Is Opera Losing its Innovative Edge?

The newest version of Opera is out, and it’s a handsome enhancement. It ramps up performance, improves stability, increases security, and features quite a few nifty tricks. All in all, it’s a significant update that will please Opera fans. Yet, I can’t help but feel a tinge of dissapointment with Opera 12.


I have been closely following Opera Software for nearly a decade. I still remember installing Opera v7 and falling in love with its speed and intuitiveness. Opera was never particularly popular among the masses, but its strong culture of innovation allowed it to amass an extremely loyal fan base. Opera was the first browser to fully exploit the power of tabbed browsing (it wasn’t, however, the first tabbed browser), it was the first browser to allow full-page zooming, it was the first browser to incorporate session management, it was the first browser to add a dedicated search bar, it was the first browser to integrate a pop-up blocker, it was the first browser to have a private data cleaner, it was the first browser to support mouse gestures, it was the first browser to have speed dials, and so on and so forth.

Almost all major releases of Opera sported one or more innovations that allowed it to stand out from the crowd. Opera 8 featured voice recognition and text-to-speech support. Opera 9 introduced content blocker, widgets, bit torrent downloader, site preferences, and search engine creation wizard. Opera 10 introduced visual tabs and Opera Turbo. Opera 11 introduced tab stacking, and visual mouse gestures. However, when it comes to user facing innovative features, Opera 12 draws a blank.

The biggest new feature in Opera 12 is a lightweight skinning engine that both Firefox and Chrome have had for years. Other features are a mix of cosmetic changes, under the hood stuff that most users will not care about, and features that already exist in other browsers. Opera 12 is all about playing catch-up. Instead of leading from the front, Opera Software is now merely plugging the gaps in its existing offering. Make no mistake, there is no harm in taking inspiration from others. In fact, I was highly appreciative of Opera 11, which introduced extension support, and resolved several of my longstanding complaints. However, when you are the underdog, you need to do more than just equal your competition. You need to give people compelling reasons to ditch the browser they have grown comfortable with and try your product.

The problem with Opera 12 is that it simply doesn’t offer any incentive to folks who didn’t like the earlier versions to come and try out the new version. I have had Opera as my default browser for close to a decade, but earlier this year, I finally switched to Chrome as default. I still miss some of the features in Opera like its excellent built-in Notes, great RSS feed reader, simple IRC client, powerful keyboard shortcuts, and customizable speed dials. However, they are no longer reason enough to stop me from switching to Chrome, which offers powerful web apps like TweetDeck, full profile sync (including extensions), hardware acceleration with WebGL, and web notifications.

Opera 12: Faster, Safer, and Leaner

After dozens of snapshots and months of testing, Opera Software is finally ready with Opera 12 or Wahoo. Opera 12 is a bittersweet release that adds several new features, but also ruthlessly chops several old ones.

Opera 12 - Wahoo

As you might expect, not a whole lot has changed since the beta release, so my hands-on of the beta is still a good place for an in-depth look at the new features in Opera 12. The bits that Opera seems to be particularly excited about are:

New light-weight themes that are both easy to create and use: The new themes differ from the previous full-fledged skins in that they don’t alter appearance of browser elements like buttons and tabs. Much like Personas for Firefox, they simply change the browser background.


Improved security badge: Opera’s address bar security badges have been updated to make them easier to parse for novice users.


Improved Standards Support: Opera 12 adds support for a whole host of new web technologies including 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).

Better Plug-in Handling: Opera now runs plug-ins as separate process. This change should significantly boost Opera’s stability as plug-ins like Flash are responsible for a large chunk of browser crashes. Now, even if the plug-in crashes, Opera will continue to function smoothly since it runs as a separate process.

Hardware Acceleration: Hardware accelerated graphics and WebGL compatibility were supposed to be the major draws of Opera 12. Unfortunately, in spite of pushing back the release of Wahoo, Opera Software hasn’t yet managed to get hardware acceleration working smoothly enough on a wide range of hardware. As a result, this feature is disabled by default, but you can enable it by setting opera:config#UserPrefs|EnableHardwareAcceleration and opera:config#UserPrefs|EnableWebGL to 1.

