Opera has released the first beta of its next-generation browser, code-named Wahoo. Opera 12 beta 1 for Windows, Mac, and Linux, contains many improvements that modernize the browser. It also abandons several quirky features that die-hard fans are likely to miss.
Much of the browser simply brings it in line with its competition, but there is one stand-out new feature. Formerly known as Opera Reader, it takes a few lines of CSS code to allow you to lay out a Web page like a book. It also allows for page resizing without losing the formatting. Opera has decided to open its Reader to public scrutiny, renaming it CSS3 Generated Content for Paged Media, in hopes that it will gain a wider following.
Another code change in Opera 12 is support for the HTML5 API getUserMedia. This allows sites to interact directly with hardware components, such as your Web cam.
Opera 12 is the first hardware accelerated version of the browser, which means that it's able to leverage your computer's graphics processor to load sites and images faster. Opera's support is possibly unique in that its opt-in, although that could mean that it's opt-in at the current stage of development.
Other new features in Opera also raise it to the level of the current competition. Opera 12 will have separate processes for plug-ins such as Adobe Flash or Apple QuickTime, since plug-ins are an ongoing source of browser instability. Support for the Do Not Track header is included, as is support for 64-bit Windows and Mac.
Themes finally have arrived in Opera, too, and there are already a fair number available in the Opera's add-ons gallery.
Opera has also ended support for Unite, Widgets, and Voice. The company had touted Unite as 'reinventing the Web' when it launched. While it failed to achieve that hyperbolic goal, it did give people who wanted Web storage and site hosting integrated with the browser an attractive option.
Widgets were similar to Windows desktop widgets, except that they interacted directly with the browser when programmed that way. People who currently use Widgets and Unite will be able to do so for the near future, although Opera said in a blog post announcing the decision to remove them that the features would be fully removed before the end of 2012. The company has provided a dedicated forum for people who want to learn more or ask questions about Widget and Unite.
Opera Voice provided built-in text-to-speech and speech recognition. The company said that it's removing Voice because its database is no longer being maintained. It's not clear yet whether Opera plans to supplant Voice with the complimentary HTML5 APIs.