By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers
Netscape? Internet Explorer? Which one is fastest?
Neither. A Web browser named Opera beats them both. In fact, it's the fastest Web browser I've ever used, opening distant Web pages two to four times faster than Netscape or Internet Explorer. And it has one more virtue that the browsers from the big guys lack: It's a memory miser, sipping your PC's precious RAM instead of gobbling it up.
That means all of you who've been running Windows on 4- or 8-megabyte PCs now have a way to browse the Web in style and speed. And everyone using PCs with gadzillions of megabytes can now cruise a dozen Web sites at a time without straining the operating system.
Even more striking is another major difference between Opera and the other browsers. Opera is specially designed to allow single-key operation, and it can be customized in dozens of ways to make Web browsing easier for anyone with limited mobility, eyesight or hand coordination.
Chances are you've never heard of Opera. But I'll bet you'll know a lot about Opera in a few minutes. That's all it takes to download the entire Opera installation program. The download file for the Windows 95 version of Opera 3.0 is just over a megabyte. (Compare that to the 10-to-20-megabyte downloads just to install the latest versions of Netscape or Internet Explorer.)
That should give you a good idea of how small the main Opera program is. Opera's program code is hand-tuned and optimized for speed and efficiency. That's a revolutionary idea in this era of program code that is too bloated and too sloppy even to debug.
What's astonishing about Opera is that it makes no sacrifices, supporting nearly all the modern features of browsers—frames, multimedia, secure sockets, plugins, newsgroup reading, proxies, animated GIFs, image maps, mail sending, Java and much more. It does not support ActiveX, nor does it have a built-in mail reader. I consider those two features unimportant. (Few sites actually use Microsoft's ActiveX controls—even Microsoft's own sites use more Java than ActiveX—and anyone who wants to receive e-mail properly should use an e-mail program to do it.)
Opera has its own excellent bookmarking system, but it automatically places any Netscape and Internet Explorer Web shortcuts it finds into its own list—a wonderful feature for anyone who has a lot of Netscape or IE links saved up.
Opera is an MDA (multiple-document application) program. Most browsers do not work that way, so first-time Opera users may be mightily puzzled. Opera has a main screen that can be opened full-size, and dozens of Web browser windows can be sized much smaller to be open in overlapping views in the main window. But you'll find that you can make Opera's main window normal size, and then make all Web windows large enough to fill that window entirely. You can then have any number of Web browser windows open underneath the top one if the MDA technique bothers you.
Opera is available from http://www.operasoftware.com, a site in Norway. You'll find versions for Windows 95 and Windows 3.1. Versions for the Mac OS, for the Be OS and for other operating systems are in the planning stage.
You can try out Opera free for 90 days before deciding whether to pay for it. The newest version costs $35. The version I've been using is 3.0 beta 10, which has some bugs (most of which are already listed in Opera's we-will-fix-it-soon bug list) and some misbehavior (such as occasional crashes). A newer beta is likely to be available soon.