WASHINGTON -- The continued survival of the Opera Web browser is a bit of a mystery. Not only does it compete with a program, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, that is both pre-installed on most computers and free to download otherwise, this program also requires that you either pay up (a $39 registration fee) or put up with ads embedded in its interface.
Yet Opera (www.opera.com) has drawn a group of users who exhibit the sort of passionate loyalty not usually seen outside of Mac user groups.
Part of the reason may be that Opera was, for a long time, one of the only stable alternatives to IE. Part is likely due to its developers' inventive pursuit of new, more flexible browsing options. And part must be this program's speed and small size; it can be comfortably downloaded over dial-up.
Recently, Oslo-based Opera Software released version 7.5 of the browser -- now more of an Internet suite, since it also includes e-mail, address book, newsgroup, Internet Relay Chat and newsfeed-reader components -- for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, FreeBSD and Solaris.
Unlike three or four years ago, however, Opera's competition isn't just IE and a sickly, aging version of Netscape. The open-source Mozilla browser (www.mozilla.org), although bulkier and slower, offers many of the same features as Opera and costs nothing. Apple's Safari and a still-in-development Mozilla offshoot called Firefox are free as well, just as quick on their feet and dramatically simpler.
To its credit, Opera 7.5 offers much to like: The developers have put serious thought into the ways people browse the Web these days, and it shows in a set of features that are absent from other browsers or available only through separate add-ons.
For example, Opera's toolbar includes not just the canonical back and forward icons, but also rewind and fast-forward buttons. The rewind command works like Safari's snap-back function, returning you to the home page of a Web site you've waded deep into -- or to whatever page linked you to the current site -- while the fast-forward command whisks you to the next likely page, if Opera can deduce what that might be.
Like most non-IE browsers, Opera 7.5 supports tabbed browsing, in which multiple Web pages are displayed inside a single window. But it can also be set to keep all new pages inside that one frame, even if they're formatted to open in new windows. In addition, Opera lets you drag tabs left and right to rearrange their order. (This convenience, however, is undercut by the confusing way tabs narrow or widen based on each page's title.)
Opera enters saved site passwords with a click of a wand icon.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.