Opera Browser is a feature-filled alternative to Chrome

The red Opera browser logo

The Opera browser has been around since 1995, but since that time it has gone through so many changes and is very different than how it was in the 90s or even the 2000s. I take a look at Opera 65 and see how it fares against competing web browsers.

Background info on Opera Browser

Opera founder Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner
Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner was the founder of Opera Software before leaving to work on Vivaldi, another web browser

Opera was first released in 1995 and was a paid browser before giving users the choice to continue using it for free with ads in 2000. It eventually became completely free with no ads. The Opera browser is often credited for being the first to implement tabbed browsing into its software along with a number of other features before they became widely adopted.

For most of its existence, Opera browser ran on its own rendering engine that was not similar to Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. It became formally known as the “presto” engine and was discarded after being used for about 10 years.

Modern versions of Opera run on a modified version of Chromium, the open source version of Chrome. Through the switch, Opera lost many of its power user features that it was known for and it has taken a number of years for some of those features to be added back.

For those interested, I took a look at Opera before way back in 2016.

Initial Thoughts on Opera

When launching the program for the first time, users can see right away from the UI that this browser is a bit different from Chrome. There are 3 main locations for accessing menus: The quick preferences button in the upper right corner, the sidebar panel in the lower left, and the main browser options in the top left (Opera logo). 

A screenshot of the Opera browser UI as of version 65

The first thing I did was dig into the preferences to see what options were available to me and what I could disable. There seem to be a few “commercial” options that I had to go and uncheck. These are presumably Opera partners and how they gain revenue. That’s fair, but I don’t really feel like Opera is a company that focuses much on the privacy of its users compared to Firefox or Brave.

Ad blocking

Opera ships with a built-in ad blocker out of the box, however, it can be customized by going to the preferences. This is still great for users out there that don’t have an interest in using extensions or those that like to have additional features baked into their browser.

A screenshot of the built-in ad blocker in Opera

The ad blocker will show how many trackers and ads it blocked, but I often found that it displayed 0 on some pages where it clearly was blocking a number of items. This is most likely a bug, but I would appreciate some reliability when it comes to reporting on this kind of thing.

Although there are bugs with displaying the number of items blocked, overall Opera did a great job at keeping sites speedy and ad-free when I surfed. 

VPN

The built-in free VPN feature is very welcome and was extremely handy for toggling it on when trying to access region-restricted websites/videos. However, this is not a true VPN and there should be no expectation of privacy from this service. For people that need real privacy and speed, they are better served by using a paid option.

Sidebar

Users of Facebook, Whatsapp, and Telegram will be especially pleased with this feature. Messaging is built-in, so there is no need to install additional apps if you’re the kind of person that wants to do all your communication from the browser. Downloads, notes, and other options can also be accessed here. I’ve never been a fan of this kind of sidebar, but I understand their appeal.

A screenshot of the sidebar with open chats for Facebook messenger

Opera Pop-up search

The browser tries to save you time by giving you some helpful options when text is highlighted. For example, time zone and currency conversion (configurable in prefs) in addition to the usual “search X on the web”

An example of Opera's pop-up search feature on Amazon.com

Quick Preferences

These are some quick toggle options such as browser theme (white/dark), wallpaper, and other UI elements you can quickly turn off. You can even change the download location right there in the sidebar. This is a simple yet highly convenient feature that I could see myself using often.

A screenshot of the quick preferences panel

Final Thoughts

For those wanting to branch out from vanilla Chrome or Firefox, Opera is a very nice browser with some useful features included. It’s a step between the basics of Chrome and the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach by Vivaldi browser

With the exception of some non-changeable settings (Google search shows up on new tab pages even if a different search engine is set to default), I believe Opera is a fantastic browser and I can understand why so many users love it. It tries to implement features that are convenient without bloating the software too much. 

In terms of privacy, I’m not sure if Opera is better or worse than Google when it comes to telemetry and other user-tracking methods. One example I found was the first-run test performed by an employee of Brave Software which I will link to here. Opera has since reduced the amount of first-run requests, but I would like to see more information about their telemetry. For those that are sensitive about privacy, I still recommend Brave and Firefox.

The Opera browser is available for all major platforms (Windows, macOS, Linux) as well as mobile devices. 

Link: Download it!

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