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.