While not yet a household name like Internet Explorer or Firefox, the beta 1 release of the Opera 9 browser is even more innovative than our current Editors' Choice browser Firefox 1.5
. It puts Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 for XP SP2 beta
to shame by being much more secure. Since November 2005, the current version, Opera 8.5, has been free to download
Upon installation, Opera 9 beta 1 offers to import your current favorites from Netscape, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and previous versions of Opera. You can also import your current Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds and mail from previous versions of Opera. The basic interface differs little from that of other Internet browsers, although we miss the Favorites side panel in IE and the new Places side panel in Firefox 2 Alpha 1
; instead, Opera uses a drop-down menu to display your bookmarks and opens a new tab to display your history. And while Firefox offers many extensions to customize its look and feel, Opera offers only a few skins, keyboard shortcuts, and panels
(preset RSS feeds).
New in Opera 9 beta 1 are several unique features, such as built-in desktop widgets and BitTorrent media support, along with several features that current Firefox 1.5 and Internet Explorer 7 for XP SP2 beta will recognize, such as tabbed browsing, thumbnail previews, and a built-in pop-up blocker. Also see our slide show
for a closer look at some of these features.
Opera 9 beta 1 embraces AJAX technology by offering tiny applets with specific functionality, such as a currency converter. There's even a widget that displays the latest Slashdot posting on your browser screen. See all of the available widgets here
Opera 9 beta 1 is the first mainstream browser to support automatic streaming of BitTorrent media, a technology that uses distributed file networks to speed the download of large video files. For example, using our work desktop connected to a high-speed network, we were able to download a half-hour television show in about three minutes.
Customize your default search engine:
Like Firefox and Internet Explorer 7 for XP SP2 beta, Opera 9 beta 1 now allows you to choose your default favorite search engine. Sessions:
This feature in Opera 9 beta 1 will save, then reopen sets of frequently used tabs whenever you relaunch Opera. We like this time-saving feature.
Thumbnail preview images:
Opera joins Firefox in allowing you to mouse over any tab to see a thumbnail of the current content, but so far we think the images are too small, with more than half of the preview window displaying the URL of the site. Improved pop-up blocker:
Like Firefox and the current version of Internet Explorer, Opera has always had the ability to stop pop-ups, but, of course, advertisers have become more creative. This new pop-up blocker keeps almost all the distracting, flashing, and noisy messages from interfering with your enjoyment of the Web. Site-specific controls:
Say you trust the security on one page but not that of another. Now you can toggle your security settings to match specific pages within Opera 9 beta 1. This functionality is similar to the security zones of Internet Explorer--but it's much easier to use.
Based on what we've seen thus far, the final version of Opera 9 should win over some converts fleeing Internet Explorer, but it probably won't match the overall momentum of users adopting Firefox as their default browser.
Be sure to read our full review of Opera 9 once the final version launches later this year.