Product Review: Opera Raises the Bar for Linux Browsers
Opera Changes the Browser Field
Tuesday, the field changed significantly with the official arrival of Opera 5 for Linux--the first major commercial browser to enter the Linux platform in several years.
With this arrival, notice should be served to the other browsers in the Linux field: there's a new standard of rendering in town.
Set Up and Configuration
Normally, browsers are nothing to gush about, even for this reporter. But given the historic trouble spots graphical Linux browsers have had in speed, stability, and rendering, the new Opera browser is a welcome change.
Installing the Opera browser is simple: you can select static or dynamically linked packages, in either RPM, DEB, or tar.gz format. Instructions are conveniently provided on the Opera Web site for those users who are new to the vagaries of installing something on Linux.
I installed Opera on a Red Hat Linux 7.1 machine, within KDE, without any sort of trouble. Once installed, the browser started fairly quickly--slightly faster than my Netscape 4.7 browser and certainly faster than Netscape 6.
Performance-wise, this is one fast browser. Sites pop up very quickly, even sites heavily laden with graphics. There were no stability issues during the time I tested Opera on my computer.
If you chose to download the statically linked package, or have QT 2.3 on your machine already, and have a driver for XFree86 that has the RENDER extension compiled in, you may also have the added bonus of getting anti-aliased fonts running within Opera. It's not too hard to set up, provided you have a collection of TrueType fonts in a diretory somewhere on your machine.
First, open the /etc/X11/XftConfig file and add a line:
dir "[TT Directory]"
where TT Directory is the full path to the directory in which your TrueType fonts are sitting.
Next, cd to that TrueType directory and type the following two commands:
ttmkftdir -o fonts.scale
ttmkftdir -o fonts.dir
Next, open the /etc/X11/fs/config file and add a line in the catalogue list pointing to your TrueType directory.
Finally, restart your xfs font server (with /etc/init.d/xfs restart).
Now all you need to do is enter this export line:
and then enter the opera command. If all went well and your display card is up to it, you should now see anti-aliased fonts within Opera!
Looking at the Rest of Opera
The Opera interface, for users who are unfamiliar with it, minimizes the standard navigation bar somewhat in favor of more space for the browser tools. This takes a bit of getting used to, but it's a manageable transition.
The inclusion of the HotList, essentially a directory tree of all of your bookmarks, really simplifies some of the navigation, particularly when you can just drag and drop a page into the bookmark list to enter it there.
All of my favorite Opera 5 features were here, including the nifty status bar, the multi-window support, and the zoom feature. One tiny little feature that caught my eye: the ability to import Internet Explorer bookmarks. This seems a stretch for the Linux user, but it was nice to see it nonetheless.
In the default mode, the user agent for the browser is displayed, so you can mask the identity of the browser you are using. Certain Web sites detect and reject browsers they aren't designed against, so they've included the ability to mask the agent as MSIE or Netscape. Frankly, while well-intentioned, I think this is a mistake. How else will Web developers know to adjust for Opera if they don't know it's visiting?
Regardless, the Opera for Linux browser comes in the free adware version (which is what you will initially download). If you register and pay the $39 US fee, you can get the same browser minus the ads. The ads themselves are a bit large especially on smaller screen resolutions. If you grow to like Opera, you may want to fork over the fee.
I recommend that any Linux user who is disenfranchised with Netscape give Opera a serious look. It is likely to bring you a new sense of satisfaction not seen with Linux browsers in quite some time.
Opera for Linux 5.0
no cost/$39 (banner free)/$20 (educational)