IT Pro Verdict
A fast, solid browser, but there's no compelling reason to pick Opera over its rivals.
Tabbed browsing, plug-ins, rendering speed. Others such as Firefox and Safari may now crow loud about these but Opera had them first. Indeed for years it was the definitive browser for the clued-in geek, and now is forced to jostle for attention alongside fast, flashy upstarts such as Chrome. Can the new public beta of Opera 10 see off the newcomers?
The fightback starts with a redesigned front-end: the drab toolbar of Opera 9 has been replaced by a bolder design, with clearly delineated buttons bearing revamped icons. It does look more inviting, but functionally it's near-identical and, truth be told, it now looks a little like Safari.
Thankfully, Opera keeps its tabs within the main window, which we think is more usable than the non-standard way Safari carves up the title bar. You can also now drag the search field to resize it, although this feels like cosmetic tinkering rather than a functional improvement.
In fact, the big new interface feature is wholly invisible when you start Opera 10. To find it, you need to drag the toolbar downwards; that's not an intuitive operation, but when you try it you'll be delighted to see your web page tabs grow into thumbnails of the pages themselves.
Sadly, no matter where you've scrolled to, the previews show only the top of the page you're viewing - or sometimes, a section further down the page if something about the layout confuses them. Either way, they all too often don't resemble the pages they represent.
As a final interface enhancement, you can also now customise the Speed Dial grid. Where Opera 9 always showed a grid of nine page previews, the new beta will accommodate anything from four to 25 pages. The latest beta of Safari has a similar option, so it's good to see Opera catch up so quickly.
Darien began his IT career in the 1990s as a systems engineer, later becoming an IT project manager. His formative experiences included upgrading a major multinational from token-ring networking to Ethernet, and migrating a travelling sales force from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95.
He subsequently spent some years acting as a one-man IT department for a small publishing company, before moving into journalism himself. He is now a regular contributor to IT Pro, specialising in networking and security, and serves as associate editor of PC Pro magazine with particular responsibility for business reviews and features.