This latest stable version of the browser, launched in January, does not yet have graphics hardware acceleration, but many web sites are not yet optimised to take advantage of graphics hardware acceleration so the lack of this feature is not a significant disadvantage yet.
Opera is available for systems running Mac OS X, Linux and the FreeBSD Unix OS, and is one of the most, if not the most, popular mobile phone browsers.
Browser market share
Opera is fifth in terms of browser market share, with 2.3 per cent of the market for desktop and laptop systems, according to NetMarketShare figures. Statistics from StatCounter and W3Counter put Opera’s share at 2.0 per cent.
Internet Explorer is the most popular browser, with Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari browsers the next most popular.
We downloaded the 7MB install package and installed on our Labs Dell Optiplex 980 and Optiplex GX280 systems and our two Core 2 Duo Labs laptops.
Install is the quickest of the top five browsers thanks to a new custom installer that replaces the old Windows installer system, getting the browser up and running in less than two minutes.
Opera has improved the management of browser tabs in version 11. It now offers tab stacking, which lets users drag one tab onto another to create a group of tabs. The tab that you drag and drop becomes the primary tab. When you click on the primary tab the secondary tabs appear as small preview tabs [see picture].
But if you bookmark the primary tab, Opera does not bookmark the secondary tabs in the group.
You can save the tabs that are open when you quit the browser and they will reappear when you open Opera again, using the software’s existing sessions feature.
Address bar clean-up
Opera's address bar has also been cleaned up, and now truncates massive URLs to give the primary domain, without the extra characters you normally see.
Next to each web URL in the address bar is a security badge, which displays security status of the currently accessed web site. The status varies from a tick with a green background denoting a site with a clean security record, to a triangle with a red background with 'fraud' or 'malware' warning text [see picture].
To simplify and speed up searching, Opera has integrated Google search predictions into its own search function.
Virtual mouse gesturing
Opera has also improved its virtual mouse gesturing. Holding the right mouse button down and moving the mouse brings up a new user interface showing what basic mouse gestures are possible [see picture].
For example, holding the CTRL button down and rolling the mouse wheel mouse gesturing enables users to zoom into and out of web pages, holding down the right mouse button and moving the mouse left takes users to the previous page, while moving right with the right mouse button held down moves users to the next page.
Extensions and plug-ins
This allows developers to implement small browser-specific applications users can choose to deploy to add browser functionality, without adding to the overall browser footprint.
Users can browse to the web extension 'store' and select which ones they wish to install into Opera.
As for plug-ins, Opera can now prompt users whether they want to load specific plug-ins. For example, Adobe Flash videos don't run until the user OKs Opera to load the specific plug-in to run Flash videos.
The order was the same under all three versions of Windows with Google Chrome 9 coming out on top, Opera 11 close behind, Safari 5 next, then Firefox 3.6 and finally Internet Explorer 8.
Opera, Chrome and Firefox browsers support Linux and Mac OS X systems, with Opera also supporting the FreeBSD Unix operating system. Safari runs under Mac OS X, but otherwise only supports Windows.
To check out browser performance under these operating systems we installed Fedora 14, and Ubuntu 10.10 on one of our Core 2 Duo laptops and ran SunSpider 0.9.1.
We also installed all the Mac OS X-supporting browsers on our Labs Mac Mini test system, and checked their performance.
Google's Chrome browser was again the fastest on all three operating systems: Ubuntu 10.10, Fedora 14, and Mac OS X 10.6.6. Opera 11.01 was next, performing only 10-14 per cent slower than Chrome. Firefox 3.6.13 was the slowest, being between 3.5 and five times slower than Chrome.
On Mac OS X, Apple's Safari (the default browser on all Mac systems) equalled Opera's performance.
Graphics hardware acceleration
A future battleground for browsers will undoubtedly be graphics hardware acceleration, a feature implemented through the HTML5 standard.
Although sites requiring such acceleration are currently few, as more browsers acquire this feature so the number of rich media content sites requiring graphics hardware acceleration will increase significantly.
NOTE: As we went to press Opera released the first development version of its browser with graphics hardware acceleration, but Opera 11 does not have this feature.
Instead the Norwegian firm has chosen a different approach, and uses a software vector graphics library called Vega to render complex graphics Since the graphics rendering uses this software approach, we did detect an increase in system memory use when running the Fish Tank benchmark below.
Microsoft’s Fish Tank benchmark
This is a benchmark designed to see how hardware acceleration performs when rendering graphics, in this case sprite .PNG fish graphics. The number of fish rendered can be varied up to a maximum of 1,000 [see picture].
In our tests, we set the number of fish at 250 and looked at the maximum frames per second (fps) rates achievable by the browsers. Internet Explorer 8 does not support the HTML5 'canvas' element needed for graphics hardware acceleration.
So the more fish rendered at high frame rates, the better the implementation of graphics hardware acceleration. In our tests Safari was the worst performer, struggling to render 20 fish, while Google Chrome 9 gave an average frame rate of 32fps, and Opera and Firefox averaged 27fps and 12fps respectively (Window size was 1200 x 600 with 250 fish) [see picture].
A highly usable browser, chock-full of features. Opera has yet to add graphics hardware acceleration, but it is currently under development. Opera’s graphics acceleration through its Vega engine should hold the fort until the next iteration of the browser.