As mentioned earlier, Opera 12 is not all about new features. It also bids adieu to a host of old features including Opera Unite, Opera Widgets, Speech Recognition, Text to Speech, and Torrent downloader. This kind of chopping of features is unprecedented, and is perhaps an admission that several of the decisions made during the days of Opera 8 to Opera 10 weren’t in its best interests. While I am a bit sad to see some of these features go, most users probably won’t even notice that they are gone.

[ Download Opera 12 ]

More Proof that Facebook Might Buy Opera

Opera-SoftwareLast week, Pocket Lint broke the story that Facebook might be looking to acquire Opera. Initially, I was pretty dismissive of the report. While, the deal did make sense for Facebook, I wasn’t sure it was something that Opera really needed. In fact, Opera’s co-founder and ex-CEO Jon von Tetzchner’s comments echoed as much. “I want Opera to focus on growth and delivering good results; there are big opportunities for Opera,” Tetzchner, who holds 10.9 percent of Opera, told Reuters. “We have been promised 500 million users by 2013, and I think that’s a good goal and the firm should keep going for it.” He added, “I personally think that an ARPU (average revenue per user) goal of $1 is even modest. I am not pushing for a takeover.”

However, Pocket Lint’s initial report has since been backed up by Robin Wauters who is typically well sourced in browser related matters. Not only that, bankers told Reuters that Opera had “long been up for sale informally”. Now, I find this bit of information particularly interesting because of one reason. Tetzchner quit Opera last year. His departing email read, “It has become clear that The Board, Management and I do not share the same values and we do not have the same opinions on how to keep evolving Opera”. My theory is that it is quite possible that Jon’s disagreement with the board was over their plans on pushing for a takeover by a larger entity. Tetzchner always regarded Opera as his baby, and insisted on staying independent and retaining a core set of values that defined Opera Software. It’s hard to think that he would have found proposals of selling out agreeable.

While all of the above is conjecture on my part, there is one bit of information that Vygantas has dug out, which strongly hints that something is up at Opera software. As you might already know, a significant portion of Opera’s revenues come from its search agreement with Google. Opera ships with Google as the default search engine, and in return, Google shares a chunk of revenue it generates from the traffic coming from Opera. Earlier today, Opera Software announced that it is extending its existing agreement with Google for a month. This move is extremely unusual, as typically such renewals are for a year or several years. I don’t remember Opera ever renewing its agreement for such a short period. While it is entirely possible that the renewal is simply a temporary measure to give the two companies some time to thrash out a new deal, it is also possible that Opera expects something big to happen in the next one month. You know, like being acquired by Facebook.

There is still no concrete proof that anything is really going on. But, over the past week, we have seen multiple sources claim that something might be up. In my opinion, the deal does make sense for Facebook. It will allow it to both gain eyeballs in the mobile segment, and also better monetize it. However, I am not convinced that it’s in Opera’s best interests to allow itself to be gobbled up by folks for whom browser is not really a priority. Facebook might increase Opera’s reach, but it might also stagnate Opera’s development, hamper its innovative edge, and tarnish its reputation and trust.

Opera Mini 7 for Basic Phones Introduces Social Hub with Twitter and Facebook Integration

Opera Mini 7 for feature phones, which was first showcased in this year’s Mobile World Congress, is now ready for the general public. The main draw of the new version is something that Opera Software is calling the Smart Page.

Smart Page is the new start page of Opera Mini, which helps you keep tabs on your Facebook and Twitter stream without breaking a sweat. It also provides quick access to your favorite websites, fetches weather info, updates sports scores, and keeps you informed about the latest news.


“I’ve spent hours typing web addresses on my mobile phone, but now there’s a super smart way to get most of your content at a glance,” said Lars Boilesen, CEO, Opera Software. “With Smart Page, you just open the browser, and the content is right beside your Speed Dial shortcuts in the start screen for you to skim through — super practical, super time-saving and super smart. I guess that’s why the product team called it Smart Page.”

Opera Mini is the world’s most popular mobile browser with over 172 million users. It is especially popular in those regions where basic phones still rule the roost, and internet connectivity is slow and expensive. Opera Mini can work on even basic J2ME devices, since it offloads the task of rendering the webpage to its servers, through which all web traffic is routed. Opera Mini receives a compressed static representation of the webpage from its servers, and displays it on the mobile device. This can lead to significant bandwidth savings and increased surfing speed on slower networks.

