Just days after Opera Software released the first version of Opera Mobile powered by the Chromium engine, it has unveiled an early preview of the desktop version. The latest build of Opera Next bumps the version number to 15, and utilizes Chromium 28. This means that Opera for desktop is now built on top of Google’s Blink rendering engine.
As we have come to expect from any major Opera release, there are plenty of changes in the latest version. Of course, the biggest change is the adoption of the new layout engine. Opera hopes that the website compatibility problems that have plagued it since its inception will go away with the adoption of Blink, which is a fork of WebKit. Thanks to the popularity of mobile devices as well as Chrome for desktop, WebKit is currently the most popular engine in the market. The new engine also helps in other ways. Opera has never been slow; however, Opera 15 feels fast. Really, really fast. In fact, it feels a lot faster than the stable release of Chrome, which is still at v27.
Other new features include an improved speed dial that adds support for folders, and a new discover page that features a customizable stream of news from your selected region. Somewhat controversially, Opera has dropped support for traditional bookmarks. Also new to this version is a ‘Stash’ functionality, which is essentially Opera’s take on ‘Read It Later’ (now Pocket). You can add any website to your Stash by clicking on the heart icon in the address bar, and come back to that page whenever you feel like. Opera has also received a fresh coat of paint. The new skin feels more native, and is brought to life by some well thought out animations. Opera Turbo has been rechristened to ‘Off Road Mode’.
Unfortunately, the new engine and the fresh coat of paint come at a cost. Opera 15 isn’t just the old Opera with a new engine under the hood. It feels like an entirely different browser. Old users of Opera are going to be frustrated out of their wits by Opera 15. A lot of things that made me fall in love with Opera in the first place are no longer there. Opera Software has decided to separate the mail client from the browser. M2 is now an independent app which supports POP3 and IMAP mail accounts, Newsgroups, and RSS feeds. Unfortunately, it appears that IRC wasn’t deemed useful enough to be retained. One of my favorite features in Opera was its RSS client. Unlike other browsers, Opera offered a feed reader that was competent enough for most users, with the added advantage of tight integration with the browser. I loved not having to remember to separately launch my feed reader to read stories. I loved being able to instantly subscribe to any website that I was browsing. All that is no longer possible in Opera. To make matters worse, bifurcating the two functionalities didn’t really make Opera any smaller. Opera 15 is a 22 MB download, while Opera Mail is another 12 MB download. Opera 12 used to include both and still weigh only 13 MB.
In addition to splitting the mail component, Opera has also tossed out a number of beloved features. Here are some of the stuff that I noticed in the short time I tried using the new version:
– The famous sidebar has been eliminated. So you no longer have access to Notes or any of the other panels.
– All of advanced tab features have been chopped off. This includes visual tabs, pinned tabs, and even tab stacking.
– Private browsing is still present; however, you can only create private windows, and not private tabs like before.
– Per-site preferences, which allowed you to tweak how Opera behaved on each website has been tossed out.
– The new download manager is prettier, but doesn’t even allow you to copy the URL of a downloaded file. Also, you no longer get to specify where you want to save each file.
– Simple mouse gestures are still present; however, visual guide has been tossed out. I also couldn’t find a way to configure my gestures.
– Opera no longer has a true MDI (multi-document interface). Pop-ups now open in new windows, and the ability to resize browser tabs is also gone.
– Content blocker been canned.
– Trash can, which stored previously closed tabs and windows, is missing. Ctrl+Z hotkey also doesn’t work.
– Opera resumes sessions, but doesn’t have any of the powerful session management options it previously had.
– You can no longer save webpages in the MHTML format.
– The interface is completely uncustomizable. Forget about using vertical tabs or adding a status bar, you can’t even add new buttons or move stuff around.
– Couldn’t find any option to use userjs.
– Ability to create and modify search providers is missing.
– Opera Link is missing; however, this will almost surely make a comeback.
– Magic Wand, Opera’s password manager is no longer around. However, I would be surprised if it isn’t added back at some point of time.
That’s a pretty lengthy list, and I haven’t even used the browser for half a day. As it stands now, Opera 15 is a Chrome skin. It lacks pretty much everything that made it stand out from the crowd. I know that hate is a pretty strong word, and I detest using that word on something that lots of people have worked really hard to create. But, it’s the word that gets closest to describing my feelings about Opera 15. The good news is that this is only a preview build, and there is a possibility that we might get back some of the features by the time it’s ready for public consumption. However, seeing how extensive the list of missing features is, I’m not holding my breath.
You can download Opera 15 from www.opera.com/next. This release only has Windows and Mac builds, since Unix builds still need a bit of work. During my testing I didn’t experience any stability or performance issues. However, do keep in mind that this is a preview build.