Opera 12 Alpha Introduces Hardware Acceleration and HTML5 Engine

Earlier this week, Opera Software released the first alpha of Opera 12. The first preview build of Opera 12 Рcodenamed Wahoo, was released in July. However, the Norwegian browser maker had been saving the goodies for October. As expected, and earlier predicted by me, Wahoo introduces support for hardware acceleration and WebGL. It also includes the Ragnar̦k HTML5 engine that Opera had been working on for a year.

Opera-12-Alpha

Opera is a late entrant as far as hardware acceleration and WebGL support are concerned. However, it laid the groundwork for hardware acceleration through its Vega graphics backend as far back as 2009. Vega enables Opera to use hardware acceleration for everything from displaying fonts and CSS animations to the user interface itself. Hardware acceleration on Opera should work on all modern hardware running Windows XP or newer, Mac, and Linux. Opera maintains a blacklist of old and buggy drivers that are known to cause trouble. In case, hardware acceleration doesn’t work, Opera will switch to the highly optimised Vega software acceleration mode. Open opera:gpu in Opera 12 to find out if it is using hardware acceleration. If the Vega backend is specified as software, then try updating your graphics drivers. Opera 12 also supports WebGL, which is based on a stripped down version of OpenGL. WebGL enables browsers to run graphics intensive 3D games and animations that redefine what browsers can do.

Like hardware acceleration, Ragnarök is also something that Opera had been working on for a long time. The biggest advantage of switching to a HTML5 parser is compatibility. “The HTML5 specification defines a set of parsing rules for all markup, whether valid or invalid,” explained Bruce Lawson in an earlier blogpost. “Once all browsers have HTML5 parsers, the same markup will produce the same DOM across all conforming browsers”.

Traditionally, Opera’s alpha builds introduce engine improvements, while the beta introduces the more user facing features. Wahoo maintains this tradition by updating Presto (Opera’s rendering engine) to 2.9.220 and adding support for CSS3 radial gradients, in addition to the features detailed above. There are only a couple of user-oriented new features. A new lightweight skinning system that is pretty much identical to Firefox Personas is now the preferred skinning technique for Opera, and the bookmark star found in Firefox and Chrome has found its way into Opera. Besides this, the interface has been tweaked slightly to make the Featherweight skin appear more native to the OS you are using.

You can download Opera 12 alpha from opera.com/next. As you might expect, the alpha build has some bugs, including a particularly annoying one that makes it incompatible with Aero Snap on Windows. However, since all preview builds belong to the Opera Next stream, installing Wahoo won’t overwrite your stable Opera installation.

Opera Gets Hardware Acceleration, Finally!

As todays browsers gear up to become the app platform of tomorrow, performance is more important than ever. We have already seen browser-makers fighting it out over JavaScript rendering performance. Whether it is Chrome with Crankshaft enabled V8, or Opera with Carakan, or Safari with Nitro, browsers of today are light-years ahead of browsers from even a couple of years back. The next big step for browsers is hardware acceleration. Chrome 9 already supports it through flags, Firefox will support it with v4, and Internet Explorer will do the same with v9. Now, Opera Software is also gearing up to join the club.

Opera Software has just released a Labs build with full hardware acceleration support. This has been in the cards for a long time. Opera had released an experimental build with 3D canvas as far back as in 2007. In 2008, it had published a video demonstrating Opera with hardware acceleration. Then in 2010, it released Opera 10.5, which featured a highly optimized Vega graphics render. We had mentioned in our original coverage that the new optimized software renderer meant that Opera Software was preparing to add hardware acceleration. Opera Software stated as much in its Up North Web event. Unfortunately, they could not get hardware acceleration ready in time for Opera 11.

Opera’s hardware acceleration feature is superior to what is present in Firefox and Internet Explorer. Opera Software’s Tim Johansson explained:

Like IE9 and Firefox 4, we do full hardware acceleration of all draw operations – but unlike those browsers, who only offer this acceleration on Windows Vista and Windows 7, our implementation will run on any OS with sufficient hardware support. This means we can have full hardware acceleration on Windows XP, Linux, Mac OS X and OpenGL ES 2 capable devices such as recent smart-phones and web-enabled TVs.

Opera-Hardware-Acceleration

Currently only OpenGL backend is supported; however, Direct3D support is planned for future builds. If you wish to try out Opera with hardware acceleration, head over to the Core Concerns blog. To confirm that hardware acceleration is indeed working, open “opera:about” page. If it mentions Vega backend as OpenGL, you are good to go. Otherwise, you will have to download the latest drivers for your graphics adapter. However, keep in mind that this is a lab release, and might be even more unstable than standard snapshot releases. Opera has stated that they don’t plan on including hardware acceleration in 11.10, and given their track record, I don’t expect to see this feature graduating from labs to regular builds within the next couple of months.

Opera Mobile For Android Coming Within A Month

In an official blog post, Opera has confirmed that they are working on Opera Mobile for Android. Opera Mobile will bring with it pinch-to-zoom support and hardware acceleration. Hardware acceleration will allow Opera Mobile to run at lightning speed and make panning and zooming smoother by making optimum use of the GPU power.

Opera_Mobile_Android

Opera has promised to deliver the first public beta of Opera Mobile within the next month’ and it will be available via Android Market or m.opera.com. The Norwegian browser company will also be releasing an updated version of Opera Mini for the iPhone with hardware acceleration and pinch to zoom support.

With Mozilla also working hard on Firefox for Android, the Android browser competition is sure going to heat up.