Web browser that surpassed the rest

16:00, Oct 21 2013
Opera browser
SAD LAMENT: The music is over for the Opera web browser.

I've finally done it; after 15 years of loyal use I removed Opera from my system.

Back in the day, when Netscape Navigator ruled the information superhighway and Internet Explorer was well on its way to earning its well-deserved reputation as God-awful, Opera appeared on the fringes and was immediately popular with those who appreciated its noticeably faster page rendering speed, ultra-lightweight design (for years it was touted as the browser that fitted on a floppy disk) and especially its under-the-hood tweakability.

The irony is Opera was never intended to be used by the public, beginning life as an internal research project before evolving into an award-winning and trendsetting web browser - Opera shipped standard with tabbed browsing, spacial navigation (mouse gestures) and page zooming.

In the early days, Opera was shareware while almost all other browsers were freeware and this no doubt impacted on its lack of market share. However, I had no problems shelling out US$29 for it and it remains one of the two best investments I've made on software (the other being the equally excellent Ad-Muncher).

Opera eventually became freeware (and no longer fitted on a floppy disk) and while never garnering more than about 4 per cent market share, it was cherished by millions of loyal users. Opera also boasted M2, a forward-thinking email program, built-in bittorrent download support and IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and while I didn't use half of the features, Opera was the perfect package for me.

I usually installed all the latest beta builds as soon as they hit the update servers and (along with thousands of other users) submitted bug reports to aid development. While using pre-release versions sometimes resulted in the odd crash, it was a buzz to be part of the process and to know I was using the latest and very best web browser available.


So why uninstall it? Bitter disappointment is the main reason; Opera developers always carved their own niche, steadfastly adhering to web standards compliance and to this end built their own rendering engine. Over the years they head-hunted the best coders from around the world and poured considerable time and money into research and development in order to create a web browser that out-performed other browsers and especially the big four, Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Internet Explorer.

Despite the developers of other browsers having extremely deep pockets (Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer are developed by Google, Apple and Microsoft respectively), Opera's developers achieved what they set out to do, with Opera regularly coming out on top in all the relevant tests.

Unfortunately, life isn't fair and all this excellence didn't equate to enough market share or subsequent revenue for Opera.

Ask anyone, "who makes the best hamburgers in town?", and a certain burger chain never rates a mention; yet the queues at their outlets are always longer than at their competitors. So it is with Opera; after years of making the best browser on the planet, the powers that be decided to cease development of their own rendering engine and will instead implement the one used in Google Chrome.

This means the latest beta versions of Opera are basically re-badged builds of Chrome and while there is no doubt the webkit/Chromium engine is good, gone are almost all the under-the-hood features that made Opera so great in the first place (tweakability, M2, the bittorrent and IRC clients etc). While the developers promise some features will eventually be reinstated into the browser, like post-quake Christchurch it will never be the same again.

I'm the first to admit it's a bit strange feeling this way over a computer program but I and many other die-hard Opera users are disappointed "our" browser was dumbed down and has become a knock-off of Google Chrome.

Au revoir, Opera - it really was great knowing you.

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