After several dozen snapshots and months of testing, Opera Software has finally released Opera 12 Beta. Opera 12, which also goes by the codename Wahoo, was initially planned for late 2011, but was then postponed to allow the hardware acceleration feature to mature.
Opera Software is finally ready for the concluding sprint towards a stable release of Wahoo. The hardware acceleration and WebGL support is now stable enough to yield significant benefits on most configurations. Unfortunately, it still has some quirks, and is known to cause a performance hit on some systems. As a result, Wahoo’s most promising feature is disabled out of the box, and needs to be enabled by the user. If you wish to take hardware acceleration and WebGL for a spin just set opera:config#UserPrefs|EnableHardwareAcceleration and opera:config#UserPrefs|EnableWebGL to 1.
Recently, Opera was crowned the fastest browser by Tom’s hardware. Opera 12 introduces even more refinements to build on Opera’s existing lead. Opera is promising speed improvements by optimizing the network SSL code and using smarter tab loading to accelerate start-up and shut-down times. With Wahoo, Opera is also introducing 64 bit builds that are compiled to take advantage of the current generation processors.
In the past, Opera has made it clear that it is reluctant to follow Chrome’s process-per-tab model, even though Opera was the first to come up with the idea. With Wahoo, Opera Software has decided to at least offload plugins from the main process. In the newest builds, third-party plugins will run as independent processes. The expectation is that this would allow Opera to continue working, even if a plugin crashes. This should significantly improve stability, since a third of the crashes are caused by plugins like Flash. This very feature also makes it easy for Opera to run as a 64 bit application, and still support 32 bit plugins.
Other new features in Opera 12 include:
- Lightweight themes, similar to Chrome themes and Firefox Personas.
- Support for right to left scripts (Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Hebrew) in the main interface.
- Support for “Do Not Track” header.
- Redesigned security badges for the address bar.
- Improved standards support including lots of HTML5 and CSS3 goodies like WebRTC (native camera access), HTML5 drag and drop, CSS3 animations and transitions, and CSS generated paged media (new proposed standard from Opera for paginated content suitable for consumption in devices of multiple form factors).
Opera 12 also sees the departure of a few significant features. The first casualty is the IBM powered speech recognition and text to speech functionality (Windows only), which was introduced way back in Opera 7.6. The second feature to depart is Opera Widgets, which was introduced in Opera 9, and has since been made mostly redundant by extensions. And finally, Opera Unite, which was announced with much fanfare, is also being shuttered. Opera Unite is the feature I am personally the saddest to lose. It has perhaps been made redundant by the multitude of digital file lockers and media streaming services. However, it was something truly neat and also handy. It’s a pity that Opera did never figure out how to take Unite to the next level. The failure of Unite reminds of Google Wave, which also generated a lot of hype, but crashed as everyone struggled to figure out compelling use cases for the technology.