Opera (with a long history of innovation in browsing technology) still maintains a leading position with many unique and powerful features (outlined below). This makes browsing a much better experience; any old car gets you from A<->B right? But some do it with much more style, speed and comfort!
Though this is clear when comparing to the archaic (many years since release) and bug-ridden Internet Explorer, it also holds up when comparing to the much more accomplished GeckoFamily of browsers (Mozilla, Firefox etc.) and also browser shells for IE like Avant or Maxthon. Here are a few of those reasons why, detailing comparisons against similar features in other browsers if appropriate:
Opera finds ‘next page’ links automagically and allows quick key commands or mouse gesture activation without manually finding the link; it is fully customisable too. For example, on a Google search to go to the next page, normally you have to find and manually click to go to the next set of results — in Opera you can simply fast-forward. This is brilliant in most forums and searches as one can automatically move to the next page without finding, moving and clicking on that link. It is Navigation for the lazy!!! It also automagically creates ‘slideshows’ for web directories containing only images. Great with Opera’s superior full-screen mode (which can act like a presentation system). Fast-forward/Rewind is unique to Opera (Safari has a feature called snap-back which is analogous to rewind). Firefox has just recently copied this functionality using an extension, however this does not integrate (via key commands and/or mouse gestures) anywhere near as smoothly as the Opera system.
Currently the most powerful implementation of this wonderful feature, first pioneered in web browsers by Opera. For example, the Firefox extension for mouse gestures cannot easily work on single links in a page, nor can they be customised for specific areas of the UI. In Opera, one can setup gestures specific to individual panels (aka sidebars), and EVEN various UI areas such as text-boxes (create a spell-check gesture that is local to edit boxes) and tree-views (back and forward collapses or expands the tree)! You can run command macros to perform several commands with just one mouse gesture!!! IE shells that have very basic gesture support such as Avant or Maxthon also come nowhere near this wonderful level of mouse gesture functionality.
The whole User Interface, including all the menus, keyboard commands, mouse gestures, toolbars, and even individual buttons are extensively and easily customisable, using a user-friendly GUI driven interface for most features (and easily understood INI files for more advanced tweaks). Every possible function the program can perform has an (intuitively named) internal command that can be easily used (see AllActions for a list, you can combine several commands together in simple macros).
Opera has a very good reputation in the security community for always fixing any possible security issues as soon as possible. It was designed to be secure from the outset, and does not support the sorts of dangerous technology so heavily abused by trojans and worms and hijackers on the internet. Any product based on IE, such as Avant or Maxthon, will always have a much higher risk of security breaches, as being based on IE, they fall foul of the substantial tide of IE holes and Microsoft’s consistently lax attitude in providing working patches (that don’t break something). Most of IE’s problems are unique to it because of its close ties to the operating system and technologies such as ActiveX and Activescripting. The huge prevalence of hijacks, trojans and worms can be partially attributed to IE (and indirectly any shells that use its core).
Simple but brilliant - select any text on a web page and simply copy to a note (using a context menu, a keyboard command, or defined mouse gesture) - it gets saved in a configurable treeview structure (foldered hierarchies to fully organise your notes) - It is fully searchable too (progressively finds matches as you type the search pattern). You can double click the note to go straight back to the original URL the text excerpt was from, or you can quickly mail it to a friend! Great for web research when you find small snippets of info; how many times have you read some paragraph, then later wanted to find it to quote it but not remember the source’s address - this is the fastest (only) way back to the page. The Firefox extension, QuickNotes, and Maxthon’s ‘collector’, are very weak in comparison (only use tabs with no organisation of research notes possible); and IE or other shells simply don’t have this great feature. Read more…
For users that have a conscience about whether the web remains accessible and open to all as it grows - it is important to choose a browser that supports the current contemporary web standards. Web standards facilitate all users, whether they are disabled or use unusual software, from benefiting from the web. Opera has excellent support for core standards like CSS and XHTML, and is helping develop new standards like VoiceXML? (the first browser to do so) to enable multimodal navigation - find out more on the OperaVoice page. Mozilla/Firefox (and rapidly KHTML) also have excellent support of contemporary web standards. IE for windows however has an appalling record of consistently failing to support core web standards (particularly in recent years), and is considered by most web developers as the main reason holding back full deployment of these beneficial universal standards. That means using IE or any IE shells like Avant and Maxthon does nothing to contribute to the advancement of a web more accessible to all.
Great bookmarks implementation - uses both nicknames AND keywords/descriptions to provide lots of additional information for stored bookmarks. Nicknames allows the bookmark to be easily retrieved in the address bar; if you give hotmail.com the nickname ‘hm’, then simply typing hm takes you to hotmail (and Opera uses a unique Turbo-Nickname recovery system, try SHIFT+F2!!!).
There is also a great dynamic quick search function in the sidebar and bookmark manager that progressively updates to show only bookmarks matching the search-term (if you use keywords, you’ll get a dynamic view of related bookmarks that may not even be in the same folder!). Firefox, in comparison, cannot search anything but the titles of bookmarks, losing most of the power of bookmark keywords and descriptions.
