Opera moves its latest browser build out of alpha development and into beta and claims that Opera 10.50 beta is the fastest browser currently available. It's not clear at the moment whether it's faster than Google Chrome's development builds, or merely as fast as, but there's no doubt that this new beta should draw a lot of attention for its performance.
Opera's new interface has been optimized for Windows 7 or Vista. The tabs are now on top, the menu bar has been minimized behind a drop-down on the left nav, and the integration with Windows 7 is robust. Jump lists have Opera Speed Dial support and can start a private browsing tab, while the taskbar gets Aero Peek tab preview windows. These have been so well integrated at this point that the fact that Chrome doesn't have all of them and that Firefox doesn't have them turned on by default at this point stands out.
Several features that weren't in the pre-alpha have now shown up in the beta. One of these is a smart recycle bin icon near the minimize and close window buttons in the upper right of the program window. Click it and you get a list of closed tabs, and a list of blocked pop-ups. The CTRL+Tab hot key look has changed, too. Instead of displaying all the open tabs, pressing the combo will open a preview of the tab on the right, with the Web site's meta-tag name on the left.
Other changes include introducing the same style of predictive smart searching in the address bar that Firefox and Chrome have, keeping track of search history in both the address bar and the search bar, and deleting specific items from those histories. Opera 10.50 also includes improvements to the Presto layout engine, a new graphics library called Vega, and support for HTML 5 and CSS 3.
Throughout several hours of use on a Windows 7 computer, the beta didn't crash, nor display any obvious signs of bugginess. In general, Opera 10.50 beta is surprisingly stable and innovative. Mac and Linux users will have to console themselves with the Opera 10.50 pre-alpha for now, although Opera says an update is imminent.