Opera has released the first beta of the next version of its browser suite, giving us a chance to preview the changes being made. Since this is only a point upgrade, there aren’t any major functional differences between 7.5 and the current stable version (7.23), but the user interface has received some attention. It’s not a huge departure from previous versions, and long-time Opera users should feel at home. As with previous versions, the free version of Opera is supported by advertising. In Opera 7.5 you get a choice between targeted text ads from Google in a bar at the top of the screen, or the generic graphical ads previously used. You can, as ever, buy Opera to remove ads. You can change which advertising option you want at any time after installation.
The hotlist in the previous version of Opera has been replaced with a toolbar featuring icons for the panels that previously appeared in the hotlist. These now pop out between this toolbar and the page area of the browser. Any panel can be opened as a page in its own right, allowing you to have more than one panel open at a time.
Another addition to Opera 7.5 is the Notes feature. This is a simple text note-taking facility, but it's integrated with the rest of the browser’s functions. You can create notes manually, and type the text in yourself, or you can highlight text within a Web page, right click and create a note from it. Drag and drop an image onto the Notes pane, and a note containing the URL of the image will appear. Do the same with an image or piece of text that’s a hyperlink and you’ll get a note with the URL of the link. If you’re doing lots of research on a subject and need to keep track of various pages, this will be a fast way to do it -- the ability to include text makes Notes preferable to bookmarks for this purpose. You can organise notes into folders.
Opera 7.5 includes an RSS newsfeed reader, which allows you to get headline summaries from sites such as ZDNet’s RSS feeds. The reader is integrated into the Opera mail client, in much the same way as Usenet news. There’s a new section called Newsfeeds where all the RSS feeds you’ve subscribed to appear. The news items appear as news stories in a list -- click on one of these and the item will open, including any summary that the feed’s author has included, and you’re presented with a link to the full story. Unlike many other RSS readers, where a style (often including some graphics) is usually applied to a feed, this appears simply as list of items. The advantage of this approach is that old items that may have disappeared from the feed are still available in Opera. However, it’s more cumbersome to use than a sidebar showing the feed might be, and means that more clicks are needed to open a story from a newsfeed. We will publish a full review of Opera 7.5 when the final version is released.