Opera 7 Sneak Peek

The Opera Web browser client is getting an overhaul, and officials are
putting the finishing touches on an upgrade that is sure to please both
users and Web developers.

It’s the major upgrade to the browser since November 2001, when Opera 6.0
was released for Windows. Since then, the company has been tweaking the
current version with several updates.

If Opera has one knock against it, it would be the software’s inability to
accommodate dynamic content. That’s all going to change with the latest
version of Opera, according to Hakon Lie, the company’s CTO, who oversaw
the top-to-bottom redesign of the core code. The overhaul was extensive
enough to warrant its own name: Project Presto.

Scheduled for public download as a finished product by the end of the year,
Opera 7 has been going through rigorous internal beta testing and will be
sent out as a beta soon, possibly by the end of next month.

A time frame for Opera 7 release on Linux, Mac, Symbian, QNX and OS/2 has
to yet to be determined, though it will likely be months yet before other
operating systems see a compatible version. Opera 6.0 for Linux was
released nearly six months after the Windows launch.

The browser has built a loyal, though small, cult following over the years
for its form-follows-function approach to viewing Web pages; weighing in at
3.5-11 MB in size, (compared to Internet Explorer 6 at 8-45 MB and Netscape
7 with 32 MB) the browser has been praised for its quick page displays and
its ability to meet individual user needs.

What Opera hasn’t been able to do is make an impact on mainstream Web
surfers around the world, given the established popularity of IE and
Netscape. With more than 99 percent of the global market share in browser
popularity, according to latest numbers by StatMarket, the “Big 2” have
benefited from good marketing and having the browser application
pre-bundled on PCs.

Lie said Opera’s appeal can be summed up in its file size, which is much
less than the competition. Taking out the bloatware found in Netscape and
IE leaves less information to be sorted by the browser for every Web page,
cutting down page display times and downloading from the Internet.

“We’re at least one-fifth the size of an Internet Explorer download and we
want to stay that way,” Lie said. “We don’t want to grow too big. At the
same time — only two years ago — you could fit the Opera download on a
floppy. We have increased in size as well, maybe two or three floppy’s
now,” he joked.

Three key improvements are expected to make a lot more Opera lovers out
there.

The first is Opera 7 will support document object model (DOM), a platform-
and language-neutral specification that lets developers program and script
dynamic content and applications on Web pages.

A browser’s inability to support dynamic content is a headache for today’s
Web developers when programming a portable Web site. A close second would
be the proprietary-base code found in IE and Netscape.

In an article titled, Waiting for the
DOM
,”
author Kenneth Tibbets summed it best:

“(Opera) will render a nice-looking page out of CSS (cascading style
sheets) and HTML, and it is fast, but it falters when you move from static
to dynamic and interactive content,” he said. “I can’t script Opera events
worth a darn.”

With DOM support in Opera 7, developers will be able to create pages
knowing the browser’s users will be able to view the pages.

Eric Costello, a partner at Web development firm Schwa Digital Design, is
cautiously optimistic about Opera 7, though he wonders whether Opera’s
developers are going to stick with W3C standards only, or incorporate
improvements made to the standard that haven’t been blessed by the
organization.

For example Microsoft — Opera’s competitor via IE — developed an
extension to DOM called .innerHTML, which Costello said makes coding tasks
much easier and is used by many in the industry.

“I think support for things like .innerHTML, which are not part of the
W3C’s recommendations but which are supported by both of the most prominent
browsers, must be included in Opera 7 if it hopes to continue attracting
developers,” he said. “But
Opera’s commitment to standards in its browser’s HTML rendering engine and
its rigorous support for CSS lead me to have great hope for Opera 7’s DOM
support.”

Tied in with DOM, Opera plans to incorporate CSS 2.1 into its newest
version. The working draft, just approved by the World Wide Web Consortium
a couple weeks ago, has been in the minds of Opera developers for some time.

Lie is sure his browser will be the first to incorporate the new standard
publicly, a standard that makes interoperability between the different
browser’s more likely.

“We think that’s going to be a very important specification where all the
browser vendors can find common ground and we think Opera 7 is going to be
the first browser to get there,” he said.

Besides other functionality boosts to graphical interface and such, Opera 7
will feature a redesigned e-mail client, one that supports the latest
standards and runs on any OS Opera supports.

“Called M2, we’ve added support for the IMAP protocol and completely redone
the user interface there,” Lie said. “Another significant change is we can
support it cross-platform; before we could only offer it on Windows. We
wanted to make sure this was available to the other platforms we support.”

Overall, the improvements developers plan on incorporating into Opera 7 are
enough to make the browser ready for prime time, Costello said. The only
reason he doesn’t use the browser exclusively, he said, is because of a
lack of Opera DHTML capability.

“If the DOM support in Opera 7 is relatively complete and conforms at least
as well as Internet Explorer does to the W3C recommendations, then Opera
will truly be able to compete with NS6 and IE,” Costello said. “In fact
with all the other things it has going for it, I would not be surprised to
see Opera’s user base increase quite a bit when release 7 hits the Web.”

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