Opera 9 beta: Widgets are us

Better support for BitTorrent, ruthless pop-up blocking and a call for more widgets are all features of the latest Opera beta

Opera has released a beta of version nine of its browser with an array of new features including, for the first time, widgets, extended support for BitTorrent and a pop-up blocker that can also be used to block other unwanted screen real estate and not just pop-up ads.

Support for widgets — small applications based on AJAX technologies is not new but it has now been considerably extended with new applications written by professionals and enthusiastic amateurs.

"We are looking for widgets that have some sort of stickiness to them," said Thomas Ford, a desktop manager for the Norwegian company. Many of the ideas came from around 6,000 developers who attended an Opera event and had the opportunity to take part in a competition, Ford said.

"There were all kinds of things but one of the winners came up with a very clever way to search using Opera and another a neat Tetris style game." But the serious focus is to develop applications in areas like CRM, Ford said. With widgets "the browser has the opportunity to become a real platform".

The pop-up blocker works from the main browser window and allows users to highlight areas of a screen that they wish to block. The areas are removed so not only can the user choose not get annoying pop-ups but they can choose not to load and view other parts of particular screens that they don't wish to see. Not having to load unwanted information "has a real benefit in speed" said Ford.

It only became possible for the company to introduce this feature after Opera took the decision in September last year to dispense with on-screen advertising in it's free-to-download version — a feature that had annoyed users.

Opera added BitTorrent fucntionality last year but the latest mover is intended to make Opera's use of the peer-to-peer protocol acceptable to all markets. "We have licensed everything from BitTorrent in a very legal way," Ford told ZDNet UK. "If you don't want to share you can do that very simply."

To get a closer look at Opera 9, see the review and screenshot gallery on ZDNet Reviews.