Fandom of the Opera

Published Date
01 - Apr - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Apr - 2006
 
Fandom of the Opera
Over the past year or so, the online community has hit the reload button on The Browser Wars. 2005 witnessed the rise of Mozilla Firefox after years of sulking in Netscape's shadow. Today, the open source Firefox is a force to be reckoned with, drawing in a healthy sum of money for the Mozilla Foundation. For a free browser, that's quite a feat. It has also captured a good chunk of the market share, forcing Microsoft to rev up its Internet Explorer team and launch a preliminary counterattack in the form of a beta release.

Hurrah for Firefox and all that, but amidst the din of Mozilla vs. Microsoft, the world seemed to have forgotten-or worse, ignored-a little gem from Norway called Opera. Historically, this was because Opera wasn't free as in beer. The unregistered version was marred by text and banner ads, and if there is one ill the open source movement has fanned, it is our expectation that any software-no matter how complex-be completely free. Thank you!

Late last year, after celebrating Opera's 10th anniversary, the Norway-based Opera Software decided to remove the hurdles of banner ads, waived the licensing fee, and thus freed the browser. Which is where this article comes in: there is little reason for you not to be using this browser. Opera is as comprehensive a package as you'd want to take you online. Much more than just a Web browser, Opera comes with an e-mail client, a contacts manager, an IRC chat client, an RSS feed reader, a download manager, and a pop-up blocker; it offers tabbed browsing, visual themes, mouse gestures, keyboard navigation, smooth zooming of both fonts and images, a trash can that holds all the pages you've closed, a session feature that lets you resume browsing from where you left off in the event of a crash and much, much more. All in a free, 4 MB package.

The upcoming release of Opera  adds BitTorrent support, widgets, a content blocker, thumbnail preview of tabs, and follows only Konqueror to pass the Acid2 Web compatibility test

The upcoming release (which you can download as a technology preview) adds BitTorrent support, widgets, a content blocker, thumbnail preview of tabs, and follows only Konqueror to pass the Acid2 Web compatibility test-which essentially tells a Web designer whether the browser is compatible with W3C standards.

So let's take a look at what this Web platform can do for you, starting with some good old-fashioned browsing.

Web Browsing 2.0
Each time you fire up Opera, you start what is called a session. You can launch a separate session by pressing [Ctrl] [Alt] [N]. Since Opera supports tabbed browsing, each session can have multiple tabs. Two features emerge from the concept of sessions: you can save a session and launch it with Opera, and you can resume a session in the event of a system crash. Saving a session is a great way around having to bookmark all the sites you're browsing. To do this, open up the sites in new tabs-[Ctrl] [N] opens a new tab-then go to File > Session > Save this session. Note that you can choose to auto-launch your selection of sites when Opera launches. On a related note, to change the launch behaviour, go to Tools > Preferences and choose an option from the Startup drop-down list.


You can load a saved session when Opera loads or you can ask Opera to auto-load the session every time it starts

You can also launch a group of bookmarks from the address bar for similar functionality. In our example, we have a bookmark folder called Math, which contains three Web sites pertaining to mathematics. Say we want to launch the three in Opera using a single keyword. To do this, go to Bookmarks > Manage Bookmarks, right-click on the Math folder, click on Properties, and then type in an appropriate nickname-we choose "maths" here, and typing in "maths" in the address bar will launch the three bookmarked Web sites.


You can launch a bunch of bookmarks by typing one nickname in the address bar

Opera offers spatial browsing, which in essence enables traversing a Web site solely via the keyboard. For example, hitting the arrow keys while keeping [Shift] pressed will ask Opera to cycle through all the links on a page, and any form elements:

Navigate links                      [Shift] [Arrow keys]
and form elements
Cycle through headers        [S] and [W]
Cycle through elements      [D] and [E]
Cycle through frames          [3] and [Shift] [3]
Opera lets you search for text or links within a page, displaying results live as you type. Trigger a text search via the full-stop key-[.]. Similarly, you can search for any links in a Web page via the comma [,].
One of the most useful features of Opera is its integration with the Answers.com online service. No longer do you have to wonder about the meaning of a word-whether it's pertaining to simple usage or something technical, the service tells you everything you'd need to know, and even suggests correct pronunciation via audio. To trigger this, just double-click on the word in question and click on Dictionary. Opera will take you to the relevant Answers.com page, which collates information from a variety of sources including dictionaries, thesaurus, encyclopaedias, translations, and real-time data such as weather reports, currency converters and stock tickers. The selection need not be limited to just a word-phrases, too, can be selected in this manner. A very useful feature, especially if you are a researcher or student.

