Opera 11 Beta

I'm one of the few people that actually uses Opera to do the grand majority of my web browsing. In recent years, I've been using Firefox more, especially for web development purposes (it's hard to beat the Firebug/Web Dev Toolbar combo - Opera has a tool called Dragonfly that's decent, but not quite as good). A few years ago, I wrote a comparison of Firefox and Opera across 8 categories, and it came out a tie. The biggest advantage that Opera had was it's usability and easy of use. On the other hand, Firefox's strength was its extensibility, something that Opera never fully embraced. Until now!

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.
  • Performance and Speed - Opera 11 is noticeably faster than it's predecessors (no small feat, as Opera has always been good in this respect) and probably it's competition too. Of course, I'm going on a purely subjective observation here and I'm obviously biased, but it seems faster than Firefox as well. It's probably on par with Chrome, but Opera has certainly closed the gap (especially on javascript-heavy pages, which is what Chrome excels at). Once this browser is out of beta, I'd be really interested in seeing how it stacks up. Somewhat related is improved support of various standards, notably HTML 5, so there's that too.
  • 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.
There are some other things, but the above are the best additions. Some of the other stuff is a bit extraneous (in particular, the visual mouse gestures are unnecessary, though they don't seem to hurt anything either), and some of it won't matter to most folks (the email client). I've run into some buggy behavior, but nothing unusual, and it actually seems pretty stable for a beta. So I'm looking forward to the final release of this browser.