Hardware acceleration has become the holy grail of browser development in the past year, as the technology to increase browser performance by tapping graphics cards to help with Web site rendering has advanced from the theoretical to the practical. Despite Opera being a longtime developer and advocate of hardware acceleration standards, and the first major browser maker to demonstrate hardware acceleration in use, no publicly released version of Opera included the technology--until today.

Opera 11.50 (direct download) is a rough alpha, unstable, not for daily use, and limited to Windows computers, but it does have hardware acceleration. This means that JavaScript-based 3D rendering can be viewed using Opera, which basically means that highly complex, non-Flash-based in-site animation will be supported by the browser.

A screenshot of WebGL implementation in action on Opera 11.50 alpha. (Credit: Opera)

Opera promised in a blog post that its hardware acceleration will differ from its competitors. Unlike Internet Explorer 9's hardware acceleration--which is limited to Windows 7 and Vista, or Firefox 4's, which is fully available on Windows 7 and Vista but limited on Windows XP, Mac, and Linux--the way that Opera has built its hardware acceleration allows it to be used in full on any computer with the hardware to support it. This means that not only will Opera's hardware acceleration support Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS X, and Linux, but that Web-enabled televisions and devices such as smartphones will also be able to use it. Opera says that any device that uses the OpenGL ES 2 standard will work with it.

The current implementation of hardware acceleration in Opera 11.50 alpha is limited to OpenGL support. A Direct3D backend is planned for future versions and before 11.50 gets pushed to the public. You can see if your installation of Opera 11.50 alpha has the OpenGL hardware acceleration working by typing opera:about into the location bar, and looking to see if the "Vega backend" entry lists "OpenGL". If it says "Software," then your computer graphics card doesn't support OpenGL 2.x hardware acceleration.