One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Mutineer's Tech Tips: Browsers, Part 1: Opera

Most of us spend a good deal of our computer time in an Internet browser. Sure, we have documents and spreadsheets and such at work or school that take up a lot of our time, but when we are on our own time, most of us open up the web browser, start with Facebook or Reddit or Yahoo and then see where we go from there. Your web browser is one of the most important tools on your computer. You have a wide variety of choices for web browsing, but most people use the one that came with their computer or they download a favorite like Firefox or Chrome.
Of course the web is everywhere now with mobile devices. And while apps certainly take up a lot of our screen time on those, there is still nothing like a simple, fast web browser when you need to search or if a friend on Facebook posts an article you want to read. In this post and the one to follow I want to introduce you to a couple of browsers I use every day that you may or may not have heard of but that might improve your online experience.
Opera is the number 5 browser among conventional computers worldwide, so it’s not exactly unknown. But given that the top 4 have 95% or more of the market, it’s not exactly a household name either. Opera took a big step last year when it dropped its unique web-rendering engine, the software that properly interprets and displays web sites, and went with the engine found in Chrome. This move eliminates the issues Opera used to have with some web sites. I experienced this myself with earlier editions of Opera. If you used Opera in the past and were frustrated by these problems, it might be time to try it again.
This is my Speed Dial start page on Opera on my wife's computer.
Opera’s key feature is its “Speed Dial” page. Lots of browsers have a page that shows your recently-viewed or most-viewed pages when you open a new tab. Opera goes way beyond this. You can customize what web sites you want to feature and order them how you want them. Be warned, Opera wants you to use the speed dial feature so badly that it does not use an ordinary bookmark menu. You can add one with extensions, and you can see the bookmark bar under the address line.
What makes Opera’s Speed Dial unique is that you can download extensions that work exclusively in the speed dial page. For example, I have a Facebook extension that allows me to see my notifications without actually going to Facebook. There are literally dozens of these that let you look at your e-mail, check stock prices and sports scores, and more all from your start page. It’s a cool feature that no other browser has. The speed dial comes loaded with a Google search bar on this page as well, but as you can see I eliminated that. You can choose any search engine you want as your default in the main address bar.
Opera’s mobile offerings are fantastic as well. I have an Android phone and a Google Play-enabled Nook. Opera is my main browser on both. The tablet version is particularly fantastic. I have other browsers on my Nook (including the one I will mention in tomorrow's post) but I rarely use them because Opera is so good. Opera’s browser for iPhone and iPad is called Coast. It’s gotten rave reviews, but you must remember that Apple downgrades access for third-party browsers on its mobile devices, so I wouldn’t blame you if you stuck with Safari. I also wouldn’t blame you if you took a leap out of Apple’s “walled garden,” but that’s another issue for another time.

Opera's disappointing attempt at cross-platform interoperability.

The one problem I have with Opera is its complete lack of interoperability between platforms. I’m sorry, but a page with links to your stored favorites from your desktop browser doesn’t cut it in 2014. That message in the yellow box has been the same for nearly a year. And it wasn’t any better before. In a day when all of the most popular browsers operate together quite well, this is terrible. I don’t know how well Coast interacts with the desktop Windows or Mac versions of Opera, but I doubt it’s much better.
In summary, if you like the speed and simplicity of Chrome but don’t want your whole online life to revolve around Google, you should definitely consider Opera. Yes, it lacks some really basic options on the cross-platform front, but if you mainly use one device or if you don’t really care about interoperability and you want something that works well on the device in front of you, Opera would be a great choice.  

Check back tomorrow for my other recommendation!

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