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A Sincere Attempt to Switch from Firefox to Opera

[ Firefox and Opera Logos ] I recently twittered my intention to switch from the Firefox browser to the sleek, new Opera 9.5. I have always used Opera as a secondary browser, especially handy for speedy jumps into cyberspace, browser testing, and taking up space on my hard drive. I have always wanted to switch completely to Opera, but for many reasons, Firefox just keeps pulling me back into its comfortable grasp..

Opera may be stupid fast, but web page load speed is not a bottleneck in my workflow.

Installing Opera

After a quick Opera-9.5 download, I decided to install Opera in its own directory instead of upgrading my current 9-point-whatever version. Unlike some browsers, multiple installations of Opera require nothing more than separate directories (as specified during the setup process). Within moments Opera 9.5 was loaded up and running tuf. The new darker default interface is sleek and sexy, inspiring me all the more to continue my quest to switch from Firefox.

Configuring Opera

As I began configuring the new Opera with imported bookmarks, speed-dial, home-page settings, and tab groups, I found myself digging up passwords that I haven’t had to remember in years. I know that Opera is equipped with its own “Remember Password” functionality, but you still have to enter each password at least once in order for it to work. Not a big deal, and certainly nothing against Opera, but it would have been great to have been able to import all of my saved Firefox passwords (if that’s even possible). In any case, after loading up and logging in to my core collection of tabbed sites, I spent a majority of the day using Opera instead of Firefox for all of my design, admin, and surfing needs.

Wow Opera is FAST.

If you aren’t already familiar with Opera, let me tell you about its absolute bestest feature: it’s fast. Lightning fast. Faster than any other browser I have ever used (other than text-based browsing devices and whatnot). Even with all of my Fx extensions disabled, Firefox crawls when compared to Opera. Granted, there are many variables involved when it comes to browser speed and performance — computing environment, processor speed, available memory, bandwidth, etc. — but I think it’s safe to say that, in general, Opera is considerably faster than anything else.

Missing some features

As fast as Opera is, you either love it or leave it because of missing features. Functionality that you need for optimal workflow and getting things done. Just because Opera loads web pages super fast, doesn’t help much if it takes you twice as long to do your work. Here are some missing features that slowed my workflow significantly.

Color Tabs

At first, Opera’s incredible speed had me convinced that switching from Firefox was now inevitable. Yet, as the workday continued, I began noticing some serious deficiencies that were slowing things down. First, there has to be a way to display colorized tabs in Opera. The dark tabs are cool and chic and everything, but I am able to work much faster with my set of tabs sub-categorized and neatly organized according to a mini-rainbow of snazzy, desaturated colors. Unfortunately, a cursory Web search yielded zero fruits in this regard. Eventually, I slowly began memorizing my different tabs based solely on their location along the browser window. The problem with this approach is that tabs frequently lose their positioning, especially when they are constantly opened and closed.

View Selection Source

Pressing on, I soon found myself engaged in the redesign of my business site, Monzilla Media (soon to be released). During this time, I discovered another critical Opera deficiency: source-code access. In Firefox, it is extremely easy to check any snippet of source code by highlighting any portion of the page, right-clicking and selecting “View Selection Source..” Until I tried designing with Opera, I was unaware as to how much I rely on this feature. Further, viewing selected source code in Firefox is an easy way to see any changes made to the DOM due to JavaScript, Ajax, and so on. Even so, I wasn’t about to give up.. yet.

HTML Validation

As if lack of easy source-code access wasn’t inconvenient enough, I soon found myself missing a variety of Firefox’s extensional functionality. For example, the incredibly useful (X)HTML Validator extension makes it super-easy to check the validation of any Web page you happen to viewing. A simple glance at the indicator icon in the status bar lets you know if there are any errors on the page. Then, a quick double-click on the icon opens the source-code view of the document, along with a host of diagnostic tools and information. Couple this functionality with the “View Selection Source..” feature, and Firefox gives you amazing powers of (X)HTML observation.

Live Spell Check

Before long, my determination to switch to Opera was fading. Despite my best efforts to “make it happen” with Opera, the magic just wasn’t there. I think the thing that finally sealed the deal to stick with Firefox was the lack of live, on-the-fly spell-checking. Before this life-saving feature was introduced in Firefox 2-point-whatever, I found myself doing endless copying and pasting of text into third-party applications and online services just to check my spelling. Now that I have discovered the liberating power of real-time spell-checking, there’s just no going back. In fact, the futility of my attempt to leave Firefox for Opera finally became clear as I found myself minimizing Opera, launching Firefox, and using it to get some work done. Meanwhile, the über-speedy 9.5-version of Opera sat quietly in the background, fully configured and looking cool.

