Opera is a seemingly small name among desktop browsers, but it’s a tough competitor on the mobile platform, with users of both smartphones and feature phones using it regularly. Why Opera hasn’t been able to compete with browsers like Chrome and Firefox is hard to say, but the team behind it is looking to fix that. The company has just brought Opera Next – its bleeding edge version that’s a bit like Chrome’s Canary and Firefox’s Aurora builds – to Windows and Mac. The brand new Opera Next 15 comes with a new engine working under the hood, plenty of new features, and a brand new interface. Opera 15 is now running on Chromium and the difference that has made becomes apparent the second you launch it.
Not only has its startup time improved, but pages load faster as well. Interface wise, the URL bar and the Search bar have been combined into one, and you can change the search engine for your current search query right from this bar as well. Bookmarks have been canned in favor of the new Stash feature, which is something like a reading list for pages you intend to visit later. Websites saved to your Speed Dial can now be grouped into folders, and the Discover feature allows you to view trending stories from all over the world or a particular category. Lastly, ‘Off-Road Mode’ has been introduced, which uses the same server-side compression technology that Opera uses in its mobile browsers to speed up content loading on slow connections.
The tab switcher and and panels bar is now history; when you launch Opera, you are presented with the Speed dial, a search bar just above it, buttons for switching between the speed dial, Stash, and Discover pages, a search box for the speed dial, and the unified URL & Search bar at the very top. The Opera menu has done away with bookmarks, and all settings open as tabs in the current window.
Unified Search & URL Bar
The search and URL bars are now one and as you type a web address or your search phrase, it makes suggestions based on your browsing history as well as from the search engine that you’re using. As you type, you can switch to a different search engine from the bottom of the suggestions list. This changes the search engine for your current query only.
Speed Dial has been improved significantly; it now has its very own search bar, and the different websites that you add to your speed dial can be grouped into folders of their own by dragging & dropping one on the other. A folder can be named anything you like and you can search within a folder to open a particular website in it, or right-click it and choose to open all websites that have been saved to it.
Opera 15 doesn’t have bookmarks; instead, it has ‘Stash’, which is a reading list of web pages. To add a URL to your stash, click the heart-shaped icon that appears in the URL bar. The pages are added chronologically, and there is not way to group them into folders. Each page appears with its title and a preview, the size of which can be changed from the slider on the right. The search box at the top-right will allow you to search your Stash for your saved pages.
The Discover feature, as its name implies, allows you to find interesting stories from around the world. By default, it shows you top stories from many categories, but you can select one of the listed categories from the ‘Top Stories’ drop-down to view news relevant to that only. A cog wheel button at the top-right of the stories allows you select a country and language for the news you receive, and select the categories to include in Top Stories.
The Off-Road mode seems to have replaced Opera Turbo for browsing on a slow connection. This mode uses the same compression technology that is currently being used in Opera’s mobile apps. This is one of the key features of the browser as it isn’t offered by other mainstream browsers at the moment, and Opera is already known for its browsing speed, especially on mobile platforms.
Opera 15 isn’t compatible with the previous Opera themes, but it has included a few new themes of its own. Go to the Opera Menu and click ‘Themes’ to view the ones that are available at the moment; more are expected to be made available soon. Don’t expect something full-blown across the browser’s entire UI though; a theme just changes the background image you see on the new tab page and the start page.
Opera 15 is loaded with new stuff, and the new Blink engine that it’s now running on is just one of the great things about it. The lack of bookmarks is what’s alarming at the moment, since users previously had the option to sync their mobile bookmarks across all desktop and mobile platforms that Opera supports. Opera next is available for Windows and Mac, and can be installed side-by-side with your stable Opera installation without effecting it.