Opera Mini 7 with Smart Page is available for Java-compatible (J2ME), S60 and Blackberry feature phones.

[ Download Opera Mini 7 ]

Rumor: Facebook Looking to Buy Opera Software

Opera-SoftwareFacebook might be eyeing Norwegian browser maker Opera Software, if a report from Pocket Lint is to be believed. According to its “man in the know”, Facebook might be preparing to step into the browser market, in order to ensure that no matter what you are doing, you are always connected to your Facebook social graph.

If true, it’s going to be another stunning move by Zuckerberg. Opera currently boasts of more than 200 million users, with a very strong presence in the mobile arena. For many in the developing world, Opera Mini is the only means of surfing the internet. It also has strong relationship with leading handset makers and carriers. Facebook can certainly help Opera in expanding its audience, and Opera can embed Facebook into its user’s life. Opera also has a strong presence in the mobile phone and smart TV market that Facebook will find valuable.

That being said, acquiring a company like Opera is different from acquiring a start-up like Instagram. Opera has dozens of offices with hundreds of employees spread across the globe. Developing browsers is complicated stuff, and Opera has had to really fight it out to survive through multiple browser wars. Facebook and Opera have very little in common in terms of their products. In fact, they even have distinctly different cultures and company ethos. From where I am sitting, this certainly doesn’t look like a marriage made in heaven.

A couple of years back, when Opera co-founder Jon von Tetzchner was at the helm, I could have confidently said that Opera would never sell out. With the new management, I can’t be so sure. However, even then, it’s extremely hard to fathom that Opera will allow itself to come under Facebook’s umbrella. What might happen though is that Facebook and Opera might enter into a partnership. We have already seen Opera develop customized browsers for the likes of Nintendo. It might create and maintain a Rockmelt like browser with tight Facebook integration, in return for eyeballs and revenue from the social networking giant. But, in the recent past, Opera has been focussing on a more streamlined approach with less customized solutions.

When asked for a response, Opera declined to comment citing its standard policy of not reacting to market rumors.

Opera 12 Beta Released; Dumps Old Features, Introduces a Boatload of New Ones

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.

[ Download Opera 12 Beta ]

Opera Mini 7 Arrives on Android

Opera Mini 7 for Android is now available for download from the Google Play Store. The feature set is fairly similar to the Opera Mini 7 for J2ME, BlackBerry and Symbian S60 devices, which was previewed in last month’s MWC. Speed dial feature has been bolstered to support unlimited number of speed dials. Find-in-page as well as tab management features have been tweaked to make them more intuitive.

There are also a couple of significant enhancements that are exclusive to the Android version. Opera Mini now supports Android Beam, which uses NFC for data transfer. Rendering performance should also be significantly improved as the latest release supports OpenGLES.


Opera Mini is the slightly less capable sibling of Opera Mobile. It was originally meant for feature phones that lacked the processing power required for a full-fledged mobile browser. However, it has since managed to find an audience among the smartphone users too. Opera Mini doesn’t render webpages locally. Instead it routes all requests through its servers where the page is rendered and compressed. A highly compressed static representation of the page is then sent back to the mobile user. This technology is both Opera Mini’s biggest strength and weakness. The compression enables Opera Mini to achieve massive bandwidth savings (up to 90%), and also improve browsing speed on slower networks. However, it also means that Opera Mini is unable to render some of the more dynamic webpages properly.

You can download Opera Mini 7 for Android from the Android Play Store or Opera’s website.

New Opera 12 Snapshot Introduces Boatload of Changes Including 64 Bit Versions

Opera 12Opera 12, also known as Wahoo, lost several of its features to Tunny (Opera 11.6), which was an interim release meant to give hardware accelerated graphics more time to become fit for primetime. Tunny came out in December with a revamped mail client and several interface tweaks. Standards support was beefed up in a big way with a new HTML5 parser, ECMAScript 5.1 support, and support for CSS3 radial gradients. The latest Opera 12 snapshot continues this focus on standards with a host of goodies for web developers. HTML5 drag and drop – a technology that enables dragging of elements from one page to another or files from the operating system to a web page, makes its first appearance, as does support for CSS animations. CSS transition support has also been improved.