Fade to Firefox

Missing features should be available as extensions, but at the time of this writing, they are not. As a web developer and writer/blogger, my browser workflow is complex, dynamic, and heavy on the code side of the spectrum. And having tools like Live Spell Check, Color Tabs, View Selection Source, and HTML Validation really make my life easier. Firefox has those tools like now. So Opera may be stupid fast, but web page load speed is not a bottleneck in my workflow. Cutting down on redundancy and complexity is the name of the game, and Firefox has the tools to make it happen.

Jeff Starr
About the Author Jeff Starr = Web Developer. Security Specialist. WordPress Buff.
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17 responses
  1. Lightning fast. That’s the only thing that makes me wanna try every new version opera, again and again. But in the end, i always found myself back to Konqueror and Firefox…

  2. Thomas Milburn July 1, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

    I totally agree with you. I’ve also got Firefox 3 and Opera 9.5. I do most of my browsing in Firefox because I’m addicted to all the extensions, I can’t live without Adblock Plus and Firebug.

    Opera is completely different. I find it much faster, more responsive, stable and wonderfully smooth. If it had the same great extensions it would win hands down.

  3. Check out the http://operawiki.info/Opera site 4 those functions that u can’t find in default Opera configuration.

  4. Yeah I keep trying Opera with the new releases and I feel like it’s improving… I love how fast it is and also for some reason I like putting the tabs on the right side of the browser. I do keep going back to FF, with Opera being my third most used browser. The second most used, you ask? Flock! :D

  5. Well I didn’t mean to suggest that Flock was a serious web-dev tool – I use it because I enjoy the integration with flickr, twitter, youtube and others. So it’s FF when I’m working, Flock when I’m surfin’ :)

  6. Jeff Starr

    @Thomas: Yeah, I forgot about Firebug, Adblock, and several other key extensions. I never seem to use Opera long enough to actually miss the more “in-depth” functionality. Can’t even begin to work without an organized, easily recognizable set of tabs!

    @haRacz: Thanks for the resources! I was secretly hoping that some deft Opera user would point me in the right direction. Not sure about installing Firefox extensions in Opera, but I suppose it is all just a bunch of XML and JavaScript anyhow. Many thanks!

    @Eric: Help me to understand the usefulness of Flock! I have tried it, but it seemed a little too.. um, what’s the word.. “childish” for my tastes. It’s not a bad browser by any means, it just seems like more of a toy than a serious surfing and web-dev tool. Tell me I’m wrong! :)

  7. Jeff Starr

    Well played, Eric! :) That makes total sense and sounds like an excellent way to go about it ;) I really need to take a fresh look at Flock! Hmmm.. “A fresh look at Flock” — that almost sounds like the title of an article. ;) Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. I think it’s safe to say that, in general, Opera is considerably faster than anything else.

    You would be so happy on a mac.

    Also,

    I found myself doing endless copying and pasting of text into third-party applications and online services just to check my spelling. Now that I have discovered the liberating power of real-time spell-checking, there’s just no going back.

    Live spell-checking has been a native component of Mac OS X for years.

    There’s even the spell checker when I talk with people on instant messengers.

    I repeat, you’d be much more confortable with a mac.

  9. I am glad to hear such positive things about Opera, as I am not really impressed with Firefox 3. Dont get me wrong, I think its much better than Firefox 2 with them fixing the memory leaks that drove me up a wall.. But after about 3 days of use and installing updates, it starts to crash at random times. I have even tried to disable the plugins and no luck. Strange to think that its so hard to make a stable browser..

  10. Jeff Starr

    @Louis: if you remember, I do own a mac. It’s a
    MacBook 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo running OSX. Not exactly new, but certainly serves its purpose. I use it for cross-browser/platform testing, chatting, music, and other casual activities. For serious web development, however, I prefer to work on my trusty Vaio. It performs beautifully and is fully loaded with everything I need. I’ll admit, Windows ain’t the greatest, but I have been using it for years and understand it well enough to configure and tweak just about anything and everything. Don’t get me wrong, macs are smooth and sleek and very comfortable to use, but until somebody coughs up the dough for a desktop machine, I’ll stick with what I have, thank you very much!

  11. Jeff Starr

    @Alex: I agree, Firefox isn’t perfect, especially version 3, which I have found to be considerably buggy, especially on the mac. For some reason, the address-bar display area is broken graphically and does not show any URL information at all. Unfortunately, Firefox 2 is, as you say, prone to significant memory leaks, which seem to become worse with additional extensions. I have yet to install Fx3 on my desktop machine and doubt that I will until a few more of the kinks are worked out. In the end, I may end up switching to Opera (or some other browser) after all..

  12. Just a note for Thomas and Perishable – there is an ad-blocking feature in Opera 9.5. Just right click on the page and click block content.

    I’ve also tried switching to Opera after the new release but can’t get over a couple of issues and wide array of extensions with FF. The new Opera is definitely an improvement and I will keep using it as a secondary browser.

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