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Opera Software moved back into the limelight today with the release of the final version of Opera 8 for Windows and Linux, and a beta of 8 for Mac also available. Version 8 is described by Opera as a substantial upgrade, with quite a bit of tidying of the UI and menu structure, voice control, extra security features and improvements to graphics and page sizing.

Speaking to The Register last week Opera engineering VP Kristen Krogh conceded that Microsoft's troubles with IE had benefited the new kid on the block, Firefox, substantially. Opera's status as the long-standing competitor, meanwhile, has arguably counted against it; it has a mature product, it's been around as a competitor to IE for years, so what's new?

Although Opera is characteristically keen on talking about security, and has added a security information field that makes the security level of the sites you're browsing more obviously visible, one of the more striking features of the new version is the browser's display capabilities. Small screen rendering, Extensible Rendering Architecture (ERA) and Scalable Vector Graphics together give you an impressive amount of flexibility in terms of screen size, the amount of information you can have in front of you at once, and the way you order that information. So although superficially some of this might seem to be most useful for non-desktop platforms, it potentially lets you do a lot of things with a browser on a desktop that you might not have thought of before.

Or alternatively, it makes it a lot easier for Opera itself to produce implementations for mobile phones, set-top boxes and consumer electronics devices in general. Opera has been highly active in these areas for several years now, so although most of the coverage tends to be of desktop browsers, in reality the company has quite a few other 'secret weapons' and might not have quite so much riding on the desktop as people think.

Along with the UI clean-up Opera has added quite a few small but useful features, and moved various menu items around. The close page button, for example, has now moved to the tab of the page, while a trashcan keeps a list of closed pages and blocked pop ups, and a view button shows and hides controls. The built-in RSS reader is no longer categorised as mail (we don't know about you lot, but The Register had conceptual problems with the previous approach), while the mail client itself is largely hidden until you create an account.

Opera remains free in ad-sponsored mode, or is $39 for ad-free; the company doesn't see either the ads or the charge as being a serious disadvantage, and as, according to Krogh, the revenues are quite healthy, there are no plans to change. There's a more detailed features list of Opera 8 here, and downloads are available here, although this morning the site appeared to be suffering from heavy demand. Form an orderly queue there... ®

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