We’ve decided to break away from our normal CyberNotes today to take an exclusive look at the features in Opera 9.5 (codename Kestrel). Opera has done a remarkable job of keeping the specs and features of Opera 9.5 under wraps. The Opera Desktop Team wrote a post last week that detailed some of the under-the-hood work that has been going on in 9.5, but as expected, they steered clear of mentioning the most notable features. After all, they want to save the excitement for the big Alpha release tomorrow!
Luckily I was able to test drive Opera 9.5 a little bit early, and it’s only fair that I share my findings with you (and we have Opera’s permission of course). I’ve put together a 5-minute video review that details four of what I believe to be Kestrel’s most notable features. So you can start out by watching the video, or you can read through the article as I cover each feature there as well.
I thought it would be best if I start with a video of Opera 9.5’s new features. All of these are covered in detail below, but this will give you a really good idea of what you can expect tomorrow when Opera 9.5 Alpha is released.
It’s been over a year since Opera’s rendering engine has seen any significant improvements, and this time around there are some significant improvements. Kestrel is now running the same rendering engine that powers the Wii Internet Channel browser as well as Opera Mini 4 Beta, and there are some astonishing differences…probably due to the thousands of bugs they’ve fixed.
I’ve been told to expect to see the rendering speed get better as further builds get released, but I have a hard time believing that they can get better than what I’ve seen. I decided to do a rather unofficial speed test to see how fast the different browsers rank in terms of loading our site (with an empty cache). I did three tests for each browser and averaged out the time it took for each to completely load our site. Here are the results with the slowest browsers first:
- Internet Explorer 7: 18 seconds
- Firefox 2: 15 seconds
- Opera 9.23: 12 seconds
- Firefox 3 Nightly: 11 seconds
- Opera 9.5 Alpha: 8 seconds
Here are some of the other updates in Kestrel related to the rendering engine:
- A lot more CSS3 support, including complete Selectors
- AJAX compatibility has been improved
- Improved HTML table layout algorithm
–Open With… (in the video)—
Despite all of the hurdles Opera has overcome with their new rendering engine, there are still some sites that probably won’t work as they should. Opera isn’t going to deny that it happens, and they are actually going to do what they can to help the situation. You can now right-click on any site and choose to open it in another browser that is installed on your computer!
I’ve also been told that the “open with” command will work with some files as well, but complete support hasn’t been added yet. I would like to see this feature extended to things like images so that I can right-click on an image and have it open in Paint.NET without needing to save it first.
–Restore Windows (in the video)—
Opera has a little trash can on the Tab Bar that is normally used to restore tabs you’ve recently closed (which can also be done with Ctrl+Z). Kestrel has introduced a new feature that will let you restore entire windows that you have closed, which includes all of the tabs contained within that window. I don’t open multiple windows very often, but I know this feature will come in handy.
–Sync Bookmarks (in the video)—
This is one of those things that I had said Opera needs to work on the most. By this point, most Firefox users have grown accustomed to keeping their bookmarks synchronized with an online service. Now Opera users will have the same pleasure! All you need is a free My Opera account, and you’ll be able to privately synchronize your bookmarks, Speed Dial sites, and Personal Bar with their server. You’ll then be able to access that data whether you’re at work, home, or anywhere!
To setup synchronization just select the “Synchronize with My Opera” option from the File Menu.
–Full History Search (in the video)—
The search capabilities in Opera 9.23 vs. Opera 9.5 are like night and day. They have now introduced full history search that looks back over all of the pages you’ve visited. I’m not talking about just scanning the URL and title of the page either…it looks at all the text contained within each site!
There are two ways that you can take advantage of this feature, and the most common one will be straight from the address bar. As you can see in the screenshot above, I was typing in “thumb” into the address bar, and the resulting page that was returned is our homepage. That’s because I had recently visited CyberNet where “Thumbnails” was one of the words used, but it wasn’t in the title or the URL, it was just in the body of the article.
If you’re looking for a more detailed way to search your entire history, just type opera:historysearch into the address bar. The result will be a Google-like search page where you can type the keyword(s) that you are looking for. It will then return the results that matched just like in this screenshot:
–What You Don’t See–
It’s very obvious that there has been a lot of under-the-hood work in Opera 9.5, and you’ll be able to see that as soon as you start using it. There has particularly been a lot of fixing up for the built-in Mail Client. Now it has a new indexing and storage backend that doesn’t use as much memory and runs faster. IMAP also works much better, and the browser isn’t supposed to freeze anymore when checking for new mail or feeds.
Of course Opera still starts almost instantaneously, which is one of its best qualities. And memory usage has (somehow) gotten better. I’ve never seen Opera 9.2 climb over the 250MB marker, and that was when I would have 50 to 100 tabs open at the same time (hey, I go through a lot of news in a days time). Now it seems to run at about 80% of the memory usage that it used to, and for most people it will hover between 25MB and 70MB.
–And There’s More!–
I’ve covered most of the big stuff above, but that’s not everything! Here’s a list of some other things that have been improved in Opera 9.5:
- The Status Bar is enabled by default…yay!
- The “Save your password” dialog box does not stop the page from loading behind it. That way you can verify that the username and password you entered works before actually saving it. What a great feature!
- Content blocking is better
- A “drag to scroll” feature has been added that will let you scroll by “grabbing” the page, much like in a PDF reader. You can enable it by typing opera:config#UserPrefs|ScrollIsPan into the address bar.
- It supposedly looks better on a Mac, and conforms to the Apple Human
Interface Guidelines. Unfortunately I don’t have a Mac to try that out on.
–Making it Better–
There are some things that I believe Opera can do to make the final product even better, but one of the most important is inline spell checking. This is often the first complaint I hear from existing Firefox users who try Opera, and I think it is an extremely useful feature.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Opera 9.5 is going to be a truly amazing browser once it is released, and it will likely raise the bar for other browsers. However, the build being released tomorrow is an Alpha, and it will have issues at first. There might be sites that don’t work properly with it, and if you decide to try this out, make sure to install it in a separate location from your stable Opera installation.
For more details on some of the backend work done to Kestrel, read this article posted by the Opera Desktop Team.
Opera 9.5 Alpha has been released.