Opera 10 beta review

Opera was a real innovator in the browser space, but its desktop offering is something of the forgotten man in the industry. We take a look at the beta of its latest release.

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Tabbed browsing, plug-ins, rendering speed. Others such as Firefox and Safari may now crow loud about these but Opera had them first. Indeed for years it was the definitive browser for the clued-in geek, and now is forced to jostle for attention alongside fast, flashy upstarts such as Chrome. Can the new public beta of Opera 10 see off the newcomers?

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The fightback starts with a redesigned front-end: the drab toolbar of Opera 9 has been replaced by a bolder design, with clearly delineated buttons bearing revamped icons. It does look more inviting, but functionally it's near-identical and, truth be told, it now looks a little like Safari.

Thankfully, Opera keeps its tabs within the main window, which we think is more usable than the non-standard way Safari carves up the title bar. You can also now drag the search field to resize it, although this feels like cosmetic tinkering rather than a functional improvement.

In fact, the big new interface feature is wholly invisible when you start Opera 10. To find it, you need to drag the toolbar downwards; that's not an intuitive operation, but when you try it you'll be delighted to see your web page tabs grow into thumbnails of the pages themselves.

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Sadly, no matter where you've scrolled to, the previews show only the top of the page you're viewing - or sometimes, a section further down the page if something about the layout confuses them. Either way, they all too often don't resemble the pages they represent.

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As a final interface enhancement, you can also now customise the Speed Dial grid. Where Opera 9 always showed a grid of nine page previews, the new beta will accommodate anything from four to 25 pages. The latest beta of Safari has a similar option, so it's good to see Opera catch up so quickly.

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