The upcoming version of this alternative browser includes some small tweaks, like thumbnail tab previews and improved content block, and two special additions: BitTorrrent transfers and widgets.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

February 16, 2006

5 Min Read

A short time ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Opera 8.5, which was, at the time, the most recent release of the top-notch alternative to Internet Explorer. As a lapsed Opera fan, I found the browser (which has been around since 1994 and has gained a considerable following since) as compact, quick, and loaded with features as ever.

No sooner had I put the final polish on that review than the wizards in Norway reached a new high note with an early beta of their next major upgrade. I promptly downloaded Opera 9.0 Technology Preview 2, and discovered they'd added some impressive arpeggios and trills to an already great browser's repertoire.

These new features include some smaller tweaks, like thumbnail tab previews and improved content block, and one very major addition: widgets.

Working With Widgets
Widgets are Web applets that can do almost anything. When last I looked, there were already 50 available for Opera 9, from clocks and calendars to calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI). If you don't find what you want, you can either write your own, or you can wait for someone else to write it and then download it from the Opera Community Web site.



Opera 9's widgets let you add a variety of applets, references, etc. to your desktop. (Click for complete image.))

Each widget runs in a little browser window that is what Opera calls "chromeless," i.e., lacking toolbars and buttons. The widget lives outside the Opera window, floating on top of your desktop, hanging around in the background or foreground as long as Opera is running.

Toggling widget viewing mode on with the F6 function key brings up a toolbar for adding, deleting, and "pinning" widgets. A pinned widget stays visible after you've toggled widget viewing mode off.

Some widgets are more useful than others. I plugged my weight and height into the BMI Calculator and it promptly told me I was a little overweight, and that I should exercise more. Hummph!

On the other hand, the Digg Frontpage News Viewer showed the latest headlines on the Digg social bookmarking site that focuses on tech news. When I hovered my cursor over a headline, a window popped up with a summary of the story. Clicking on a headline kicked off a new Opera session opened to that Digg page.

Some widgets can be user configured. The Digg widget, for example, can show between three and 15 headlines, and you can set the frequency of updates.

I did find it somewhat distracting to have a widget hanging around my desktop all the time, and I foresee a host of trivial time-wasters being written, along with the good stuff. Remember, what the geek mind can conceive the geek mind will create. Also, as the end-user instructions remind us, widgets may contact untrustworthy Web sites, and can pass on any sensitive information that you provide them with. In other words: Buyer beware. And Wait! There's More!
There are a number of other interesting and useful tweaks in Opera 9 Technology Preview 2 that are worth noting.

  • Integrated BitTorrent Support. Opera 9 supports BitTorrent transfers, a feature first tested in Opera 8.02 Preview 1. It eliminates the need for a separate BitTorrent client: When you start your first BitTorrent download, you get a configuration screen, and you can go from there. BitTorrent has also been added to the default list of available search engines.



    Opera 9's thumbnails appear when you hover your cursor over a tab. (Click for complete image.)

  • Easily Editable Search List. The list of search engines can now be edited (using Tools/Preferences/Search) rather than having to dig into the search.ini file. You can even add a site-specific search for any Web site which has a Search field.

  • Content Blocking. If there's an image you don't like on a Web page, you can select a "Block Content" option from the right-click menu, which shows blockable content (with unblockable content grayed out). Select what you want blocked, hit "Done," and you return to the page with that image gone -- and it stays gone any time you return to that page.

    Changed your mind? There's a "blocked content" list that lets you unblock content or refine a particular entry by editing the list. It even accepts wildcards. The already strong pop-up blocking has also been improved.

  • Thumbnail Tab Previews. When you have a bunch of tabs open, it can be easy to lose track of them. Internet Explorer 7 tries to solve this problem with its new Quick Tabs feature, which takes you to a page of thumbnails. Opera does it quicker and better: Hover your cursor over a tab and you'll get a thumbnail preview of that page, as well as the full title, URL, encoding type, and MIME type. This is also available when switching tabs using Ctrl+Tab.

  • Enhanced History Panel. The History panel has been enhanced by grouping entries by date and site. A definite improvement there.

    Confused? There's help even for the preview release. The Help file that comes with this early beta is for version 8.51, so these new features aren't covered. But the developer of Opera, Petter Nilsen, offers tutorials and tips for the beta in his blog, and the Opera community has jumped into action as well.

    Given these changes and refinements, once the final release version of Opera 9 comes out, I'd trade my boxed set of La Boheme (starring Luciano Pavarotti, no less) for it if I had to. Fortunately, I won't have to, since Opera remains free.

    Oh, and the installation file is still under 4MB.

    Opera 9.0 Technology Preview 2
    Opera Software ASA
    www.opera.com
    Price: Free
    Summary: A preview of the next version of Opera offers several new features, including some pretty nifty widgets.

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