I’m not talking an icon set here. I’m talking all the chrome, the title bar, the color and shape of the menus, the whole deal. Firefox mimics the standard Windows look. Opera can look like Windows, but by default it doesn’t.

    I haven’t said anything about Opera’s icon set, and I don’t think the icons are bad enough that I want to complain about them.

  17. sks says:

    I think the reason Opera isn’t more widely used is easy — THE DAMN SKINS.

    Not because they’re hard to learn, but because it’s impossible to easily make the visual and use changes so easy to make in Firefox. For example, making the active tab a certain color, or in bold, or putting buttons mostly where you want them.

    If you don’t find a skin that does what you want, you have to learn how to make one! Firefox may be slower, but even going through lists of extensions or asking for a tweak code is so much easier than trying to get around Opera.

    I think in Opera 9 I couldn’t even assign downloads to different files — had to pick one download file.

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