Earlier this week, Opera Software released the first alpha of Opera 12. The first preview build of Opera 12 – codenamed 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 RagnarÃ¶k HTML5 engine that Opera had been working on for a year.
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, RagnarÃ¶k 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.