Opera recently released a beta of their next version, and I've been using it this week. It's looking like an excellent browser, with some big improvements over previous versions:
- Extensions - Opera has finally taken the plunge. Having only been available for a few days, there isn't quite the extensive library that Firefox has, and given the smaller user base and Firefox's head start, I'm not sure they'll be able to catch up anytime soon. That being said, it's a welcome addition, and when combined with Opera's superior native features, perhaps this will even the score a bit. Extensions also represents an interesting dilemma for Opera - will they turn the most popular extensions into native features? One issue with Extensions is that they can be somewhat unreliable and yield poor performance (for instance, the various Mouse Gesture extensions for Firefox can't hold a candle to Opera's native functionality). That was always Opera's worry about Extensions, so I'm betting we will see extensions rolled into the native app in future versions.
- Tab stacking - Opera was the first browser with tabs, and now they're making small, incremental improvements. In this case, it's the ability to group a bunch of tabs together and allow you to expand or contract them. I haven't actually used this feature much, but I can imagine scenarios where I'd have dozens of tabs open and grouping them might be helpful (this also makes their tab preview on mouseover functionality more meaningful, as mousing over a contracted group of tabs shows you a preview of all the tabs (this was only marginally useful if not a complete waste on regular tabs, but in this scenario it works well)). On the other hand, I'm not sure the trouble of grouping and maintaining the tab stacks would ultimately save time (but perhaps future iterations will come up with smarter methods of automatically grouping tabs - an approach that could be problematic, but which could also be beneficial if implemented well).
- Search predictions from Google - This is minor, but just another "We're catching up to Firefox functionality" addition, and a welcome one.