While using this feature, you might have noticed the Translate option on the right-click menu. As the name suggests, the feature uses different engines to translate a block of text in a variety of language pairs including French to English, German to English, Italian to English and Japanese to English. It beats having to separately visit Babelfish or the Google online translator.

Concept Mapping 
Opera's integration with Answers.com is excellent for research purposes. Here, we search for "Supercomputer." Note the speaker icon denoting spoken pronunciation under the dictionary entry

                                    
Triggering an Answers.com             The Wikipedia entry for
search based on the word              supercomputer,
"Supercomputer"                             on the same page as the
                                                        dictionary

                                   
The entry for "Supercomputer"         The word "Supercomputer"
under Answers.com, here the            translated into various
 dictionary entry                                 languages,also on the same
                                                           page

Another nifty feature for the data collectors is Notes: Opera can collect any selected text and store it as a note. Collected notes are searchable in their entirety via the Notes panel, triggered by pressing [Ctrl] [6] or via the left panel. You can copy selected text to a note by [Ctrl] [Shift] [C], or you can copy the contents of the clipboard to a note via [Ctrl] [Shift] [V]. You can e-mail a note via a right-click; Opera will use either its inbuilt e-mail client or an external program, depending upon your configuration.

Opera can read out a page for you. To enable voice, double-click on some text and select Speak. Unfortunately this requires an additional 10.5 MB download. After the download, you can select any text and then hit [V] (or select Speak) to ask Opera to read the selection out to you.


Translating selected text into various languages is just a click away

Voice commands, too, are supported in Opera. To enable voice control, go to Tools > Preferences, click on the Advanced tab, and select Voice from the left-hand pane. You can command the software by pressing the [Scroll Lock] key and prefixing a command with "Opera"-thus pressing [Scroll Lock] and saying "Opera Exit" will exit the application.


Notes are a great way to collate varied bits of information from the WWW, like the Blackadder quotes here

Opera's Start Bar is one of those elements which at first might seem frivolous in an interface, but once you use it, you'll wonder how you ever did without it. To access the Start Bar, click anywhere in the address field, or press [F8]. The most important element here is the "Top 10" button, which lists the 10 Web sites you frequent most. Also notable is the Amazon.com search engine, but less so, because you can trigger a search in nine search engines right from the address bar. For example, press [F8] to highlight the address bar, then type in "g thinkdigit" to trigger a Google search on "thinkdigit." Here are some other search engines you can use:

TO USE THIS SEARCH ENGINE    PRESS THIS KEY
Google groups                                        [R]
Google News                                          [N]
Download.com                                        [W]
Amazon.com                                            [Z]
eBay.com                                                 [E]

Opera has perhaps the best implementation of tabs amongst current browsers. You can open a new tab by middle-clicking your mouse on any empty area of the Page Bar, or via [Ctrl] [N]. You can also close an open tab by middle-clicking directly on the tab. Middle-clicking on a link will open the link in a background tab. To close a tab, press [Ctrl] [W]; to close all tabs, press [Ctrl] [Alt] [W]; to close all tabs but the one you're in, press [Ctrl] [Alt] [Shift] [W]. This might seem like an awful lot to remember, but you'll get used to it once you start using it regularly!


Opera's Start Bar lists the top 10 Web sites you visit most frequently

You can cycle forward through open tabs by pressing [Ctrl] [Tab]; this can also be done by keeping the right mouse button pressed and rolling the scroll wheel. Incidentally, using the scroll wheel while keeping the left mouse button pressed will zoom in and out of the page-note that this zooms both the fonts and the images. You can maximise a tab by pressing [F11]; pressing [Ctrl] [F11] will fit all text to the horizontal size of the window, thus eliminating the dreaded horizontal scroll in a Web page.

Mouse gestures are a novel way to navigate Opera. Those of you using Firefox might be familiar with mouse gestures if you have the extension that enables it. When you first use a gesture-perhaps accidentally-Opera will ask if you wish to enable the feature; click on [Yes]. For example, you can hold the right mouse button and draw an "L" onto a Web page to tell Opera to close it. Here are some other gestures you can use (with right mouse button):

MOUSE GESTURE    ACTION
Move down    Open new window
Move up and down    Reload
Move up, then right    Restore or maximise window
Move down, then left    Minimise window
Move down, then up    Duplicate window
Move down, then right    Close window
Mouse gestures are a novel way to navigate Opera. For example, you can hold the right mouse button and draw an "L" onto a Web page to tell Opera to close it

Communication 2.0

Opera comes with a very capable e-mail engine called M2 that allows for quick searches both on the subject and the content of an e-mail message. Moreover, the engine is flexible enough to be used as an RSS feed reader. To enable the mail client, go to Tools > Mail And Chat Accounts. Opera will then take you through the setup process. You can now open the e-mail panel by pressing [Ctrl] [3]. The M2 mail client automatically filters your e-mails into preset categories. For example, all incoming mails with attachments will be found under the Attachments heading in the Mail panel. Moreover, there is further filtering into documents, image, music, video, and archive attachments. You can use this feature to quickly track down a particular mail.


