A fast browser with some clever tricks to help on slow connections
Opera might be one of the oldest browsers around but Opera 12 has plenty of new, and useful, features.
Opera is easy to install and should be offered as an upgrade if you are using an old version. Click on Menu, Help and then Check for Updates if it hasn't been offered. Opera 12 is faster to start and load pages and felt faster than 11 in use. The address bar shows more search suggestions and clicking on the star adds the webpage to the Speed Dial page well as bookmarks.
The most obvious change when you install is a new emphasis on themes with a page offering some suggestions when Opera 12 has finished installing. There is a big gallery of themes at https://addons.opera.com/themes. We've used themes before with Opera but they've never looked this good.
Using a webcam with a browser isn't a new thing, but it's relied on extra software such as Adobe Flash to work. Opera 12 comes with native support for webcams and there are several demos to see this in action from simply taking a picture in Photo Booth to a game called FaceKat. FaceKat uses face recognition for control to avoid obstacles in an increasingly faster game.
It remains to be seen how many websites decide to add the code for this technology but it'll be a time saver if they do.
There is the question of privacy when webcams are used by webcams, something we spoke to Opera about when we first saw the technology in action. As the video demonstrates permission has to be given for every website that wishes to use a webcam and it can be set to given permission once if you are new to the site.
The address bar has new icons for showing whether websites are using a secure connection or are trusted. This position also shows if the Opera Turbo tool is being used.
The main view is quite minimalist with none of the toolbars that can take up a lot of screen space. There is a sidebar for accessing bookmarks, email, the download list and other tools. All other options can be found in the Menu at the top-left corner.
The Speed Dial that appears in new tabs is a useful way of keeping up to date with frequently used websites. Opera let you choose exactly how many shortcuts you want in this window. The icons shrink automatically to fit. It is also possible to set a custom background for this page.
Opera introduced the concept of tabs for browsing several websites in the same browser window and Opera 11 introduced an interesting new tool for dealing with large numbers of tabs. Called Tab Stacking it lets you drag and drop one tab on top of another. They are then grouped together into a single tab that can be expanded to reveal the contents. It's a clever idea should make browsing easier.
Another big improvement is mouse gestures. These are browsing shortcuts made by holding down the right hand mouse button and moving the mouse in a particular way. It's handy but it was always a little tricky to remember all of the gesture options available. An onscreen guide now appears when you hold down the right hand mouse button. It updates automatically to show the next step for gestures that are made up of several movements. The only snag is that there is no way to back up through the options.
Opera Turbo is still present and helps browsing when working on a slow internet connection. Using the same technology behind Opera's mobile browsers, Opera Turbo passes all web traffic through Opera's servers where it is compressed for faster transfer. It can be set to an automatic mode that will enable it when Opera detects a slow connection. Opera 11 improves the look of pages when loaded with Opera Turbo.
For those concerned about supporting the latest standards, Opera will display web pages written in HTML5 and CSS3. There is also support for WebRTC, Drag and Drop, CSS3 animations and Do-Not-Track.
If you are creating web pages or sites, Opera has some very powerful developer tools called Dragonfly. Click on the Menu button, Page, Developer Tools and then Dragonfly. As welll as providing lots of information about web pages it lets you edit them in real time so you can see what needs to be changed.
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A browser with lots of tools that make surfing the web easier
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