Too good to ignore: 6 alternative browsers

Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari lead the market, but there are other browsers out there for PC and Mac users. Which are better?

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Opera 9.6

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Opera is a Windows-based browser that has been ported to many different platforms, including most Unix variants such as Mac OS X and Linux/FreeBSD/Solaris; cell phone operating systems, including Windows Mobile, PalmOS, BlackBerry OS, and even the popular Wii gaming station. But despite its ubiquitous nature, Opera has so far only captured 2% of the browser market. That's something of a surprise, because it isn't as though this browser lacks ability or features.

Version 9.6 for Macintosh is a fast, option-laden browser that represents a formidable entry in an extremely competitive product category. Opera uses its own proprietary rendering engine called Presto to display Web content; this engine is almost as capable at rendering code as the Gecko engine used by Firefox and Camino, and nearly as fast as Safari and OmniWeb's WebKit engine. In fact, there were some sites that Gecko had trouble rendering accurately, but Opera displayed most sites properly.

There are many things to like about Opera, including customizable skins, live preview of Web pages when you mouse over tabs and a welcome full-screen mode -- especially useful for recent Windows converts who are accustomed to viewing Web pages using every bit of screen real estate possible.

One of Opera's standout features is the Speed Dial startup page. Speed Dial lets you customize a page with up to nine different sites, with each site's content displayed in miniaturized format. Clicking on the mini-page brings up the site in a full browser window.

Another Opera plus is the extensive search engine support built into the browser. As well as the usual suspects like Google and Yahoo, Opera also supports Ask, Wikipedia, eBay and Yahoo Shopping. Interestingly enough, Opera also supports Bit Torrent searching and downloads, as this browser doubles as a Bit Torrent client.

Opera also offers support for widgets. Although similar in function to those found in Mac OS X, Opera's widgets are freed from the restraints of the Dashboard, instead floating on the desktop like any application window.

Alternate browsers

Opera is a fast, option-laden browser.

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The Opera interface is a little more cluttered than some of the other browsers I've looked at, but skin support in concert with the ability to alter interface details means you can customize to your heart's content. With the addition of Mouse Gestures, it's entirely possible to browse pages without using any of the interface elements at all, relying instead on mouse or trackpad swipes to navigate pages.

The bottom line is that Opera is a good example of healthy competition in the browser market, and the price of admission -- free! -- is certainly worth giving this program a once-over.

-- Mike DeAgonia

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