Ask people to name a web browser and most of them will say Internet Explorer or Firefox. Chrome has become quite popular as well and Safari is the most popular on Macs. In distant fifth place is Opera, one of the oldest and most innovative web browsers still being actively developed. In recent years, Opera’s mobile browser has gained popularity on mobile devices including smartphones and tablets as well as other niche markets such as the Wii. However, few people use Opera on their desktop PC or even realize it exists for PC, Mac and Linux.
What sets Opera apart from the other browsers in the Big Five? The most obvious answer is that Opera is more than just a browser, it’s an entire suite of web tools wrapped in one program. Opera also includes a POP/IMAP mail client, torrent client, RSS feeder, download manager, debugging tools, and more. Adblocking, password management and other features offered as extensions for competing browsers are built into Opera. For these reasons, Opera did not offer the ability to use extensions until recently; there was simply no need.
One down side to this was the absence of any ‘coupon extensions’, which tend to be one of the most popular extensions on the other major browsers. If you were an Opera user you had to (at least until recently) google a term like ‘expedia promo codes online’ and then manually add these codes into various online retail sites.
Opera widgets, extensions and Unite serve to add even more features to Opera. Widgets are small programs including games, calculators, network tools and more that can be launched separate from the web browser and can even be used when Opera is not running. Opera extensions function very similar to extensions in other browsers and allow users to add countless third party tools and utilities ranging from a button to download YouTube videos to your computer to changing the layout of your favorite websites.
Opera Unite is similar to Opera extensions but with a different goal in mind. Where extensions serve the end users, Unite is aimed at the social side of things. Some of the most popular Unite applications include using Opera as a web server that can be set up in minutes or less. Another popular application allows you to stream music from your home PC to another device across the web or even to your friends. File sharing, instant messaging, photo galleries, and online Chess are just some examples of what Unite can be used for. In spite of all of the features built into Opera, it still strives to be a lean and fast web browser.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, most of the world was still on dial-up Internet, satellite or DSL at a fraction of the speeds available today. Opera became exceptionally popular during this time, especially in developing areas such as Eastern Europe with slow, expensive Internet access, due to its ability to function quickly and compress pages efficiently. In more recent years, Opera still strives to deliver web content as quickly as possible through Opera Turbo.
In a nutshell, Turbo works by using Opera’s servers as a proxy. When you request a web page while using Turbo, it’s first sent to Opera’s server farm where it is compressed into a much smaller package and then forwarded to you. This greatly reduces the speed and bandwidth needed to load web pages, resulting in a much faster user experience. As more Internet providers move to capped data plans, this feature will become even more important.
With all of these features, why does Opera not have a much greater market share? Some of it has to do with image. Until 2005, Opera was financially supported by banner ads and many people think that it still has them. It’s also based out of Norway, unlike Firefox, Internet Explore, Safari and Chrome which are all on the west coast of the United States. Opera has always stressed standards compliance even when most web sites were not written to standards, so in the past many web sites would not work in Opera due to issues in the sites. With the other major browsers now pushing standards compliance as well, very few modern websites remain that don’t work perfectly in Opera. In some cases, sites work better in Opera than the browsers they’re targeted at.
Few people contest that Opera has the most features built in of any major web browser. It also gives the other major browsers significant competition in terms of performance, stability, resource usage and user friendliness. Opera is cross-platform as well, so it doesn’t matter if you use Windows, Linux or Mac OS. The synchronization features in Opera help to give a smooth transition for people that switch between several different operating systems too. Best of all, Opera is free to download and free to use from Opera.com.
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