Opera's e-mail client; note that the two mails with attachments are automatically filtered under Archives in the left Mail panel

Also note the Label field here. As you can guess, you can label each message with a particular tag-say Important, Mail back, Funny, or whatever. This helps in managing your mail, and is a feature similar to the Star feature in Gmail. Speaking of which, much like Gmail, Opera can send a quick reply to a mail. This is done simply by typing in some text in the Quick Reply field that accompanies each mail and then hitting the button. A quick reply quotes the original mail and appends your entered text to the beginning.

You can change the default signature while sending mails: go to Tools > Mail And Chat Accounts, select your e-mail account, and click on Edit. Now head to the last tab, titled Outgoing-you can use a custom signature by typing it in here. If you have a back-and-forth communication ongoing, the M2 mail client will track the conversation under the Active Threads heading. Moreover, M2 can track the contacts you converse with. Such contacts will be listed under the Active Contacts heading. You can also manually add a contact by right-clicking on an e-mail ID and choosing "Add to contacts."

The mail engine is also capable of fetching your RSS feeds and mailing lists. Subscription to an RSS feed works much the same way that it does under Firefox-if a Web page has Atom or RSS feed subscription, a feed icon will appear in Opera's address bar. To subscribe, click on the icon. RSS feeds are listed in the Mail panel under Newsfeeds. Once again, the best thing about M2 is that it is searchable in its entirety-you can therefore search the contents of an e-mail and of all your RSS feeds using the same Start Search window in the e-mail panel. Note that you can also search for a contact using [Ctrl] [4] and search through your notes using [Ctrl] [6].


Reading RSS feeds under Opera

The M2 mail client has a spam filter that functions on a whitelist. This means that it will tag suspicious messages as spam unless you manually tell it not to. You can also create filters based on To, From, Subject, and other fields. To do so, right-click on the Mail panel and click on New Filter; name the filter, click on the Rules tab, and then on New Rule to add rules based on the listed criteria. For the highest efficacy, select the "Learn from messages added…" checkbox.

Finally, Opera can also serve as your IRC chat client. You can surf your favourite DALnet and Undernet channels using Opera. Each chat window is treated as a separate tab, and downloads are handled via the same Transfers window that is used by the rest of the browser. To enable this client, go to Tools > Mail And Chat Accounts, then New, and then Chat (IRC).

With a comprehensive e-mail client, an RSS/Atom reader, a contacts manager and an IRC chat client, Opera ably offers a comprehensive package for staying connected to the WWW. Notably, the new version of Opera-version 9.0-is also set to introduce BitTorrent support and introduce widgets to the browser-applets that brings in information snippets from the Net. These could be news, RSS feeds, stock prices, and so on.


The upcoming version of Opera adds desktop widgets to the mix


This widget lets you view the latest Slashdot posts. Note that the widget is visible even if the browser is minimized

Issues 2.0
Opera's Web rendering engine is second to none. It's fast and accurate, and is especially great in a low-memory, dial-up setup. It's not all rosy in the Opera camp though. Although the browser strives to be 100 per cent W3C compliant, Web developers are far from getting there. Every now and again you will stumble upon a site that doesn't render quite right under Opera. For example, the Gmail/Google Talk integration does not work. You can report a problematic site with a few simple clicks, though: to do so, go to Help > Report A Site Problem.

The so-called Web 2.0 era is fast approaching. AJAX Web sites already offer desktop-quality software online, as is evident when using sites such as Writely, Gmail, and Flickr. The Web browser, then, is poised to become an even more important element in our software repertoire. Little wonder then that Microsoft is scrambling to blur the lines between its desktop and online offerings, via both its upcoming Windows Vista as well as online services such as Live.com. The Mozilla Foundation also has great plans for Firefox, as does the Konqueror team which has risen to prominence thanks to Safari's use of the KHTML rendering engine.

The team behind Opera has done wonders with this little package. The browser is winning market share in the mobile market-it can be found on Symbian and Windows-powered cell phones, PDAs, and the Nokia Internet Tablet, and will soon be available on the Nintendo DS handheld gaming console. There is competition in the air, and that's a Good Thing.




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