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Opera: Your mother should know

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Opinion: You can't trust a mother when she praises her child, but you can trust dear old Mum's recommendation for a new piece of technology.

The latest instance of approval from the matriarch followed her installation of the Opera browser. It seems with version 7.1 of Opera for Windows, a bunch of Norwegian programmers have done what Microsoft still can't - make a browser that puts loads of good features right at any mum's hands.

Out of respect for Apple's good name, the squalid lump of code known as Safari won't be compared to either Opera or Internet Explorer on this occasion.

Mum rang up after encountering an endless barrage of pop-up advertisements, while surfing the Web. She needed help getting rid of the buggers and didn't know what to do. Opera was the answer.

It took some convincing to persuade Mum to try out a new browser. At first, she did not even know what a browser was exactly even though she uses one every day. She looked for the big blue E and knew it would take her to Yahoo! mail.

She is, however, the adventurous type and was willing to give Opera a go.

After a relatively painless install, it took all of 15 seconds to shut off the pop-up adds tormenting Mum. Unlike Internet Explorer types, Opera users can dart over to their quick preferences and select from not one but four pop-up options: Accept pop-ups, refuse them, open them in the background and open only those pop-ups the user requests.

This last option is a key addition Opera has thrown into version 7.1 to make its browser truly first class. In the past, turning off all pop-ups meant some hassle was required when, for example, a desired Java applet wanted to start in a separate window. This is a problem no more.

With one goal accomplished, we took the bold move of explaining mouse gestures and led Mum to what many consider the promised land of Internet surfing. After a couple of tries, she was good to go and no longer had to drag her pointer over the back and forward buttons in Internet Explorer.

No, the previous page visited was but a mouse gesture away.

Such treats for the end user continue to elude Microsoft. The company's browser looks more tired than a shemale street walker in San Francisco's Tenderloin on a Saturday night. Compared to Opera, it's just a rectangle.

Microsoft has clearly put its software investment some place else other than the browser. Once its near monopoly on Internet surfing was secured, Redmond left us all out to dry in a wasteland of featureless code and archaic design.

"We are the only browser more or less that runs on the desktop that actually has to care about people," Opera CEO, Jon von Tetzchner told The Register. "People give us money because they like it. We want to be the good guys. "

"For that to happen we have to innovate all the time. So we try and innovate all the time, like you say, with mouse gestures, which is also about social awareness."

Mum, an artist by profession, found herself marveling at the Opera user interface, saying she never knew something like this existed. Flashing icons and text that lights up under the mouse pointer go a long way to impressing creative types.

She also watched with awe as Web pages loaded with speed unknown in the Microsoft world.

Like any browser, Opera is not perfect all the time, especially for those people not willing to pay the license fee and remove the pesky add window. Users must still lean toward having Opera identify itself as IE to get the most function out of complex Web sites, but with time, this will change.

The key point is that Opera is making the good bits and pieces of browser functionality available to all kinds of users, which is what they deserve. The Norwegians refuse to hold the non-tech savvy crowd hostage.

For now, Mum continues to plug away in Opera with a new found pleasure. Instead of looking for the big, blue E, she searches for the big red O to get to Yahoo! mail.

With most of us spending vast amounts of time in the browser, why has Microsoft failed to produce anything resembling a new feature in four years? ®

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