Opera users can choose three different views with which to manage bookmarks (full view [IE or Firefox’s only option], split-view [better for management of lots of bookmarks], and folder view [reduces clutter]) in both the sidebar and bookmark manager. Firefox’s keymarks functionality is fully covered by Opera’s customisable search (see below; Opera can natively do GET and POST requests unlike Firefox’s keymarks). IE and shells like Avant or Maxthon have very weak bookmark management in comparison to Opera (and FireFox)… Read more…
Opera Provides textual content before ANY other browser, and noticeably faster than IE for total page loading time (IE doesn’t seem to pipeline HTTP/1.1 connections making it often slower than Opera or Firefox, see HttpProtocol for more info). Presto, the Opera 7 rendering engine puts the emphasis on getting the content of a page (the text) to the user earlier than Firefox, and Opera’s cache (especially the back/forward performance ) is simply faster than any other browser. Since v7.2, Opera’s DOM performance has improved greatly. The biggest overall difference is for modem users, and for those on older computers, where browsers like Firefox bog down (tested with a P166, 128Mb memory). Opera excels here where the efficient page loading technology is most evident.
The wonderful ability to quickly toggle graphics retrieval on/off in real time speeds page loading (unique to Opera), and having proper page loading information (instead of the meaningless throbber in Firefox and IE/IE Shells), allows constant feedback and adjustment on the state of loading pages. An easily configurable user interface and many of the other features (e.g. fast-forward, gestures) highlighted on this page also make the user much faster!
This is a Brilliant and unique power feature - allows a user to selectively restyle any web page on the fly by applying customised CSS (see OperaUserCSS for more). Allows for either full replacement of the original CSS or layering onto it; and it can be easily toggled. When I last checked, only Contextmenu extension does something similar, but it unfortunately cannot yet easily toggle multiple UserStyleSheets on/off. No IE shell can do anything like this AFAIK. Read more…
Much Better than the simple tabs found in Mozilla / Firefox / some IE shells; tabs in Opera are actually references to full windows that can benefit from the power of full window management (Opera was the first ever browser to perform multi-page browsing) - try doing a super search (type ‘s searchterm’ in Opera) in the address bar to see why Tabbed-MDI is better than simple tabs of other browsers! Supersearch makes two simultaneous searches (Google and All The Web) then places the results side to side to compare the results! Linked Browsing (controlling the display in one page from the commands on another) is another unique feature to Opera, and is again an example of the greater power of Tabbed-MDI compared to standard tabs. One of Firefox’s preferences for managing tabs (using TBE), are more powerful than Opera’s preferences, although they can greatly slow firefox down.
Maxthon does implement tabbed-MDI, but fails to allow proper control to management of the MDI windows (e.g. can’t view restored and maximised windows together), nor implements the very useful linked browsing or features such as super-search.
For those Keyboard surfers, this is a really killer feature, allowing one to navigate links in a page depending on their spatial (and not document) location without needing to use the mouse. Again, a totally unique innovation of Opera.
Opera now offers an alternative way of navigating the web: not only with mouse or with keyboard, but with spoken voice commands - the so-called c3n: command, control and content navigation.
Opera has a powerful “inline find”, which is similar to Mozilla’s “Find As You Type”. This allows a user to instantly search for text / links in a page(use “.” or “/” to search all text in a page, and “,” or “shift /” for links - “F3” find the next occurrence and “Esc” exits). IE and the various IE shells utterly lack such a valuable functionality…
You can choose to download any file to a predefined location without having to call up any file/save dialogs. This time-saving feature can be accessed using context menus for the link, or configured to use mouse gestures or key commands. Firefox has recently copied this feature (called automatic downloading) in V0.7. Additionally, Opera can be also configured to fast-download specific file types to different directories; you can make Opera always put MP3 files in a downloads/mp3 directory while putting PDF files in downloads/pdf directories. This is unique to Opera. Downloads can be easily managed and organised using a panel/download manager, and Opera fully supports resuming downloads.
Unlike the meaningless throbber in all other browsers, Opera can use an informative progress bar that details the full status of any loading page, including percentage complete, the number of images/objects still to load, the total time and average connection throughput as well as the textual status. This allows a user to instantly know what’s going on as a page loads; and for example, if it looks as if lots of images are hanging on a server, easily modify the loading method, thus proactively speeding up page load. This is unique to Opera.
