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Review: Opera 9.5 -- a fine browsing alternative

Not a Firefox fan? Opera is now offering increased performance and enhanced features

By Dennis Fowler
June 18, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Okay, I have to admit I was a bit concerned when I downloaded Version 9.5 of Opera, which shipped June 13. At first glance, this lean, mean browsing machine seemed to be showing signs of middle-age spread. At 6.8MB, the install file is about twice as fat as the approximately 3MB I'm used to from Opera — it's even larger than the 5.7MB install of Mozilla Firefox 2.0 (but not larger than Firefox 3 at 7.8 MB). I was afraid they'd slapped heavy saddlebags on the racehorse browser I'd grown to love.

It turns out I needn't have worried. The core improvements in Opera 9.5 are more technical than cosmetic (though the looks have changed a bit), in spite of the expanded download.

Faster than ever

In fact, it's like Opera has been given a new heart. The new version loaded faster than a greyhound on speed, and pages appeared in a flash. Even with a dial-up connection, Opera 9.5 is definitely loading faster than before, and just as fast — or faster — than Firefox.

As for page loading, Opera Software claims that its new browser engine renders JavaScript and HTML more than twice as fast as Version 9.2 and is faster at handling third-party plug-ins. While I can't confirm that it's that fast, I've got to say that the browser really smokes. Opera attributes some of the browser's improved speed to better support for current Web standards such as (X)HTML, XML, XSLT, CSS 2.1, SVG 1.1 and JavaScript.

The company also notes that Opera supports aspects of standards under development, such as HTML 5 and CSS 3. In fact, a prerelease version of Opera 9.5 was one of two browsers that passed the new Acid3 browser test less than a month after the test was made available in early March of this year. The other winner was WebKit, whose engine drives Safari. So Opera continues to ride the edge of the curve vis à vis Web standards.

Opera links your systems

A major addition to Opera 9.5 is Opera Link. This is similar to Google Browser Sync, which synchronizes Firefox bookmarks, Web history, browser sessions and passwords across multiple computers. (Incidentally, Firefox fans should be aware that, according to a note on Lifehacker, Google Browser Sync will be discontinued rather than updated for Firefox 3.)

So, what is Opera Link, exactly, and how does it work? Say you have three machines running Opera — your desktop, a laptop and a mobile phone running Opera Mini. If you change the bookmarks on any one of these, Opera Link will automatically update the bookmarks on the other two, synchronizing them. What's more, even if you are on a "foreign" browser, you can access your bookmarks through the Opera Link Web site, a password-protected repository of your data.

And, while it's not a bookmark backup program, if you lose some earlier bookmarks, you can return to your presynced list, which is stored on the Web site when you activate Opera Link.

Currently, Opera Link is limited to bookmarks, the personal bookmark bar and Opera's Speed Dial. More items, such as passwords and Web history, may be included in later versions. It's a good way to help keep your act together no matter what you're using or where you are.

Speed Dial speeds you along

Speed Dial is not new in Opera 9.5 — it appeared in a 9.2 version — but it deserves a mention here as one huge timesaver.

Speed Dial lets you access a Web page via a thumbnail.
Click to view larger image.
Each time you open a new tab, the new page (which, if you were using, say, Internet Explorer, would be blank) shows thumbnails of any Web page(s) you've set up for Speed Dial. (You get up to nine thumbnails; you can assigned each from a list of your bookmarks or the list of opened pages.) Click on the Speed Dial thumbnail of the page you want and you are there. Two clicks. It's a tremendous convenience. Granted, you can pick through your bookmarks or type in the URL you want, but Speed Dial shortens the process.

One other upgrade in Opera 9.5 is worth mentioning. Always noted for its security, Opera now opens with Fraud Protection enabled by default. Instead of opting in, you have to opt out, which is a good idea, considering the thieves and scoundrels lurking on the Web. Opera draws its phishing information from Netcraft and PhishTank, and malware protection from Haute Secure. And Opera 9.5 also supports Extended Validation certificates, providing added assurance and trust for secure Web sites.

So, if you want one of the fastest, safest, most convenience-loaded browsers available, go for Opera. For speed and improved security alone, Opera 9.5 is a worthy upgrade.

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