Opera 11.6: Better but not good enough (Review)

This perpetual also-ran Web browser keeps getting better, but it still lags behind the major Web browsers: Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.

Opera's new default tab interface, Speed Dial, is both attractive and useful.

Opera's new default tab interface, Speed Dial, is both attractive and useful.

I want to like Opera. I really do. But, while this version is a step up from where it's been, it's still just not as good as its competition: Chrome, Internet Explorer, or even the beleaguered Firefox, are simply better.

On the plus side, Opera 11.6, which is available as a free download for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows, has a new HTML5 parser, code-named Ragnarök. For users, this will mean that Opera does well with HTML5 encoded Web pages. Still, its HTML5 compatibility score, 325 out of a possible 450 lags behind Chrome 15.

The user interface also comes with a new default tab page: "Speed Dial." This displays thumbnail images and link of your favorite sites. It's nice, but Chrome and the latest versions of the other Web browsers already have it. In another similar "following the pack" move, Opera's settings dialogs are now reached via the "wrench" button.

Perhaps the most significant change is that its built-in e-mail client's new interface has been greatly improved. Opera Mail now defaults to listing your messages on the left and showing the message on the right with the newest message on top, and showing message threads. Opera automatically groups these messages by date, but you can also group them by unread status. The overall look is both cleaner and more usable.

Which of the big five Web Browsers is the Best? (Review)

While I ran Opera on Mint Linux, Mac OS X, and XP and Windows 7, for benchmarking the Web browser I ran it on my Gateway DX4710 Windows 7 SP1 test box. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. It's hooked to the Internet via a Netgear Gigabit Ethernet switch, which, in turn, is hooked up to a 60Mbps (Megabit per second) cable Internet connection.

For my first test, I put Opera on Mozilla's Kraken 1.1 benchmark. In Kraken, which like most Web browser benchmarks measures JavaScript performance, lower scores are better. Here, Opera was, in a word, dismal. With a score of 13,010.6, both Chrome 15, 3968.1 and Firefox 8, 6,867.7 beat it hollow. It was better than IE 9, 16,576.4, but that's not saying much.

On Google's JavaScript V8 Benchmark Suite, where higher scores are better, Chrome easily took first with a score of 7,912, but, at least Opera, with its 3,382, was in the middle of the pack of other browsers.

In the old JavaScript test, SunSpider 0.9.1, where lower results win, Opera finished dead last with a score of 303.8. That was even worse than its Opera 11.52's score!

For the final benchmark, I put Opera through its paces on the Peacekeeper Web browser test suite. This test looks beyond just JavaScript performance and at HTML5 compatibility, video codec support and other Web browser features as well. With Peacekeeper, higher is better and this time Opera was competitive. With a score of 2,173 it beat all the other Web browsers... except for Chrome, which took first with 2,296.

Put it all together and what do you get? You get a browser that can't keep up with the competition. Opera swears it will introduce hardware acceleration, which will put some of the browser work on your PC's graphics processor, in the forthcoming Opera 12. Unfortunately, for Opera, this will just be a case of keeping up again. Chrome, Firefox and IE are already doing this.

So it is that, once more, while I'd like to recommend Opera, I can't. The browser has some innovative ideas and I like having an all-in-one e-mail client and Web browser, ala the old Mozilla browser, but the performance just isn't there. I really hope that by the time Opera 12 does arrive, Opera will be speedier, but, by that time, the other Web browsers are likely to be faster still.

Related Stories:

New Opera tweaks threads, mail client

Is Firefox toast?

See what you're missing - Firefox 3.6 vs Firefox 8.0.1

Which of the big five Web Browsers is the Best? (Review)

Chrome 15: The Best Browser keeps getting better (Review)

Editorial standards