Hi! My name is Cédric Bozzi, I make websites and iOS apps, and this is my blog about technology (mostly a Twitter archive, really).

2 February 2003

It’s not quite dead yet

I think it’s quite time for me to write my Opera 7 review. You should know I’m quite a master of suspense, so you’ll have to read the whole thing in order to find out that, although this version is a tremendous improvement over the previous one, I’m back to Mozilla. No way I’m gonna tell this right from the start.

It all begins when you download it. That’s how most things begin. Browsers, games, sex… Anyway. I don’t like Java, it’s useless and makes my transparent windows flicker, so I don’t download it; as a result, the install file is a whopping… 3MB. Yeah. For a complete browser? No: for a browser suite including an e-mail and newsgroup client. I’d never have thought that, in 2003, you could have the whole thing fitting in 3MB. Now what are the Phoenix developers doing? All of a sudden, I’m understanding Apple’s choice of not using Gecko in Safari: if that’s what’s taking so much place in Phoenix, I wouldn’t chose it either.

Then, once you have waited (not long at all, even over a modem) for the installer to download, you launch Opera. And that’s where you can’t believe your eyes. It’s beautiful. It’s gorgeous. All the more beautiful when you remember what Opera 6 looked like. This is, by far, the most beautiful browser ever released for Windows. Seriously. The one and only visual defect is that the toolbar buttons are all the same size and color, which is bad. But, well, it only means you’ll have to memorize where each button stands, no big deal. The icing on the cake is you can change the interface’s colors, using predefined schemes or your Windows system settings, and even the icons take the new color. Superb.

On to the rendering engine. It’s a little bit important too, isn’t it? I haven’t tested it quite extensively, but it’s actually quite good (except a little glitch on one of my sites(w), which I don’t think I can correct without changing the whole layout, so I’ll have to wait until they fix the bug) and, above all, it’s amazingly fast. I had never paid much attention to the little speed differences between Explorer and Mozilla, but switching to Opera is astounding. Those pages scrolling instantaneously when I use the mousewheel… Or, when I press Back and the previous page is displayed so quickly that I think Opera hasn’t reacted and didn’t hear me. The only big problem still not solved is with forms: all fields are twice as big as they should be, and my layout is broken. Oh, that and, for some reason, I can’t get my blog to display in Georgia. But all that is not quite serious, compared to the previous versions, or even compared to the incompatibilities you encountered when you were a Mozilla pioneer.

Surprise: Flash animations work. Is the plugin included in the 3MB, or did the installer get it back from Explorer or from Opera 6? Either way, it’s perfect. Second surprise, my Mozilla sidebars work in Opera without any modification at all. You have to thank the developers who decided to stay with target=”_content” to make it easy for everyone—not the kind of present Microsoft would make.

Let’s move on to the mail client. The interface is not original and, even though I prefer folder management ala Eudora (with lots of distinct subwindows, like a file manager, rather than Outlook’s two or three panes), I love the idea of having my mail in a browser tab. It’s quite good, globally—except for the Quick Reply option, which allows you to type a short answer and send it all in one click, with the quoted message below. A nice new function that invites you to treat email like chat, and to quote like a pig: Microsoft must be quite sorry they didn’t think of it first. (Or did they? I don’t use Outlook anyway.)

I like the way folders are managed: Opera creates virtual folders, treating messages independently of their location. An Unread folder, for instance, listing all unread messages (well, duh), no matter which sub-sub-folders they’re in. Even better (although I don’t know what use it may have, but I love the idea), Attachments folders (separating images, music, videos and other files) gather all messages with attached files. I don’t know how useful it can be, but I like the idea on the technical level. But it becomes more complicated when I import my 31,700 messages. Of course, the importing itself takes hours, but what becomes a real nuisance in that the Unread folder, for instance, becomes unusable. It’s clearly not optimized: if you ask to change the sorting order of the folder, Opera seems to compute the entire email database again, instead of applying the new sort to the existing list. And, more serious, much more inconvenient, although the importing seemed to go alright, some folders are missing. Why? All I know is, that was the minute I decided to bid Opera’s email client farewell. Too bad, I like it.

Let’s see the flaws now. They’re not many. They’re really not. They’re so few that I can recommend Opera to most people I talk to—especially considering that, for some reason, the version I downloaded doesn’t display the advertising banners it’s supposed to. Is it a bug or a promotion? Opera 7 hasn’t given up on banners, has it?

Flaws… They’re really small. So small that, as I’m reading my notes and trying to make an article out of them, I wonder if they count at all. But size doesn’t matter, they say.

Let’s start with how, when I wanted to Alt-F4 a popup (actually, Alt-F4 is bound to my trackball’s fifth button, which is why I use it so much), Opera closed entirely, because popups open within the interface instead of separate windows. I find that absurd (I’ve already said how much I loathe the Multiple Document Interface—that thing Microsoft invented a long time ago to look different from the Mac, and then slowly proceeded to abandon silently) and I’m wondering if that’s not only because advertising banners must always be visible in the foreground. Which would be quite a pathetic way to justify such an important design choice.

Then, and it’s not much, and it may only affect me, Opera doesn’t seem to want to memorize my intranet password. Considering that my bookmarks always involve a local script, it’s a little bit irritating.

But the main grief I have is against the tabs implementation. It’s probably due to the fact that it’s originally just an MDI interface, and tabs have been added upon it, rather than created from scratch. Which means that, for instance, you can close all the tabs—that’s so useful when you’re using a web browser. And there are lots of little irritating details like that one, but I… forgot to write them down.

Finally, there’s a serious lack of configuration screens—and also hidden options. Mozilla’s customization capabilities are often made fun of, but they’re actually it’s biggest quality; in Opera, you’re stuck forever with the way the browser has been designed. And I don’t like the way it’s been designed. Even worse: for the email client, for instance, there’s only one configuration screen, when Eudora has two dozens. There definitely has to be a few important things missing there.

All in all, the reason Opera is not working me is certainly that I’m actually quite in the Mozilla target. I hadn’t realized it yet, no matter how obvious it is: Mozilla is a browser made by, and for, nerds, and I’m a nerd. I can stand and get used to Mozilla’s idiosyncrasies because I understand computers, and I understand how Mozilla has been designed. I’m destined to use a browser that searches through text when you press /, because it’s something I can conceive. Whereas Opera is made for the general public, and Joe User won’t even notice its flaws. And that’s how I’m writing a negative review, and concluding it with a recommendation to use Opera.

So I’m back to Mozilla. It’s quite a pain, after you’ve used Opera for only an hour, to find back all the jerking and lagging when I’m using the mousewheel.

Since I was too frustrated by the interface after I’d seen Opera’s, I installed AquaMOZ again, and this time took the time to look at all I could change in my userChrome.css to make it nicer and more functional, and to use Chimera’s toolbar buttons (which aren’t perfect either, but at least less ugly). That’s what a geeks’ browser is all about: an interface defined in CSS so that you can apply your own CSS rules upon it to change it any way you like. Yeah, it’s big and slow and it’s not that well designed. But that’s where I feel home.


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