Tag Archives: Opera

Biting into the GUI center

We’ve all had that annoying moment when the way we’ve always done things changes. If you’re a Facebook user this is pretty much a de riguer experience. Even something as simple as pasting a link from your blog can change on a day to day basis: what screenshot does it find, can you replace it with a file from your drive, does the URL show or not?

I’ve got a guy a work  (actually several) who apply skins and themes to make their Windows 7 machines look like gray box Windows 2000 machines. Not XP, 2000. Another likes to take his text editor and put it in VI style (green text on a black background). These anachronistic choices aside, at least they have the option of keeping the things the way they have always known. For many things online, it just is the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it.

I’m a browser switcher and my current favorite is Opera. It’s fast, it’s simple, and it lets me make my own start-page. But because programmers always have to have something to do, it has become slower over time because of all the new features I’ll never use and don’t want, the location of bookmarks has changed several times in the last year, and the nice big start page boxes have been shrunk to mimic Chrome. The reason I switched to Opera is that Chrome had shrunk its link boxes to a tiny fraction of page real-estate in favor of a large search area, and now Opera has matched them. It’s gotten a little better since the initial release of version 29.0. Opera fixed a text overlay so it is under the box and not over it, making up for some of the clipping and size problems, but it’s still not what I was used to and had grown to like.

If I didn’t like the change my options were to go back to a previous version (not the easiest or most secure procedure), switch to another browser that had features I liked from Opera and nothing else, live with the problem, or write my own browser. I’m increasingly becoming convinced this last option is the best one. I can use Chrome’s rendering engine and just slap the simplest possible GUI on top. Ah, if only.

Other sites with unwelcome “better” changes:

  • The Internet Archive – Admittedly its old interface looked like something out of the 90’s, but the new look makes it harder to find what you need and takes up more space on screen. Not a good set of characteristics for the internet’s library. You can go back to the old interface, but only after sitting through the new one and who knows how long that’ll be an option.
  • Indie Royale – N0t every gaming site needs to have a black background. You were doing your own thing with tan and hand-drawn icons. The purchase bundles interface has never been right either.
  • Netflix – Took an easy to organize list and made it a jumble of icons. More visually appealing, but annoying for those of us OCD people. Why can’t we sort what we want to watch?

I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this as well, all of us programmer’s are. Sometimes we remove a feature to solve a problem with a new architecture. Sometimes we try to simplify to make it easier to find what we think you’ll need. Or we add something new because we think it is really cool. We talk to customers and we try to make the best engineering decisions. But the internet, and internet software is different. You expect changes with new OS’s or new versions of purchased software, but browser versions have largely shifted into the background, and websites are constantly changing. And it can be annoying to feel like you have no say when something you like doing one way, suddenly has to be done another.

What site or software change has annoyed you in the past?

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A day at the Opera

If you’re like me and are one of the 43% (stats from http://gs.statcounter.com/) who use Chrome as their primary web browser, you’ve probably noticed their latest update:

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In addition to our “favorites” boxes we now have a large Google search bar and logo. If you begin typing in this bar you get this…

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That’s right. The logo disappears, and the text is re-directed to the top bar. In case you didn’t know, if you type random text into this top bar, it will do a Google search. Essentially all the new logo does is teach us this, in addition to slowing Chrome down, and shrinking our favorites down to microscopic size.

The screen-shots are from my netbook, the computer most affected by the change as it only has a vertical resolution of 600 pixels, a 1.6 GHz processor (when plugged in) and 1 GB of RAM. However, Chrome used to run and look great on this machine and now … well … it doesn’t. (Saved myself a quarter in the swear jar there).

Naturally I’ve been looking for alternatives. Firefox hasn’t been a good browser for at least 5 years, IE isn’t called Internet Exploder for nothing and I can’t bring myself to try Safari (too close to Macs for my taste).

But I don’t sub-title this blog Writer, Programmer, Singer for nothing, so what about … Opera.

Opera’s market share is a good deal smaller, hovering between 1-2% of global users (300 million or the population of the US so still nothing to sniff at). It’s always had a history of pioneering features: tabbed browsing, mouse gestures, and oh … yeah those favorites boxes (which Opera calls speed dial). Opera is the 3rd most popular browser on tablets, and is the power behind the internet channel on the Nintendo Wii. And the latest version 16 runs on the same code base that powers Chrome (meaning the under the hood features are still as fast).

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Ironically, the latest Opera speed dial comes with Google search built in as well, but smaller and less obtrusive. But it includes several other features that Chrome has yet to match.

For starters you can group favorites into “folders” (you can see a couple of them in the bottom right of the above screen-shot). Here’s one expanded:

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This allows you to keep a lot more links on your start page, but still compact them to a size where you can see them all.

And unlike Google, which doesn’t allow you to manually set or position these blocks, Opera makes adding your favorite sites easy.

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On any website you’ll see a couple of buttons to the right of your address bar. The blocks (highlighted in red when clicked) are what adds a site to your speed dial. Click those blocks, then rearrange as desired. The heart is your “stash”, Opera’s version of bookmarks with some added caching.

Test driving on my netbook made a world of difference. Chrome now takes 5-10 seconds to load, whereas Opera pops right up. Most sites including WordPress render normally, even streaming video sites like Netflix. Opera has less themes than Chrome, so not quite the same customized look and feel, but I’m pretty happy with the default look. It does support extensions and many other interesting under the hood options a little more technical than I’ll discuss here.

Ultimately, I’m the kind of guy who switches his primary web browser every five years or less, but this change might be worth it for you if you like Chrome, but don’t like the latest update. Give Opera a try.

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