The next major release of Opera for the desktop will be 'prettier' than the current version of the browser, claims the company.
Opera, a Norwegian firm, makes browsers for devices ranging from the PC to mobile phones and games consoles. It released an incremental version, 9.6, for the desktop last Wednesday, prompting a million downloads in a day. Version 10 will be more significant, according to the company's web evangelist, Bruce Lawson.
Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk on Monday, Lawson said Opera 9.6 had performance improvements, but conceded that many users, especially of Apple, found the browser unpleasant on the eye.
"There's been a lot of criticism from some quarters that Opera on the desktop looks a bit shite, especially on the Mac," Lawson said. "I personally feel it feels busier than it is. [In Opera 10] the whole look and feel are being seen to — it's what our customers are looking for. If we want it to be a tool, it's got to be pleasing to work with."
Lawson said the firm had hired the British designer Jon Hicks to rework Opera's user interface and "make it look prettier". Hicks is best known for having created the Firefox logo.
Lawson and his colleague, product manager Roberto Mateu, declined to list possible features that may appear in Opera 10, saying that such features are subject to change ahead of launch. They did, however, say the version would go into its alpha release by the end of 2008, around the same time as the low-end mobile-phone version, Opera Mini 4.2, goes into beta.
As for Opera 9.6, the browser can now synchronise the user's typed browsing history across any devices using the Opera Link synchronisation feature. The built-in email client, Opera Mail, also now supports a "low-bandwidth mode" for those users with slow connections, and offers the option of ignoring "less important [conversation] threads and contacts with a single click".
A multi-column feed preview has also been integrated into Opera 9.6's RSS reader, allowing users to view a feed's contents before subscribing to that feed. New languages are also supported in the updated browser: Indonesian, Ukrainian, Estonian, Hindi, Telugu and Tamil.
Asked whether the release of Google Chrome had had any effect on the Opera team, Lawson said the team had been "mostly pleased", due to the coverage afforded by Chrome to browsers that are not Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE).
"People saw [Chrome] on the news and realised there is an alternative to IE," Lawson said. "People are now aware there is a market."
Lawson also claimed Chrome was "not a competitor" to Opera, as it was not pursuing Opera's "main constituency". "Most people who use Opera are comparatively tech-literate," he said, adding that Opera was nonetheless trying to widen its appeal beyond this set.