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Opera Software on Wednesday is expected to release the first edition of Opera 10, a browser the company said offered a variety of new features, including compression technology that can cut by a third the time it takes pages to load on slow networks.

Dubbed Opera Turbo, the server-side technology reduces the amount of data that must be downloaded to render a given web page. It works by scaling back the size of some images and stripping out certain content types, said Opera spokesman Thomas Ford. Some content based on Adobe Flash, for example, isn't loaded unless a user clicks a button.

In essence, Turbo works by establishing a proxy server through which compressed website content is funneled to the browser. It will not work with content that's encrypted using the Secure Sockets Layer protocol and delivers a benefit only when used on connections with limited bandwidth. It can be configured so that it is turned on only when a user is on a slow network. A graphic indicates the estimated improvement in load times.

The feature shouldn't be confused with Opera Binary Markup Language used to improve browsing speeds in mobile phone versions of Opera. It is free to use for the time being, although that may change depending on how widely used it becomes.

"Our intention is to make that as freely available as we can for the most number of people that we can," Ford told The Register. "We still have to figure out all the business model implications. We're still studying that."

The company says Opera 10 offers additional speed improvements. Compared with earlier versions, resource intensive pages such as Gmail and Facebook load 40 percent faster.

The updated browser will also offer an automatic updating feature for those who want to use it. This is good thing. A study released last month found users of Opera and Safari were more likely to run insecure versions of those browsers because it's harder to keep up patch releases.

Additional improvements include:

  • An expansion of a feature known as Speed Dial. With a 5x5 grid, users now have 25 images to work with instead of the maximum of nine that was previously available
  • An expanded offering of webmail providers, online feed readers and BitTorrent clients that will work seamlessly with the browser
  • A tab bar that's resizable and comes with a handle that will reveal full thumbnails of all open tabs to give a better overview of their contents.

Sadly, the browser has yet to implement a way to manage which websites get to execute Flash, javascript and similar client-side programs and which ones don't. (Instead, users get only a binary on/off check box.) That's a pity. The NoScript extension for Firefox has become an essential ingredient for users of that browser who want to protect themselves from the growing threat of website attacks. We thought Opera would have offered something comparable by now.

The beta of Opera 10 is available for Windows, OS X and Linux here.

Update

Several readers have written to complain that this article made no mention of Opera's site preferences feature, which allows users to block certain sites from running Java, javascript and several other scripts. In fact, we were remiss in failing to mention that it's possible to blacklist a particular domain by right-clicking on a given page and choosing Site Preferences. And for that, dear reader, we apologize.

But the fact remains that this feature is inadequate. NoScript allows the user to turn off Java, javascript and similar programs on all sites except those specifically allowed without breaking the browsing experience. In our experience, Opera does not.

To see what we mean, try the following:

  • Disable javascript from running by default, by clicking Tools > Preferences, highlighting the Content tab and unchecking Enable javascript.
  • Surf to Google Mail and attempt to log in. You'll be unsuccessful because javascript is required.
  • Now, right-click on the page and allow javascript to run only on that page. You will continue to receive an error message telling you javascript is required.

In other words, the superiority of NoScript is that it makes it easy to turn off scripting by default and whitelist only those sites deemed trustworthy. Opera's site preferences feature attempts to offer the same capability, but in our real-world tests, has fallen short. ®

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