Opera 10 has entered beta with the unstated goal of becoming more than a mere browser. Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, the Norwegian program hopes to become a speedy utility--Turbo-charged, in their words--that handles browsing, e-mail, RSS, and torrents with robust features.
The most obvious changes in Opera 10 are the new default skin, created by British designer Jon Hicks, and a revamped Tab bar. The skin, Opera says, will continue to evolve before Opera 10 is finalized. Double-click or pull down on the bar below the tabs and above the location bar and you get thumbnail previews of each tab. The previews are resizable, so users who want to see only a small sliver of a tab to identify it visually don't have to worry about sacrificing screen real estate. The bar doesn't remember your last position for it when manually adjusted and then closed by double-clicking, but it does remember when you restart Opera.
One change Opera has yet to make is to rejigger the location bar to perform "smart searches." Whereas Firefox and Chrome have both forced their location bar search protocol to do this by default, Opera's still takes you to a search results page. This may not bother some users, but after spending the majority of the past few months on Firefox and Chrome, I found it mildly irritating.
You'll have an easier time tweaking the look of Opera 10, with improvements to Speed Dial and toolbar customizations. Speed Dial has received a refresh. You can expand it to show as many as 25 Web sites and set a background image. You can also set it to never appear. Customization is easier, too. Right-click on any toolbar to reveal a Customize option. From there, you can hide a toolbar or a particular widget such as the search box, download and change skins on the fly, add or remove buttons, and add or adjust Panels. Opera has had the features in Panels, such as Notes, for a long time.
In this version, though, they round them all up behind one unified sidebar interface. Notes, Bookmarks, History, and Transfers are standard, as is a Widgets option from which you can download more panels. These widgets include things like a Facebook interface, a to-do list, and a Google services manager.
In addition to improvements to the browser, users can create panels to manage to their e-mail, newsfeeds, and chat, as well as select default clients to manage those services outside of Opera. The Opera default e-mail client, however, should be noted as the slickest of the baked-in browser e-mail clients. The e-mail folder tree smoothly integrates in a collapsible panel, while message composition opens in a new browser tab. Combined with Opera's MyOpera synchronization service, it provides users with a full-featured e-mail and browsing experience.
Web developers will appreciate further improvements to Opera Dragonfly. In addition to the changes introduced in the alpha, developers can now edit the DOM and inspect HTTP headers from within the browser.
Opera 10 continues development of its Turbo mode, which uses proprietary compression technology to accelerate page loading. It's recommended for users in crowded Wi-Fi spots or on slow DSL lines or 56k modems, and users might even see slower page load times if they use it on a broadband connection, according to the company. According to their press release for this beta, Turbo "can offer broadband-like speeds on dial-up." If you have personal experience verifying this, please let me know in the comments below.
Opera 10 remains the only browser to successfully complete all aspects of the test. While the new version of Chrome scores 100 out of 100 on the Acid3 standards compliance test, it fails the linktest. For users looking for the most complete feature experience, and one that's cross-platform and synchronizable out of the box, Opera 10 remains an excellent alternative browser.