Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/10/21/opera11_browser_preview_in_pictures/

Inside Opera 11: extensions and benchmarks

Take a peek at the nifty new alpha

By Andrew Orlowski

Posted in Applications, 21st October 2010 15:05 GMT

Opera issued a feature-incomplete alpha version of its desktop browser today. The two aspects introduced in 11.00 are the revised JavaScript engine and Extensions. More features will follow - sometimes these are introduced late in the release cycle.

Opera releases are always worth a look. It's the testing ground for new features - and a preview of what Mozilla's Firefox and Chrome will implement in about three years' time.

Here's a quick hands-on with the Mac version.

Before you even run the alpha, the engineering quality is evident. While the Firefox 4.0 beta weighs in at 64.2MB, the Opera 11 alpha tips the scales at 34.4MB. Opera contains far more browser functionality as well as having an excellent email client built-in.

Regular users may notice a couple of tweaks. The Personal Bar is now called the Bookmarks Bar, but I noticed that it's populated with the default Bookmarks, even after you've moved them to the Trash. (This is an Alpha, remember).

The Bookmarks Bar is off by default. And what's Kayak, anyway?

When lots of tabs are loaded in a window, the tabs now hide their close button until activated. Windows and Linux users are familiar with a similar behaviour in those versions of Opera. The button doesn't appear if the mouse hovers over the tab, however. The appearance and placement of the button depends on the theme.

There's a very welcome new option to leave Flash plug-ins inactive as web pages load. It's turned off by default.

More work has been put into the JavaScript engine. I benchmarked the JavaScript performance of the Mac alpha against the existing release version. On my test machine, a three-year-old dual core Mac, the SunSpider scored 429.8ms versus 452.0ms on 10.63. Safari 5.02 scored 344.2ms on the same hardware, with string and data benchmarks far ahead of the competition. The latest Firefox beta heaves itself over the finishing line in an empty stadium, with 611.8ms.

Google Chrome squeaks in ahead with a benchmark of 419.6ms. The current version of Opera beats Chrome in crypto, maths and 3D categories. Chrome makes up the difference in the string and date benchmarks. But we're talking small amounts, smaller than the confidence interval and overall; there's very little between Opera and Chrome.

SunSpider benchmarks on a relatively old machine.
Shorter bars are better

You get a lot more functionality with Opera than Chrome, of course, it's like Brazil playing the Faroe Islands at football. As with Firefox, Chrome has outsourced adding features to volunteers. Opera employs very good engineers to implement them in-house. But Chrome is very efficient at doing the simple stuff - and for older Macs with 1GB of RAM or less, it is probably the best choice.

The Opera alpha scores 179 in the HTML5 Test, compared to Chrome's 231, Safari's 208, and 159 for Opera 10.63. The improvement comes from the 'Communication' category. Take this with a pinch of salt, of course - many specifications that make up HTML5 are still incomplete, so no browser vendors should be criticised for failing to implement a specific format. For example, the Microdata spec was only published yesterday. And as with the Javascript suite, some are more important than others.

Opera 11's improvement in the HTML5 beauty contest comes from new support for websockets and server-side events, allowing push notifications to the browser.

Extensions

Here's a run-through of what to expect. None are installed by default, you're invited to go to Opera's extensions portal.

There are around 15 examples on the first day. This one does little more than invoke opera:config

A simple extension

Installation requires confirmation. There's no description of what the extension accesses, unlike on Chrome:

Loading your extension

This extension has a button:

While this one doesn't, it adds a control to the web page:

The Extensions are managed through an inventory page:

Manage your Opera Extensions

Unlike Firefox, there's no settings box for each extension. Or at least, not yet.

An Extension uses the W3C Widgets configuration file (in XML), an HTML index page (and CSS if required) and the JavaScript file and any toolbar icons - all zipped into an archive. As with Chrome, extensions can't access secure https: tabs. There's a Hello World example here and a more structured step-through here. The Extension API isn't quite complete yet - developers can't yet communicate between scripts and popups. This will arrive soon.

Debugging is helped by the quite wonderful Dragonfly tool, essentially an IDE built into Opera - which allows modifications on the fly. Other browsers have helpful Developer tools, but none as impressive as this.

Ever felt like reading Bill Ray in Georgia?
Now's your chance.

Some searching questions were asked last week about security. Opera already has a very customisable browser, once you poke around. It has always pointed out that the lack of extensions is a positive.

Opera said it will search code for possible malicious behaviour, but it's hard to detect automatically.

Mail

Opera's hidden gem is its email client, and this receives a cosmetic makeover in the new alpha. Opera has moved to use native controls on Linux and Mac now, and there should be more such improvements, hopefully.

I've discovered a significant pent-up demand for a good email client, and lots of frustration with existing choices. Yet Opera's email client has understandably not been a priority - hopefully it will receive more TLC.

A more native-looking email client

One wonders what might happen if Mozilla ever decided to roll its email client Thunderbird back into its browser, now called Firefox. NASA tells us that time would slow down, and we may expect to see gravitational lensing.

Plenty more improvements are no doubt planned for the browser.

A word on stability. Trying an Opera alpha in recent times has felt a bit like cutting the brakes of a car to make the drive more interesting. This one feels the most stable yet, and is even a recent improvement no the stability of recent Opera betas. I guess it's alpha for feature reasons.

You can have a poke around for yourself, here. ®