Opera 10 (for Windows, Mac, and Linux) is less than a week old, and the browser has already caused quite a stir among fans (just check out the comments). It has also inspired many a comparison with the more-often downloaded (and extension-rich) Firefox, and with the upstart browser Google Chrome which, despite its newness, has managed to unseat Opera as the fourth most popular browser.
That leaves you asking how Google's young Chrome browser, just a mewling infant in its lifetime, has already ousted a browser that's been publicly available since 1996. Is Opera really that bad?
Not at all. In fact, Opera pioneered some of the industry's features, including the Speed Dial feature that has since been adopted and adapted in Google Chrome. It also includes useful hooks to your Web mail, mouse gestures to help you navigate with that favorite of peripheral devices, and a built-in RSS reader.
How, then, does one explain Opera's uncomfortable fifth place in the consumer browser category? As with most situations of market share, there is a range of factors we could debate at length. One push factor, I'll argue, is Opera's lack of extensions support. True, it does have its own version of third-party apps for developers, called Opera widgets, which are mini standalone apps that float around the screen (here's a collection of game widgets rounded up by one of CNET's bloggers). However, widgets aren't the same as Firefox's popular, incredibly numerous, and quite inventive extensions. For a start, they pop up independently of the browser, so you need to keep track of them yourself. More significantly, they're limited in number. With my picks, performance has ranged from not-very-exciting to a letdown.
As for Google Chrome's ascendancy, its famous pedigree is an undeniable draw, and as Chrome grows in strength, Google will have even greater advantage to advertise its new browser around its network, as it does now on YouTube.com. However, Chrome's other great advantage, and one constant threat to its browser rivals, is its speed. For awhile there, Google made an intensive push to outperform Firefox, with the two leapfrogging each other in the final pushes of their beta builds. Opera, while working on its own back-end speed enhancements, hasn't produced the kinds of test results to steal the others' thunder.
Opera claims it has increased its browsing speed, and is offering an interesting solution to global users with fitful browser speed to boot. Opera says that Turbo, its compression engine, can increase browsing speeds up to eight times faster than on other browsers suffering from the same network holdup--but we still haven't seen independent test results on this.
Regardless, while browsing speed is important, on our fast data connections on multiple computers, Opera 10's performance never came into question in our tests. We suggest you try it out to see how you like its new look and its take on browsing enhancements, but for a view of its new features before you commit either way, check out the First Look video above.