RealTime IT News

Opera 7 Beta Launches

The latest version of the most popular Web browser alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) and Netscape, Opera 7 Beta 1 for Windows, is available for download, giving users the chance to view dynamically-created Web pages and developers an easier time creating Web pages around the application.

For the first time, Opera supports a host of Web standards, as promised back in September, including: Non-standard dynamic hyper-text markup language (DHTML); Document object model (DOM) level 2; 100 percent ECMAScript support; Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) 2; Website META Language (WML) 1.3; and 2.0.

The standards are used to create dynamically generated Web pages and are widely considered by consumers and developers as one of the main reasons Opera hasn't claimed more market share in the Web browser community, which is dominated by IE and Netscape. Prior to Opera 7, users would need to open up IE or another browser to view the dynamically-generated pages.

Opera 7 developers have also achieved what so many other software applications are incapable of doing; the new version packs in new and enhanced features, and is actually 300 KB smaller (3.1 MB). Opera 6.05 weighs in at 3.4 MB.

Jon von Tetzchner, Opera chief executive officer, said that by writing code that depends less on the operating system to get the job done and more on customized scripts, they are able to get the file size down, while still improving the software.

"Part of the reason that Opera's (file size) has been so small is that we follow the rules in reinventing the wheel," he told internetnews.com. "Most programmers don't like doing that, so it's quite common to use code someone else has written and that leads to code bloat."

The company also went one step further, creating a technology for the small screen. Web developers can now incorporate the browser's code into their company's Web site, as well as develop Web pages for Opera on PDAs and digital wireless phones.

The browser company's small-screen rendering (SSR) technology shows developers how to optimize Web pages so they can be ported from regular PC-sized screens to the smaller displays found on handheld devices, while keeping the Web page's full functionality. Users can see how Opera would look on handhelds by pressing Shift+F11.

Opera 7 is free for users who opt to receive the banner advertising and get six months free use of the OperaMail Premium. Beta 1 testers can purchase the premium service (which includes enhanced e-mail options and support) for $29; when the final version is released, officials plan to hike the price to $39.

The browser's look and feel remain the same in the new version, though the default skins package has gotten an upgrade -- buttons are three-dimensional, with the a redesigned hotlist navigation bar that uses buttons now instead of the tabs found in earlier versions. Managing the format of the browser is also much easier in Opera 7 with the addition of new browser layout tools found in the "Preferences" section.

New to Opera 7 is a download manager, which allows users to use the browser to manage all the downloads, as opposed to relying on Windows built-in downloader or other managers like Star or Go!zilla.

Opera developers have also significantly boosted its somewhat awkward e-mail application, putting functionality in the new version that makes its a legitimate threat to other e-mail programs. M2, the name of its souped-up program, supports the POP3, ESMTP and IMAP e-mail protocols, and has a built-in spam filtering program.

The software is available for download here. At press time, the servers were swamped with other Opera users clamoring for the download themselves, resulting in long waits to get a Web page to display.

Tetzchner said the delay between Opera for Windows and Opera for the other seven operating systems will be less in this version.

"There's been a significant delay between Windows and the other operating systems at times," he said. "I think there will be a shorter delay this time; we already have Opera working with the some of the others, but it's not ready for prime time yet."