I’ve been a diehard Firefox user sense before Beta 1. I wrote my Firefox Guide earlier this year, once that page hit Slashdot there were several comments about how Opera does all of that and more, without the need of the extensions that Firefox has. I put a mental note that I should check this out. Well a few months later and Opera 9 has been released. Well I guess now is a good time to look at this Opera vs. Firefox talk that everyone flamed about. So the goal in this article is to see what is better under different environments. So let’s give it a go.
Both Firefox and Opera have many more features than Internet Explorer. This isn’t about tabbed browsing, having a search box on the right of the navigation bar, added support for extra features, or anything else we’ve come to expect in these browsers. My goal in this is to go into the features that Opera is showcasing and to see how well Firefox holds up.
BitTorrent Client – Well I am honestly not sure what the point of this feature is, none the less it is a feature. I am usually not the type of person that goes for a once size fits all application. I like to have a different application for each use, web, email, irc, ftp, and more. I do tent to leave programs open for a century or two and I only reboot my box when it’s totally necessary. I am currently using uTorrent as my default torrent application so I went to grab a CentOS ISO file. I do not have the exact memory usage of both applications but I can say the memory usage jumped a bit on Opera and I think uTorrent was around 10-12MB. Well Opera has Firefox on this, 1 this feature is built in, and 2 there isn’t an extension that adds a BT client to Firefox.
IRC – Setting up IRC was very straight forward. I actually liked it a lot. I am not going to go into details on how to configure an IRC client, but it works great. For an IRC client in Firefox the extension ChatZilla works well, but I honestly have to say I like this much better, and would actually use it. I currently use mIRC.
Add Favorite Search Engines – This is a very standard feature although I do like how they did the layout of the menu.
Content Blocker – This I thought was an awesome idea, just not implemented very well. An example I was on Digg and wanted to see if I could remove the ads on the homepage. I right clicked, and went down to the content blocker; well in short it said hit the shift key when clicking on the time. It didn’t work. Firefox doesn’t have a built in feature that does this, but the extension AdBlock/AdBlockPlus does this very well. You are able to block any element of the page.
Thumbnail Preview – When browsing with lots of tabs I often wonder what one tab is when I am trying to find a certain page. I often use the Ctrl-Tab shortcut in Firefox to browse through tabs. Well Opera has gone many steps above Firefox in solving this problem by showing a thumbnail of the webpage when you hold the mouse over the tab. Check out the screenshot below. There is an extension for Firefox, Viamatic foXpose that displayed thumbnails of all the pages on a separate tab. I used that a few times but found it to be slow and cumbersome and removed it very soon afterward. In writing this article I have already found this feature to be very useful.
Transfer Manager – This is very similar to the Download Manager in Firefox, except its in a tab. Very cool implementation and reduces the number of windows open.
Fast Forward – This is a very interesting item. I am not quite sure what to say about this, I haven’t found it very useful at all. Fast Forward will detect the most likely "next page" link and greatly simplify navigation in multi-page documents such as search results and image galleries. Although I must admit I haven’t been on forums, Digg, Slashdot, photo galleries, or Google much this afternoon. Maybe when I start browsing those sites I’ll fall in love with this feature.
Notes – Save text from web pages or write notes for later viewing. I’ve been looking for something like this forever. I’m in love.
Sessions – Saving sessions is very important to me. Incase you don’t know what it is, saving sessions basically allows the user to have for example 5 tabs open. Close Opera. Open it again and all your pages are where you left them. This is a wonderful tool, although right now I rarely close Firefox because it lacks this feature. I do use an extension, SessionSaver, but in some instances I have found it to be very unreliable. The only time I use it is when I need to restart Firefox after a few days to recover the memory lost in leaks.
Mouse Gestures – I personally haven’t ever been a fan of these features. There is a Firefox extension, Mouse Gestures that basically has the same features that Opera has out of the box. For the people that love this feature this probably kicks totally ass to have it built it. For me it’s cool but I don’t use it.
Trash Can – I know that whenever I close a tab I didn’t mean to a few words start coming to my memory. Well Opera has what they call the Trash Can. The extension in Firefox I use for this is TabMixPlus, I also use that to drag and drop tabs around. Opera has drag and drop support built in, as well as the feature to drag and drop tabs across different windows. I’ve even used that today a few times.
Speed / Memory Usage
When running Firefox I usually have at least 10-20 windows open at any given time. Therefore memory usage is a big deal to me. I have been using Opera for about 8-9 hours at this point so my experience is nothing like my experience with Firefox. When browsing I noticed the CPU usage was very minor compared to Firefox rendering the same page. RAM usage with 28 tabs in Firefox and 22 in Opera was 89MB and 69MB. Opera as you can tell was much better on ram usage, and over time seemed to stay lower even though I had more tabs open.
Screenshot of the 28 tabs I opened.
There are a few innovations that I really found handy and useful. First off when clicking on the address bar this nice box drops down with Hope, Top 10, Bookmarks, Search Box, and Price Comparison. This saves a bit of time of having to move the mouse all over the place to find these items.
Using Ctrl-Tab to switch menus is very fast, but often I will fly right past the window I need or have to go through them all when searching for a window. Opera has a nice menu that drops down to display all the page titles for you to see and browse.
I often double click on a word to highlight it so I can copy the text or for some other usage that isn’t coming into my brain right now, but in Opera a menu pops up. For some reason I find this very annoying and unwanted.
I love the scroll wheel on my mouse. I often use it when trying to find something on a long webpage where scrolling is required. Duh. However in Opera whenever I click the scroll wheel on my mouse the cursor jumps the exact center of the page and then starts scrolling. Another annoyance is when I am middle clicking links to open then up into a new tab and I miss the link and the cursor jumps to the center of the page.
Safari, the web browser bundled with OS X and Opera both have the button to close the window on each tab. I personally love having it on the right side of the window, like Firefox has it, unless you use an extension to have it on each tab. I wish there was a way to change it to be like Firefox, but then again I guess it’s something that in time will grow on me.
I am sure there is a way to turn these annoyances off, I just haven’t found out how to, yet.
Just like in MacOS X 10.4, Opera has the ability to have them to. I browsed around the Widgets page on Opera’s website and didn’t find anything (yet) that really struck me. I think widget support is needed, but not nearly as powerful as the extension support in Firefox.
I am sure many of the shortfalls in Firefox that have been fixed via extensions will be added in Firefox 2.0. Firefox 2.0 is currently in Alpha and Beta, but I am not including anything on because I want this base fully on finished products.
In short when I first opened Opera I expected another Firefox. After using Opera most of today, and going through all the features I can think of I am starting to like it more and more. Maybe it’s time I start an Opera Guide like the Firefox Guide.
I am officially torn on what browser to use; only time will tell. What I can see if Opera being a replacement to Firefox due to the amount of built in features, but Firefox has many powerful extensions that might take some time looking for replacements. Look for an addition to this article with widgets to replace some of my beloved Firefox