For most of us, web browsing is a central plank of our computing. We browse from all our devices, and we want our browsers to be slick and fast, sleek, easy to use and, increasingly, to offer added features over and above simply the ability to show us web pages as the designer intended them to be.
Opera has certainly been around for a long time -- more than 20 years, in fact. Yet it isn't that widely known, and currently has less than five percent of the global market share for browsers. But don't let that put you off. The figure belies the range of features Opera offers, and anyone looking for a change from the browser they've been using for years and years might want to give it a look.
As well as the Windows version we're looking at here, there are free Opera versions for Android, iOS, Mac and Linux.
Free VPN: People chose to use a VPN because it fools all kinds of web trackers into being unable to know where you are using the internet from by using an IP address that's different from your real one -- even making web sites think you are coming to them from a completely different country. VPNs also encrypt your data. Between these two features they protect your safety and keep you anonymous online. In offering a built in VPN Opera gets you out of the predicament of having to do research, and even to pay for one. Many people will be more likely to use a VPN as a result. It is easily turned on and off as needed.
Vertical sidebar: When using a laptop or tablet to browse the web we often prefer a wide screen rather than a tall one. Opera's sidebar puts a whole host of shortcuts where they are just a click or finger-tap away, on a vertical bar on the left of the application window. Here the sidebar doesn't take up any of the vertical space that's so useful for viewing information. Right after installing Opera the Sidebar provides a number of useful features including: a popup instant search bar, MyFlow -- for sharing content with Opera for Android or iOS, bookmarks, shortcuts to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, settings and more.
Screenshot tool: There are times when you need to take a quick screen grab of something to share with another person -- showing is so much easier than telling. Sitting in the right hand sidebar is a screenshot tool. Just click it and then drag the crop window that appears to the area you want to screenshot and click Capture. Job done.
Video popout: Drag a video out of the main Opera window and put it where you like on screen, then keep on browsing in Opera while your video runs happily somewhere else on screen. This could be useful if you want to keep your eye on a sports fixture or live broadcast while doing something else at the same time.
Conversion on the fly: Online shoppers can get automatic currency conversion on the fly, time zones are easily converted so international connections aren't missed, and even weights and measures can be converted too. Just select what you want to convert, and Opera does the rest.
Extensions: There's a strong library of extensions, including those which can be added to the sidebar for really fast and easy access.
Built in add blocker: Add blockers can be something of a pain to web sites. When a site relies on ads for revenue, users who block them create problems. The built in add blocker in Opera lets you set up add blocking and then configure exceptions for specific sites, so that you can see ads on sites you particularly want to support in this way.
Slightly tricky settings: You need to delve into the settings a little to find all the details, and some of the options aren't well explained -- for example when you set up the VPN you can bypass the VPN for your default search engine - it would be useful if Opera explained why this is useful (one benefit is so the search engine can understand your search history).
Not as many extensions as Chrome: If you are a real fan of extensions and you're moving to Opera from Chrome you might find the range available a little limiting.
Opera might not be the most widely used of web browsers, but it does have some really enticing features, including it free VPN and the sidebar which you can customize to provide just the shortcuts you need. Versions for Android, iOS and Mac increase its appeal, and some really useful additional features like automatic data conversion and the pop-out video player make Opera well worth a look.