- New single-document interface allows you to open as many separate browser windows as you want
- includes many clever UI enhancements.
- Customisable skins can't be installed automatically like Netscape 6's skins
- some UI bugs
- supports only Netscape-compatible plug-ins
- free version is still ad-supported.
Before we downloaded Opera 6.0, we were ready to hate it. This version suffers from severe code bloat: the download itself weighs in at 3.2MB (10.7MB if you want to include Java support), a 50 percent increase over Opera 5.0. But once we launched the software, we were pleasantly surprised. The new user interface alone is worth the download and cleverly merges the best from Opera's old UI, Netscape and Internet Explorer. If you love Opera, this download is a must. If you're tired of the incessant Netscape/IE battle, Opera 6.0 is a worthy alternative -- so long as you don't mind a few niggling bugs.
Previous versions of Opera for Windows supported the multi-document interface (MDI), in which every browser window you opened lived within the main Opera window. Thus, no matter how many browser windows you opened, you'd see only one Opera icon in the taskbar at the bottom of your screen. Opera's two main competitors, Internet Explorer and Navigator, both use the single-document interface (SDI), in which every open browser window shows up as a separate icon in the taskbar.
With Opera 6.0, you get a choice between MDI and SDI. When you fire up the browser, a dialogue box lets you choose between the two. But even if you select SDI, you're not stuck with it. Opera's new SDI actually lets you open multiple browser pages in one Opera window. A New Page tab now appears at the top of the SDI window; clicking this tab creates a new browser view, but within the same SDI window.
So why would you need this much flexibility? Suppose you're shopping for a technology product: in one Opera window, you can open several different buying advice sites, such as ZDNet and CNET. In another Opera window, you can open a bunch of shopping sites, such as mySimon and Buy.com. This way, Opera doesn't clutter your taskbar with dozens of tiny, unlabelled browser icons; you have only two Opera icons to choose from.
Of course, Opera had to make some additions to its user interface to add all this new functionality. Unfortunately, Opera also changed the existing UI: the reorganised Preferences dialogue now sports drab, grey icons that pale in comparison to the brightly coloured icons in previous versions; the default toolbar buttons also have lifeless new graphics; and Opera's new skin feature is unnecessarily convoluted. Since we liked Opera's old interface, we're not impressed by these major UI changes -- and we're glad that you can switch back to Opera's Classic interface, which looks a lot like version 5.0's.
What's worse, parts of the new UI simply don't work at all. For example, in the Edit > Find dialogue box, we clicked the Help button and nothing happened. We tried under both Windows 98 and Windows NT on several different machines and got the same -- nothing. And don't think you can escape any of theses headaches by spending $39 (£27.11) on Opera's paid version. Although the paid-for browser doesn't display banner ads, it's otherwise identical to the free version.
Still, we do like the new Hotclick feature. With Hotclick, double-click any word in a Web page, and Opera displays a pop-up list of options that let you copy the word into the Windows clipboard, search for the word on Google, or even attempt a translation of the word to and from multiple languages. But the search is somewhat limited: for example, the Dictionary option searches only Lycos Infoplease, and there's no way to change the default dictionary site. Also, Hotclick doesn't always come up with exactly the resource you want: we double-clicked the word Shrek (the film) and selected the Price Comparison search, but the engine returned only books, not the DVD or VHS prices we wanted. Hotclick is much easier to use than similar search features in IE and Netscape -- we just wish it were as flexible as those other browsers in letting us pick and choose what search engines to use.
Unfortunately, when it comes to multimedia, Opera turns to Netscape Navigator. If you already have Navigator installed on your PC, then Opera can load up the installed Netscape plug-ins that it recognises to give you support for things such as RealAudio and QuickTime. But it doesn't recognize IE plug-ins, such as the Windows Media Player.
Performance-wise, Opera also suffers a bit by comparison. In our labs' tests, Opera loaded complex HTML pages with lots of nested tables faster than Netscape 6.1 and IE 6.0. But the alternative browser was far below the competition in both the cached-pages and the mixed-text-and-graphics tests. Although these results demonstrate Opera's marked improvement over versions past, they probably won't persuade any satisfied Netscape or IE customers to switch browsers.
If you're happy with your current Netscape or Microsoft browser, there's not much reason to switch to Opera 6.0, unless you really want the nifty SDI interface that lets you group sets of open Web pages into separate windows. If you already use and like Opera, however, this a must-have upgrade.
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