Opera is out today with the first Opera 10 beta. The new browser had been in Alpha since at least December of 2008. Opera is claiming the new version is faster than its predecessor by way of the Opera Presto 2.2 rendering engine.
Though speed is key (and is a major selling point for all modern browsers), the big shift from my point of view is the inclusion of (even more) HTML 5 specifications items, including support for CSS Web Fonts. The Web Fonts spec (also supported in Firefox 3.5) means that web sites will no longer be limited in the font (as opposed to images for text fonts) they can use. This is a huge shift and one that has monumental implications for web layout and design.
Opera 10’s overall standards score is — well it’s a perfect 10 on the ACID 3 scale – which is a score that few (if any) other browsers can claim.
But that’s the problem in my view for Opera – there are other browsers.
Other browsers with more users, more marketing pull and more momentum. Microsoft’s IE is still the leader – primarily because it is still installed by defuault on hundreds of millions of PCs worldwide. Apple’s Safari is the default on tens of millions of Macs and iPhones. Google Chrome uses its search engine power and status to help push its new browser. Mozilla Firefox has over 270 million users driven partly by its Netscape legacy and more importnatly by its open source community momentum.
How can Opera compete? On technology? Maybe — but technology alone is not enough to gain mind and market share. I personally think that there will always be users that are loyal to Opera, that have used it for years and will continue to use it for years to come. Getting existing Firefox, Safari or Chrome users to migrate is probably more difficult and Microsoft continues to improve IE.
That’s all the desktop – Opera has a leading status on mobile phones (thanks in no small part to Nokia), and as the number of mobile devices proliferate, Opera could end up getting the last laugh.
That said, the modern browser marketplace is now the most competitive of all time and it is harder than ever to stand out from the pack. Whether or not the final version of Opera 10 has the impact necessary to advance Opera (or just to keep it in the game) on the desktop remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, innovation is always a good thing and Opera 10 beta sure has more than its fair share of innovation.