Opera the underdog

With Internet Explorer's market share down to around 90 percent and support for Mozilla's Firefox growing daily, it begs the question, does Opera stand a chance?

Opera vs. Firefox
With Internet Explorer's market share down to around 90 percent and support for Mozilla's Firefox growing daily, it begs the question, does Opera stand a chance?

Working with technology every day, it's not unusual to arrive at work and hear that a new battle has broken out. There are the old ones that continue to be fought -- Microsoft vs. Linux, Mac vs. Windows -- with devotees on each side vehemently defending their position.

Then there are the relatively new quarrels such as ADSL vs cable, Plasma vs. LCD, HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray, etc. Quite often, the superior technology is just not popular enough and succumbs. Betamax is a good example of this.

Recently, browser wars have started up again with the Firefox and Internet Explorer debate -- on one side you have the collective strength of the open source community and on the other, the market influence of Microsoft. In terms of the technically better browser, there's no question in my mind -- Firefox wins hands down.

However, I'd like to hear discussion on the merits, shortcomings, similarities and differences of the Firefox and Opera browsers.

In my opinion, both are great browsers. Obviously, the major downside to Opera is that it is not free -- it is developed by an independent company called Opera Software ASA and a licence costs US$39. A free version of Opera is available for download, but it displays text or graphical ads in the toolbar at the top of the page, which can be quite distracting.

Despite this, Opera is my browser of choice, having used it for the past five years whilst keeping an open mind and trying alternatives. Tabbed browsing and fast Web page rendering were initially the reasons for the swap to Opera, but then I discovered the other benefits it offered such as mouse gestures, which is now also a feature of Firefox.

With many customisation options and hundreds of skins developed by the Opera community, you can tweak it to work exactly how you want it.

Opera supports multiple platforms such as Windows, Mac, Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris, PDAs and smart phones.

Opera 8 was released just last week, if you'd like to try it out you can download it here. Opera CEO Jon S. von Tetzchnerif boldly stated last Thursday that he would swim from Norway to the United States if one million copies of the new browser were downloaded in four days. On Saturday, the company reported that the download figure had been reached. The CEO is now standing by his word and has begun his transatlantic swim.

If you do give Opera a go, try using mouse gestures instead of browser navigation buttons for a day -- it speeds up browsing immensely. Once you get used to it, you can remove the navigation buttons from Opera and free up some space for browsing. Also, double-clicking on any word in the browser brings up a list of options such as dictionary definitions, translation and text-to-speech. You can also rearrange your tabbed windows, toolbars and panels -- or switch them off altogether.

How do you think the Opera and Firefox browsers compare? Let us know by sending an e-mail to edit@zdnet.com.au.

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