Browser Smackdown: Firefox vs. IE vs. Opera vs. Safari

Four experts go head-to-head (to-head-to-head) to defend their Web browser of choice in an opinionated free-for-all.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Page 7
Page 7 of 9

Opera (continued)

Tweak to Your Heart's Content

This brings up another of Opera's strong points: It has always been highly configurable. If there's anything you don't like, chances are you can change it, often just by dragging and dropping. There are six toolbars to choose from, configure and place where you want. You can add colors and skins to personalize your window -- or strip it back to the bare bones.

The default list of a dozen or so search engines is editable. Opera can emulate a text browser, show images and links only or show only pictures that have links. You can block image downloads, which speeds things up on a dial-up connection. You can reconfigure your keyboard or create macros to open applications from Opera. Java can be turned on or off, cookies blocked or allowed, and so on, and so on.

Admittedly, finding and applying Opera's configuration tools used to be like trying to conduct Wagner's Ring Cycle without a score. Then, in Version 8, the company consolidated the configuration options into four easy-to-use submenus under Tools on the menu bar, where they can easily be found for quick tweaking.

Opera is endlessly customizable.

Opera is endlessly customizable.

(Click image to see larger view)

To really get under the hood, in Version 9 there's a new Preferences Editor (enter "opera:config" in the address bar). With it you can configure anything, from Author Display Mode to Colors to Fonts to Security to Widgets. Each setting gets its own line with a checkbox or pick list, and each can be easily reset to the default setting, which makes it fairly safe to tinker. Nevertheless, this is a powerful tool, so novices should stick to the menus if they aren't sure what they're doing.

Safe and Secure

By default, Opera's security is conservative but not restrictive. Most cookies are allowed, most pop-ups rejected and so on. But any of these settings can be changed under the "Quick preferences" menu. Of course, since Opera doesn't support Active X controls or Visual Basic, it avoids those notorious IE vulnerabilities.

There's also the "security by obscurity" factor. With a small share of the browser market, Opera doesn't present much of a target for black hats -- and that's the way I like it. (Which means, I suppose, that by writing this I'm shooting myself in the foot, shining a spotlight on Opera. But I hate to see you missing out on a great thing.)

Opera's ultimate security feature is what I call the "nuclear option." With two mouse clicks you can instantly close all tabs, toss your cookies and erase the history of pages linked to, the history of links typed in and the list of downloads, as well as clear the record of times bookmarks were visited (but not the bookmarks), delete all form-filling information and erase all stored passwords. And of course you can configure this list to suit you.

Version 9.1, due out later this year, adds antifraud and antiphishing features. I have yet to see a beta of the release, but Opera's record is good on making sure things are right before releasing them to the public.

A Browser for Everyone

What's that? You use an operating system other than Windows? From Mac OS X to Linux to Solaris to FreeBSD and more, Opera's got you covered, and most versions are available in multiple languages besides English.

In short, Opera has an unmatched repertoire of features, including what is probably the fastest browser rendering engine available. I've only scratched the surface here, not covering mouse gesture navigation, for example, or voice activation. Some people chide Opera for having a plethora of features as if there was something wrong with that, claiming all the choices confuse the user with unnecessary complexity. I suspect it's because these features are something their browser doesn't have -- yet. An unused feature isn't a complexity unless it gets in the user's way, and that simply doesn't happen with Opera.

Despite all the features it packs in, the Opera 9.02 for Windows U.S. installation file is only 4.6 MB, about 18% smaller than Firefox's 5.6 MB -- and the Opera download includes an e-mail client (POP3, SMTP and IMAP), IRC chat, and Usenet and RSS newsfeed readers.

As for IE7, I'm told to expect a Wagnerian 14.7MB download. Thanks, but no thanks.

Related Links

Download Opera 9 (Opera)

What's new in Opera 9 (Opera)


Browser Smackdown: Firefox vs. IE vs. Opera vs. Safari


Firefox logo
Firefox 2

Simply put, Firefox is

the best browser of all,

says Scot Finnie.


IE logo
Internet Explorer 7

IE enjoys 80% market share for good reason, says Preston Gralla.


Side-by-Side Comparison

Get a peek at how each browser handles key features and functions.


Opera logo
Opera 9

It's all about features, claims Dennis Fowler, and Opera's got the most.


Safari logo
Safari 2

On the Mac, Safari is untouchable, according

to Ken Mingis.


Reader Poll

Vote for your favorite browser.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Page 7
Page 7 of 9
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon