Miscellaneous Ramblings

Miscellaneous Ramblings Review

Opera the Best Browser for the Mac

Charles Moore - 2007.02.26 - Tip Jar

For the past couple of years - ever since the first Opera 8.x public preview was released in early 2005 - I've used Opera as my front-line general surfing browser. I love Opera's speed, stability, and the way it renders pages.

The feature that allows you to resume your last browsing session is very convenient as well, although it is no longer unique to Opera - having gone mainstream with Firefox 2, and the best implementation of all being with the freeware CaminoSession plugin for Camino.

I always liked Opera's somewhat quirky user interface, which is much less quirky than it used to be, and its incredibly deep feature set.

Opera incorporates a full-featured POP3 email client, news reader, mailing list organizer and RSS/Atom newsfeed reader, an IRC chat client, and a BitTorrent client to download large files. It supports Secure Socket Layer (SSL) version 3, and TLS 1.0 and 1.1, as well as 256-bit encryption, the strongest standard encryption for the Web.

Other features include mouse gestures, allowing you to perform certain movements with the mouse to access commonly-used features, and one of Opera's coolest features is fast and easy Google search direct in the address field: just type 'g "search term" (without the quotation marks)' and press Enter. A Google search page of returns will appear. Slick.

Low End Mac's homepage in Opera
Low End Mac's homepage as rendered by Opera

That just scratches the surface. Opera is chock full of nifty touches like that. You really have to use Opera for a while to truly appreciate its capabilities, although the speed will be immediately apparent.

Incidentally, importing your Bookmarks/Favorites from other browsers is simplicity itself.

Opera Bugs

However, Opera does have some shortcomings. It takes forever to start up, even when you're not restoring a saved session. And worse, there is an erratic bug in Opera 8 and later that often causes the "Hide Opera" command to break after the program has been quit, especially after unexpected quits (I don't have them often, and it's usually the system's fault and not Opera's) and after running OS X maintenance scripts - but also sometimes after a completely normal application quit and restart. My workaround, when I remember to do it, is to make a copy of the Opera Preferences folder and compress it to a Zip archive before running system maintenance routines and then restoring it after the fresh reboot of Tiger. Inelegant, but it seems to work, and Opera is worth the trouble. (If I forget, it means trashing the Opera preferences and restarting the program, sometimes more than once, to restore the Hide function.)

On a lesser scale of aggravation, Opera's page load progress bar is lame. Another thing that bugs some users, although it's not a problem for me, is that Opera only supports plain text in OS X Services.

Since I use the hide function routinely, that bug as described is a major aggravation, and it's testimony to how much I like Opera that I have put up with this behavior in order to continue enjoying Opera's many superior features and its speed. It's probably some sort of Tiger incompatibility, as I don't recall the problem manifesting when I ran Opera 8 under Panther.

But it gets old.

Safari Not a Solution

Consequently, from time to time I get frustrated and switch to Safari for a while - but usually not very long. Safari does start up with satisfying dispatch, but once it's up and running, it takes a back seat to Opera in speed and responsiveness.

Another issue I have with Safari is that for some reason text copied and pasted from it doesn't retain paragraph breaks (although there is no such problem with text copied to DEVONthink via OS X Services). Text copied and pasted from Opera retains its paragraph formatting. This may be a small thing for many users, but I do a lot of copy and paste from websites.

Cut and paste text comparison, Safari vs. Opera


An add-on that does make Safari a more well-rounded browser features-wise is Hetima Computer's freeware SafariStand, which adds on a raft of features, including:

  • A sidebar with thumbnail tabs (similar to OmniWeb's tabs).
  • 'Stand Bar' (Bookmark, History, Side Bar compatible, Simple RSS Reader)
  • 'Quick Search'
  • 'Stand Search - supports Spotlight
  • 'Action Menu'
  • 'Arrange Tabs' - by dragging and dropping
  • 'Site Alteration' - alter aspects of sites you are viewing
  • intelligent Plug-in blocking
  • original bookmark property (color label, category, comment, rate)
  • syntax coloring of html in viewed source
  • open "_blank" Link in New Tab

I like SafariStand's implementation of thumbnail tabs better than OmniWeb's, because the tab sidebar stays within the main browser window area, rather than in a slide-out drawer. The sidebar can be positioned either on the left or the right.

SafariStand's thumbnail sidebar
SafariStand's thumbnail sidebar

The standard menu itself is added to the right hand side of the Safari Help menu-bar location. This drop down menu enables you to change the text encoding as well as accessing the preference settings for Safari Stand.

SafariStand settings

SafariStand bookmark shelf

SafariStand's "Bookmark Shelf" is similar to session restore functions in Opera, Firefox, OmniWeb, and the CaminoSession plugin. After opening the Bookmark Shelf, select "Create Shelf from Current Workspace" from the Stand menu, and you'll get a new Shelf in the "Bookmark Shelf" window containing the addresses for all your opened tabs.

Stand Bar

The stand bar feature is similar to that of the side bar of the Mozilla-based browsers. With SafariStand, this sidebar appears as an independent window. It can be toggled on and off by way of a user definable hot-key (defined in the SafariStand settings). It gives users four options, Bookmarks, History, Side bar, and a simple RSS Reader.

Stand search is an independent window that can be toggled off and on using a user defined hot-key. It provides two search options; first to search bookmarks and a user's browser history for an item, and Second to enable a Spotlight search of your web archive and html on your system. You can select for the latter whether or not you wish to include file contents in your search.

Not Warm Toward Safari

Unfortunately, while I like SafariStand a lot, I've never warmed much to Safari. In general, I find it slower than Opera - substantially slower on some sites.

However, stability and responsiveness are also factors. Safari, after it's been up and running for a few days, becomes increasingly balky and recalcitrant, slowing down, refusing to respond after you click between tabs until after a good, long wait. Closing and restarting the program improves performance temporarily.

Once I get Opera working, it usually stays working until my next system reboot.

Safari also has a really lame Download manager, while Opera has an excellent one, with support for resumable downloads that actually works well.

How Do You Spell Relief? O P E R A

"Relief" is not too strong a word to describe returning to Opera again after several days on Safari. It's faster and smoother, and I can have a dozen or more tabs open at a time without the program slowing to a crawl or seizing up. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.

In my opinion, Opera is still the best all-round general surfing browser for Mac OS X, and Safari has a long way to go to even come close to matching it.

The current version of Opera is 9.10.

Note: these experiences have been on a 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4 with 1.5 GB of RAM running Tiger (currently OS X 10.4.8) and with a very mediocre dialup connection to the Internet. With other setups, your mileage may vary.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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