Opera smoothly scales the WHOLE page including the page formatting (not just the text size), and graphics are smoothed while zooming (which makes Opera really great for viewing photos / images on the web, you don’t need an external viewer any more!). IE text resize is laughable and buggy, and Mozilla/Firefox only resizes the text (more capably than IE though!). Neither of them resizes/smooths images when zooming. Maxthon seems to have copied Opera’s zoom mechanism…
The links panel collects all links in a page in one place, type Ctrl+9 to activate it. You can dynamic-search the panel and easily activate the links all via the keyboard. A wonderful feature is that the links panel can be ‘locked’ so that you can browse a site even if sub-pages don’t contain the whole site navigation. Tip: when re-searching links after first use, shift+tab reactivates the dynamic-search entry. Read more…
Opera allows the address bar, scroll bars and other UI features to be easily turned on and off (see CustomButtons and CustomCommands), unlike IE or FireBird. With some manual tweaking, it is possible to have various full-screen configurations and switch between them at will. It also allows presentations to be made using the open W3 standards of CSS controlled via media types. Unique to Opera.
the secure (168bit 3-DES encryption) password manager is also linked via mouse gestures / key commands to fast-forward - super fast logins because when one gets a login page, a single flick of the mouse or key-command does everything automatically. This level of integration of features is easily possible because Opera is a single unified product, rather than lots of different extensions.
Another opera innovation, it allows users to save entire collections of open pages, along with their browsing histories (back and forward buttons) and settings so that they can be opened later. These sessions allow you to easily switch between projects you may be working on or otherwise different sets of pages you may use. You may also choose to start Opera each time with certain sessions (like a home page, but multiple pages, possibly daily news, etc). Or you can have it automatically save and restore sessions such that if you ever have to close Opera, you can reopen it later and pick up right where you left off. (SessionSaver can duplicate most of this in Firefox)
Opera has an INI file that allows for full customization of search engines in Opera (up to 50 plus translation engines), with support of native GET and POST and addressbar shortcuts (thus equivalent to Firefox’s keymarks but more configurable). There is a third-party search editor (OpSed) that allows plugins to easily add new search functions to opera. Read more…
A tiny ~230kb (now statically) linked module provides the most innovative mail/news/RSS/IRC client available in years - the dynamic access-point model it pioneers is the way all email will eventually go (Google has recently emulated this, as are many others). Opera Mail is very secure, allowing no way for attachements to execute automatically, and stripping any external embeds in emails.
If you don’t ever set up an email account, Opera never loads the email module, thus taking up no additional memory if you only want a browser (and preferences > programs and paths allows you to fully remove any menu commands too). To get a mail client (Thunderbird) with Firefox requires an additional large download 44.5 times larger than Opera Mail!!! Outlook, Microsoft’s mail client, is a well known focus of sustained virus/worm attacks, and is responsible for countless security breaches and many of the most famous worms in recent years. Read more…
In Opera, simply typing “g” turns off all graphics on a page to speed that page up considerably. Pressing “g” again allows Opera to show only images it has already downloaded, so you see them without having to keep downloading them. And typing “g” a final time turns all the graphics back on. The feature is brilliant when you see a web site just stuffed with graphics you know will take ages to download, but you’d still like to read the text; “g” solves the problem in an instant! Read more…
1.8mb executable! 5.2mb total install footprint - doesn’t mess with the registry either (other than the install add/remove bit for the control panel etc). Opera is the MOST tightly coded Browser around (remember Maxthon and other IE shells are not browsers themselves, and depend on the large space and memory footprint of IE to function.
Because Opera keeps to itself (nothing stored in registry), you can easily move its settings to another computer without reconfiguring on each machine. You can also move the whole mail-directory in a snap, nothing to configure. You can set up Opera with multiple profiles to even give separate applications for mail and browsing! (see here for how). Firefox is also easy to move in this regard, but forget IE as it extends it tendrils deep into the registry.
Opera has many useful preferences out of the box, and can be adapted to any environment. Slow connection? Unlike any other browser, Opera lets you configure after how long(5 mins - 1 week) it checks for updated versions of both pages, images, and ‘other’ stuff. It also lets you configure how many connections it should have to any given server, and how to draw the incoming page depending on connection/computer speed. Tweaking this will enhance you connection speed. Firefox hides all of this in a complex about:config panel (or an extra advanced prefs extension), thus normal users would find it hard to do this kind of configuration (plus there is no help file for any of these types of settings).
Because the core in Opera 7 is now the same in Windows, Mac OSX and many unices, you can use Opera as a stable reference on these platforms. No more reboot and check your page.
With Opera you may switch easily into another language, without heavy downloads and/or install programs (as they are simple text files). It is very useful if you work in a multilingual environment. You may also create your own language file if you like.
At the heart of Opera’s growth is an active community of users posting their suggestions and helping iron out the problems in Opera.
 Using a combination of deliberate FOUC rendering (somewhat controversially however, test this advantage here.) and simply higher priority given to text, readable content appears before it does under Gecko (most significant [several seconds!] for slower connections). It is now fully configurable using Prefs » Windows » Loading. On a fast net connection with a fast machine, this advantage of Opera is much less noticeable.
 http://www.quirksmode.org/css/contents.html and http://www.designdetector.com/articles/results.html for some (incomplete) tests. Opera staff now account for half of the current CSS2.1 working group.
 DOM performance test: BenchJS - it is consistently faster than Firefox and IE.
 Excluding uninstall-info, help & cache.