I'm writing this review partially because I lost my most recent game of Mozilla Roulette, which is what I call the act of downloading and installing the latest Mozilla. I was fine and stable with 0.9.8, but "upgraded" to one of the 1.0 release candidates only to be rewarded (if that's the right word) with frequent crashes. I had Opera 6 (beta) already as part of my Mandrake 8.2 install, so instead of messing with Mozilla this week, I decided to upgrade to the final version of Opera 6.0 for Linux to see how far Opera had progressed since I last tried it.
As is rather well-known by now, Opera is a tiny download compared to Mozilla or Netscape, coming in at around 3 MB for the RPM. This is not a totally fair comparison, because full versions of Netscape/Mozilla -- let's call this pair Netzilla for short -- include an email program and a bunch of other stuff Opera doesn't have, but Opera is still tiny compared to most other browsers. As for the lack of email, I have Kmail, right? So to the Opera we go, using your basic Mandrake/KDE "click on the file in the home directory" moron-style two-second install.
I don't know about you, but I hate programs that crash. I work on the Internet all day long. Browser crashes irritate me immensely, because they cost me work time. I work more than enough hours without having bad code take even more minutes away from me when, as they say, I'd rather be sailing, which I truly would, especially on a day like today, with lovely blue skies and a perfect breeze here on the Florida Gulf Coast.
Opera 6 has not crashed on me yet. Not once. I'm sure it will sooner or later, because all browsers seem to crash eventually; Microsoft IE 5.x, for example, seems to be barf regularly on the current Dilbertized Google, according to friends who haven't yet distanced themselves from The Redmond Monopolist. Netscape 4.x, the first graphical Linux browser I used, was so bad that I first fell in love with Mandrake because of it. Mandrake was nice enough to put a handy "kill" button right on your desktop. I used that button many times every day on Netscape 4.x because of its frequent freeze-ups.
I haven't had to use that kill button on Opera so far. I haven't had to restart Opera so far. Opera is being very, very good to me. (I am patting Opera on its cute little head and hoping this behavior keeps up. Nice Opera!)
Opera is fast
Speed has been Opera's big boast from the start. It's not an empty boast. Opera displays pages faster than any other graphical browser I have ever used, period. If you are always in a hurry, Opera is the perfect browser for you. MSIE and Netzilla simply aren't in the same league. Galeon and Konq don't compete. Opera zooms past them all, and it's as fast on ftp downloads as a dedicated ftp program, too. This is good.
What you pay for Opera
Yes, pay. You either watch ads in the upper right hand corner of your screen -- blinking ads, no less -- even though Opera gives you the ability to turn off virtually every kind of ad in the browser window itself, or you pay $39 (US) to become ad-free. I used my journalistic superpowers to get a free registration key from Opera, but I was still faced with another kind of payment: Time.
Opera is wonderful and fast and all that, but if you are used to Netzilla or The Monopolist's browser, you are going to spend at least a few hours getting used to Opera, installing plugins, and figuring out how to import your Netzilla bookmark files, assuming you can. I finally gave up on the bookmark import and put my important ones in by hand. I still don't have all the plugins going that I'm used to, but I see instructions in the well-organized "help" file, and more on Opera's Web site, so I'm sure I'll be able to figure out plugins when I get some time. Perhaps that's where some of the time I save from Opera's ultra-fast rendering will go. We'll see.
Another place Opera can suck up the hours is hinted at in this statement on the Opera Web site: "Opera is a highly user-friendly browser, allowing for customization of almost microscopic detail." That's very nice. Actually, a lot of the customization is kind of fun. Heck, you could spend days playing with cool Opera configurations and personalizations, and enjoy every minute of the exploration. Just trying out skins (there are lots of them available) could blow a morning or two.
I haven't even tried to explore all Opera features. That could take weeks.
Let's put it this way: If a site's HTML is in order, Opera will display it just fine. If a site has whacky HTML or badly-done cascading style sheets, Opera might make a horrible botch out of it. You can set Opera to fool browser detection schemes into thinking it's something else as a way to get around dumb stuff like this page, brought to you by the Manatee Chamber Of Commerce in Manatee County, Florida. But Opera still won't display a lot of this group's Web pages correctly, because they are some of the worst examples of bad Front Page extension use in the world (which causes me a certain amount of personal embarrassment, because Manatee County is where I live).
But assuming you don't want to do business in Manatee County, you will probably be more than satisfied with Opera's page rendering. MSNBC displays very nicely in Opera, even without an identity spoof. Ditto Microsoft.com.
Is Opera worth the money?
I'm going to waffle. I don't like Opera quite as much as I like Netzilla (or should I call it MozScape?) when it's not crashing. That's probably my own fuddy-duddyness as much as anything; once I get used to a piece of software it's a little hard to get me to switch to something else. This is a very human trait, and is probably at least 80% of the reason people who know a move from Windows to Linux would free them of virus problems forever and save them beaucoup licensing bucks still don't make the switch.
If my first browser experience had been Opera, and I later tried MSIE and MozScape and was told I had a choice between paying $39 for Opera and getting one of the other browsers for free, I'd almost certainly pay the money for Opera, and if I didn't have $39 to spend, I'd no doubt use Opera for free and put up with the blinkie ads.
Naturally, Free Software purists are going to steer clear of Opera, because it is openly and unabashedly proprietary software.
As for the rest of us, it comes down to a matter of taste. Opera is more than "good enough" for everyday use, and has a lot of neat features. I'll probably keep using it, at least some of the time. Perhaps it will eventually grow on me to the point where it becomes my primary browser, even if the next version of Mozilla I try is as stable as Opera 6 has proved to be so far.