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My browser: Opera

Sven Krumrey

Sometimes, you develop an almost personal relationship with a program. You know its quirks, follow its development over the years and appreciate the little features that make it unique. When the downfall of Netscape was on the horizon, I sorrowfully began looking for a new browser - and found an alternative that was just a little different: quirky but fast, customizable, and with various features other browsers only slowly adopted a few versions later. And despite all temptations and marketing buzz from rivals with more marketing power, Opera still remains my browser of choice to this day.

A matter of taste: the opera logo

Nowadays, Opera bears little resemblance to the original project that was more focused on specialists. Originally, Opera was fully customizable with freely configurable menus and sidebars. It also came with pop-up and ad blockers along with a powerful built-in email application. In 2014, developers shifted from the then outdated Presto web engine to Blink (developed by Google). Initial fears that Opera would slowly turn into another Chrome clone proved unsubstantiated, though, as the browser retained its individual character.

Out of the box, Opera includes many features other browsers manage through separate extensions and addons - like a decent ad blocker that also provides protection against crypto mining attacks or a special power saving mode for tablets that manages to squeeze a few extra minutes out of my battery. But my favorite feature sits at the top right, next to minimize / maximize. It's a button with two horizontal lines that lists all open and recently closed tabs. If you have a tendency to click too soon, like me, here's where you'll find help. I'd gladly buy the programmer a drink for that.

Opera also features a built-in VPN client that'll help you mask your IP address to protect your privacy or access content not meant for your region, like some videos. It's a great addition. To use it, simply switch to private mode and enable VPN via the button to the left of the address bar. Here's a tip: VPN works great for standard web browsing but you may occasionally experience lagging issues with bandwidth-intensive content like full HD videos.

More privacy with VPN More privacy with VPN

Apart from speed, a decent browser must also satisfy common security needs and work without issues. Sure, there are some systems no browser can provide a smooth experience on but Opera has been running flawlessly on my eight devices (including Android phones) for ages. A few years ago, I would encounter the occasional visual glitch on some pages but that issue has long been solved - with the exception of the site I use to order my theater tickets, I still have to use Edge for that. I have no idea what kind of witchcraft they're into, maybe they just don't like Opera (or vice versa). That being said, it didn't come as a surprise to me when a popular German PC magazine ranked Opera #1 in the security category - after all, they looked at the default feature set without addons and that's where Opera shines with the built-in VPN support, ad blocker and Chromium back-end.

I particularly like the left sidebar that either shows up only for empty tabs or stays permanently visible. It bundles messengers (Facebook, WhatsApp and others), bookmarks, a basic screenshot function and personalized news, if you so choose. It also provides quick access to extensions and your browsing history. The comfort of being able to type WhatsApp messages on something other than my phone is something I can never go without again. Yes, I know other browsers also have these features - but rarely are they implemented and arranged this neatly as 1-click elements.

What I can't stand are programs that hog up all the memory they can get. That's one of the reasons I don't use Chrome (objectively a good browser even if you dislike Google) despite all its advantages. Opera was designed to work well with low-end machines running on very little RAM that are still quite common in many developing countries. That doesn't mean Opera uses no more than 100 MB of RAM though, that's a technological impossibility with today's web sites. But the browser runs reasonably fast on my aging test machines and barely causes any slowdowns while, every now and then, Chrome tends to bring everything to a standstill once a large number of tabs are open.

Opera in its full glory

It is now again time to reveal one of my freakish quirks to you: brace yourselves, I use mouse gestures! Once enabled in the settings, Opera fully supports this navigation mode that can speed up things so tremendously (with a little practice). Whether I need to reload a page, open a link in a new tab or go back to the previous page, all it takes is a quick flick of the mouse while holding down the right button. It's so much faster than having to use the navigation buttons, address bar or context menus. If you have a steady hand and can tolerate a few misses, feel free to give mouse gestures a try!

Time to talk about extensions! Since Opera is based on the Chromium engine, it is, in theory, already highly compatible with a boatload of extensions / plugins. Therefore, if you can't find an extension in Opera's own repository, you may install their "Install Chrome Extensions" plugin and use the "Add to Opera" button in Chrome's web store. I have to admit I've only done this once or twice since the majority of my extensions are available directly at Opera's site. And if you don't trust Flash or JavaScript, you can select to enable them automatically, on a case by case basis after a user prompt or never.

Do you like to have a video, e.g. from YouTube, playing while you're browsing the web? I do, especially when I'm only interested in specific portions - and that's what the pop out feature is for. All you have to do is click the top-center part of the video element and it'll pop out into a separate window and always stay in the foreground, no matter what you do. These are the small details I love about Opera! Another boon is the ability to create your own keyboard shortcuts for quicker feature access. With Opera, being a nerd is twice as much fun!

By know you'll have noticed I really like the thing. But as always on this blog, no article is complete without your opinion! That's why I'd love for you report to your experiences with Opera here. Do you even use Opera? If so, how has the performance been so far? What could be improved?

Are you curious and willing to give Opera a shot now? You will find the latest Opera version here!

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