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Tech Talk Opera Hits Right Notes As Browser

September 3, 2008

By STEVEN ROSENBERG

After years of thinking that the Firefox Web browser provided the best possible Internet experience, a strong contender has emerged on my desktop computers over the past month.

No, it’s not Internet Explorer.

I’m talking about the Opera Web browser, a free program that runs on Windows, Macintosh, Linux and a few even-more-obscure platforms, including FreeBSD and Solaris.

Made by a Norwegian company named Opera Software, the Web browser offers many advantages over Firefox and Internet Explorer. (Download a free copy at www.opera.com.)

First of all, it’s extremely fast. If you have a computer that’s even a few years old, browsing the Web with Opera can measurably improve your experience.

Navigating between pages is quicker, as is accessing favorites. And in my tests, pages with complex graphics built much quicker.

When I installed Opera in Windows, my Firefox “favorites” (some call them “bookmarks”) were automatically loaded. And with the option of displaying those favorites either alphabetically, by most- visited site, or in any order I choose, Opera gives me much-needed flexibility to manage what has become an ungainly list of more than 900 Web sites.

If you’ve ever tried to “manage” favorites in Internet Explorer, Opera is a breath of organizational fresh air.

The company behind the Opera browser emphasizes that it is as standards-compliant as possible, meaning it is designed to render Web pages with clean code in the best possible way. That can be a problem when Web programmers use nonstandard features to make their sites look a certain way in Internet Explorer or Firefox.

But for 95 percent of the pages I visit, Opera does an excellent – - and as I said, very quick — job. It’s the speed that keeps me using it.

I’m running the Linux version of Opera on one of my laptops, a 233- megahertz Compaq that has only 144 megabytes of RAM. The laptop was made in 1999 and currently runs the Unix-like OpenBSD operating system.

On this nearly 10-year-old computer, the Opera browser performs so well that I have stopped using Firefox on it.

If your current browser on your current hardware is in any way slow, you need to give Opera a try.

As a kind of bonus, Opera has a built-in e-mail program. Usually when I need a standalone e-mail program, I run Mozilla’s free Thunderbird.

For comparison’s sake, I set up Opera to access one of my many e- mail accounts. Preliminary tests show Opera’s mail component to be very capable and quick. And you can keep your e-mail in a browser window and easily switch to it between looking at other Web pages.

We spend so much of our time in Web browsers. Finding the best one for you and your computer is vital. I won’t be forsaking Firefox entirely on most of my computers, but after years of not trying Opera, I’m very glad that I finally gave it a try.

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