The final, which is scheduled for release in early 2005, has not yet been given an official name, said Opera executives.
Sporting a simpler user interface -- perhaps in the hopes of competing with Mozilla's Firefox, which has blown by Opera to become the one major rival for Microsoft's Internet Explorer -- and a slew of new features, Opera 8 can be downloaded from the Oslo, Norway-based company's Web site. Currently, the beta is available only for Windows systems.
"We were preparing for the 7.60 release, but as work progressed and we kept adding improvements and functionality, it became evident that we had a browser that exceeds the next logical version number and warrants a major release," said Jon von Tetzchner, Opera's chief executive officer, in a statement.
Among the new features in Opera 8 are Fit-to-Window-Width, which reduces type size or reformats the page to fit the window (sometimes with not-so-pleasant results); improved RSS handling, including an icon in the address bar of sites that offer feeds for one-step subscriptions; and automatic update checks that makes sure users have the newest version.
Opera 8 also boasts some basic speech recognition skills, and will, for instance, respond to commands like "Opera back" or "Opera scroll down," as well as read Web page text to users.
Like all free-of-charge Opera browsers, the v. 8 beta includes text or graphical advertisements as the price of admission. Users who have paid the $39 licensing fee for Opera 7 to skip the ads will receive free upgrades to the new version when it goes final.