While including of support for the latest and greatest web technologies is always welcome, users often don’t feel their impact immediately as adoption of new standards invariably takes time. The good news is that the new snapshot has a couple of exciting changes whose benefit users should be able to feel immediately. The new snapshot introduces out of process plugins (OOPP) and 64 bit builds, which have been among the most requested features for a long time. OOOP increases stability of the browser by detaching it from plugins. So the next time your flash plugin crashes, it won’t bring down Opera with it. OOPP is also how Opera can manage to support 32 bit plugins in its 64 bit version.

You can goahead and download the snapshot from here. As always, the snapshot will be installed as an Opera Next build, and won’t affect your stable Opera installation.

Opera Mini Next Goes Social

Even though smartphones rule the roost in MWC, Opera Software hasn’t forgotten about its dumb phone users. Opera Mini Next 7, which was unveiled earlier today, introduces many of the conveniences of a smartphone to J2ME powered budget handsets.


Typically, Opera has dedicated its entire new tab page to speed dials, which are visual bookmarks that provide one click access to a user’s favorite websites. However, Opera Mini 7 features something called “Smart Page”. Speed dials are still there; however, they are now tucked away in a separate tab, and like its more abled sibling, Opera Mini now supports an unlimited number of speed dials. The Smart Page itself is an amalgamation of content from various places around the web, including social networks. Check out the video below to get an idea about how Smart Page works.

Opera’s CEO Lars Boilesen explained the rationale behind the new start page in the press release.

“When people think of using social networks on the go, they often imagine a smartphone with the latest apps installed. At Opera, we know that’s not the way a majority of mobile phone owners access their social networks. That’s why we’ve made ‘ordinary’ phones smarter, by making it easier to use the most popular social networks right in the first screen of Opera Mini for feature phones. Just because you’re on a more basic phone, doesn’t mean you can’t be a active social networker.”


Unfortunately, Smart Page is restricted to only J2ME, BlackBerry and Symbian S60 devices for now. Opera Mini for smartphones like iOS and Android also received an update. However, on smartphones the focus was more on improving rendering and performance than adding new features.


The preview release of Opera Mini 7 is available at

Opera Mobile 12 Introduces Hardware Acceleration and Enhanced HTML5 Support

Opera Mobile for Android has been updated to introduce many of the shiny new features of Opera 11.6 and 12 to the mobile platform. The most visible change is the new “Infinite Speed Dial”, which supports bookmaking of as many websites as you want. Previously, you were limited to only 9 speed dials (visual bookmarks) in Opera Mobile. However, the biggest enhancements in Opera Mobile 12 are all under the hood improvements.


Opera Mobile 12 features the Ragnarök HTML5 parser that was introduced in its desktop counterpart a few months back. Opera promises better web apps and increased compatibility with websites with the new parser. Native webcam support and device orientation detection specifications of HTML5 have also been implemented. As a result, Opera Mobile 12 now scores a whopping 354 points on Chrome for Android, which supports only ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich), and Safari for iOS score 343 and 305 points respectively. Head over to to check out the fancy new capabilities of Opera Mobile 12 and compare it with your mobile browser.

Opera Mobile 12 also does WebGL, which even Chrome for Android doesn’t support. WebGL is a graphics library that leverages the GPU (graphics processing unit) of a device to render complex 3D graphics in a web browser. “Opera have contributed significantly to the development of the WebGL specification and now Opera Mobile is playing a leading role in the roll-out of GPU-accelerated WebGL on Android,” said Neil Trevett, Khronos president and vice president of mobile content at NVIDIA.


Opera has always focused on trying to be available on as many platforms and in as many form factors as possible. In that spirit, Opera has also released lab builds of Opera Mobile that are optimized for MIPS and Intel architectures. MIPS is expected to be powering several low-cost Android tablets in the coming months. On the other hand, Intel is desperate to challenge ARM’s dominance in the mobile market, and will have a number of device launches across the budget spectrum in 2012. “Intel looks forward to a bright future with Android on Intel Atom processors,” remarked Doug Fisher, Vice President of the Software and Services Group and General Manager of the Systems Software Division at Intel.

Opera Mobile 12 for Android is available for download from the Market.