Since trying out Opera 9, I’ve been slowly warming towards the browser. It’s really fast, it does most of what I need, and it does it all pretty well. There are some quirks and ifs here and there, but generally it’s rock-solid competition for Firefox.
It’s really fast, it does most of what I need, and it does it all pretty well.
This got me thinking. Why didn’t I even consider running Opera before? Why is the Opera browser share as low as 1.5%, when the browser is, in fact, more decent than that?
In this entry I’d like to touch upon some design issues, usability issues, interface design decisions and naming issues I personally think could use touch-ups or changes.
1. The Logo
Which one would you rather have sitting in your tray / in your dock / on your desktop / in your start menu? Which icon looks the most like the icon of a web-browser?
In both these questions I’d prioritize like this: 1. Firefox, 2. IE, 3. Opera. Firefox has a globe, which communicates “world-wide”. IE’s “e” communicates “electronic”, and when it animates (while loading), the e transforms into a globe. The Opera “O” is simply the first letter of the name. I would suggest that Opera gets a new and more apt logo and apparently I’m not the only one to suggest this.
2. The Name
|Mozilla Firefox||Windows Internet Explorer||Opera|
Which name do you prefer? Which name is most likely to be a web-browser for the unknowing reader?
Neither of these names are really good, but at least IE’s full name communicates “internet exploration”. As such, both Firefox and Opera could learn from this. My suggestion: tweak the name ever so slightly. How about: *Opera Internet Browser”, or plainly “Opera Browser”. Solely communicating singing to orchestral music won’t help.
3. The Default Configuration
Note: I have removed a few toolbars and buttons from Operas default configuration.
Which of the above three default configurations appeal the most to you? Which of them looks most like a browser?
In my case, I really like the Opera configuration, but simply due to the fact that it’s skinned with a whitish/bluish look by default, I’m picking Firefox in both questions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the ability to skin an application is not bad per se, but enabling a non-OS-looking skin by default is a huge usability mistake. Not only will it stand out like a sore thumb, but unless it’s built by Microsoft or Apple, it’ll probably be the only application on your system standing out like this. Additionally, since it looks different than the other two browsers, chances are casual users will think it behaves differently too. My sincere recommendation for Opera (seriously, please heed this) is to have the Windows Native skin be enabled by default. I believe this issue will become especially visible when Windows Vista comes out.
4. Streamline Menus And Menu Items
As a quick example of the difference between the three browsers, here is a list of the three “Tools” menus:
|Web Search||Delete Browsing History…||Mail and chat accounts…|
|Read Mail||Pop-up Blocker »||Delete private data…|
|New Message…||Phishing Filter »||Notes|
|Downloads||Manage Add-ons »||Transfers|
|Page Info||Full Screen||Advanced »|
|Clear Private Data||Menu Bar||Quick preferences »|
Note: Shortcut text removed.
Legend: Tools, Privacy, Options, » indicates sub-menu.
Which menu is generally the most easy to decipher? If you wanted to change the default startup page, which menu, do you think, would get you to the right place with the least amount of thinking?
My opinion? This is where Firefox shines. IE is number 2, and Opera is a distant 3rd.
Specifically, why are there both “Quick preferences” and “Preferences”? Is the preferences page so badly designed (yes it is) that it’s not quick enough as it is? Why are downloads called “Transfers” when “Downloads” would be my logical choice (and hence what I would scan for in the list)? By simply combining some items and renaming others, the contents of the “Advanced” foldout-menu could easily be part of the main list. Finally, sub-menus should be avoided whenever possible. It’s always a cop-out to simplify menus by creating more menus. Sub-menus are especially bad because they require precision pointing.
It shouldn’t require an interface designer to point out the obvious shortcomings of Opera. The work is essentially spelled out for them. What it takes, however, is commitment.
It shouldn’t require an interface designer to point out the obvious shortcomings of Opera.
Since Opera “lost” Browser War 2 to Firefox and joined Browser War 3 with a free browser, Opera lost a stream of revenue. Opera now mainly makes it’s profit on ports for devices, including hand-helds, cellphones and the Nintendos Wii & DS. In other words, there’s no clear dangling profit-carrot in front of Opera for Windows. There is only one carrot: the brand-recognition-carrot. Should Opera become a player in the Windows browser market, it would automatically help the brand elsewhere.
Considering the fact that it’s a solid product, giving it a cheap 10-years-younger makeover to possibly give it some traction seems like an easy-peasy job. Hello Opera? Earth calling. We wish you were here.