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Opera in the Web Browser Grand Prix

speed skating

Yes, Kay returns to blog­ging here after a 12 month hia­tus. She’s now semi-retired and liv­ing it up in Krakow, Poland.

In the 2002 Win­ter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Aus­tralian speed skater Steven Brad­bury won gold in the men’s short track 1000 metres when every­one else in the field crashed on the final cor­ner. He became the first per­son from any south­ern hemi­sphere coun­try to win a Win­ter Olympic event.

Tom’s Hard­ware recently did a big browser shoot out — the Web Browser Grand Prix. They per­for­mance tested IE9, Fire­fox 6, Chrome 13, Safari 5.1 and Opera 11.5 on both Win­dows 7 and OSX.

The end results aren’t sur­pris­ing to me (thanks to Site­point for the neat sum­mary in their Iron Chef-esque arti­cle):

Win­dows 7 Champions:

  • Gold: Chrome 13 — a large set of wins dis­count the weaknesses
  • Sil­ver: Fire­fox 6 — the high­est num­ber of non-winning strong scores
  • Bronze: IE9 — although it is falling fur­ther behind as com­pet­ing browsers are updated faster
  • Opera 11.5 — it’s very close to IE9, but let down by poor mem­ory man­age­ment and no hard­ware acceleration
  • Safari 5.1 — the least num­ber of wins and most losses, pri­mar­ily because the Win­dows ver­sion has not kept pace with OS X.

OS X Champions:

  • Gold: Safari 5.1 — great per­for­mance all-round
  • Sil­ver: Chrome 13 — lacks the speed, reli­a­bil­ity and mem­ory man­age­ment of its Win­dows sibling
  • Bronze: Opera 11.5 — couldn’t quite match the webkit browsers
  • Fire­fox 6 — close to Opera, but shock­ing mem­ory usage

How­ever, as a recent con­vert to the Opera browser, I think that these num­bers are miss­ing one vital fac­tor. Opera, in my expe­ri­ence,  is like Steven Brad­bury on speed skates. It wins because it just doesn’t crash. Unlike Fire­fox (hourly crashes when it was my default browser) and Chrome (daily crashes when it was my default browser),  I can leave Opera run­ning for weeks at a time and it’s only when I need to restart my com­puter that it gets cycled (usu­ally it’s the fin­ger­print dri­ver for­get­ting it exists, or a Win­dows update). On the desk­top I had in Aus­tralia, the desk­top replace­ment note­book I have here in Poland and on my lap­top, Opera has crashed a grand total of twice since I first started using it daily in about Feb­ru­ary of this year. And I know for sure that one of those crashes was the Flash plu­gin falling over.

The other area where Opera wins gold is on the devel­oper tool front. Hav­ing used both Chrome and Fire­fox as my default browser at var­i­ous times, I can say with con­fi­dence that Opera’s built-in devel­oper tool, Drag­on­fly, trumps both Chrome’s inspec­tors and Fire­bug. Ver­sion 1.1, which includes a bunch of new user-requested fea­tures, has just been released (and includes CSS line num­bers, which was my only beef with the pre­vi­ous version).

Opera often gets over­looked as a seri­ous browser option and it doesn’t deserve that. If you want a fast, reli­able browser that has all the devel­oper fruit and Just. Doesn’t. Crash. then you can’t go past it.

8 Comments

  1. Nice to see you blog­ging again! :)

    I always try Opera but can never stick with it for some reason.

  2. Hey Jim, it’s nice to be back into it :)

    The lat­est ver­sion 11.50 is really good — the addi­tion of Fire­fly has really made all the dif­fer­ence. So if you haven’t tried the very lat­est yet, I’d highly rec­om­mend it!

  3. Heh, Turns out 11.50 isn’t the lat­est ver­sion — just got an update dia­log for 11.51

    Any­way, the devel­oper tools are Drag­on­fly, not Fire­fly?
    Last time I tried it I still pre­ferred Fire­bug, but just had a quick poke with Drag­on­fly and it’s def­i­nitely improved a lot.
    Quite a few annoy­ing things with the con­sole though. (why can’t I have dis­tinct input/edit pan­els; why can’t the tog­gle option allow it to be docked so other panes don’t get lost behind it; the colour scheme is rub­bish; etc)

    Of course, Fire­fox also has Web Dev Tool­bar, which is invalu­able when devel­op­ing web­sites, and it doesn’t look like Drag­on­fly imple­ments all the use­ful things from that, so can’t switch to it for devel­op­ment stuff yet.

  4. Doh, thanks Peter for catch­ing that!

    I did use the Web Devel­oper Tool­bar in Fire­fox, and I haven’t missed it so far, so I guess all the things *I* need are in Opera/Dragonfly already (for exam­ple, val­i­da­tion is an Opera basic fea­ture in the right click con­text menu).

    Still, every­one devel­ops dif­fer­ently — if there’s things you need, you can always sug­gest them to the Drag­on­fly team — they seem pretty focused on user input to make the tool better.

  5. I began using Opera as my main work browser (win­dows 7) just a cou­ple months ago when I started a new job and it was the default on the lap­top that I was assigned. I am impressed with many things about it, annoyed by many oth­ers, but my expe­ri­ence with crash­ing is the exact oppo­site of yours. My browser crashes sev­eral times a day. Usu­ally, but not always, because of Drag­on­fly. It seems pretty reli­able that if I try to inspect a link ele­ment the browser will imme­di­ately crash.

    That being said, it restores from a crash far more ele­gantly than any other browser that I’ve used. A long-standing gripe with Fire­fox, for me, is its abysmal crash restoration.

  6. It also needs to be noted that the “abysmal mem­ory man­age­ment” is a fea­ture, not a bug. Opera has always been the most aggres­sive browser when it comes to RAM caching*, and that’s part of what makes it so fast in real world usage (e.g. fast back but­ton response or restor­ing closed tabs (which is the rea­son that the mem­ory use doesn’t decrease when you close tabs…)).

    *: because RAM is still orders of mag­ni­tude faster than disk or net­work, that’s where you want to cache things. It’s a lot bet­ter to cache things in RAM and let the OS (unless it has a ter­ri­ble VM imple­men­ta­tion) swap mem­ory pages as needed to disk then to cache things on disk.

  7. Thanks so much every­one for your comments!

    Daniel, I’m not doing much devel­op­ment at the moment so maybe when I start push­ing Drag­on­fly harder I’ll see more crashes.

    And Levi. that’s really inter­est­ing and it makes a lot of sense. I know some­one at Opera, I might see if I can get them to weigh in on their thoughts about the comparisons.

  8. Thanks for the nice words about Opera, Kay :)

    Daniel: some good news (and inside infor­ma­tion) is that some known Dragonfly-related crash bugs were fixed recently. I hope those issues were those you were see­ing, with some luck your debug­ging expe­ri­ence will be way more sta­ble in an update or two :)

    If the prob­lems aren’t resolved, here’s a small request for you: please always click “send” in the crash reporter dia­log, and please add a small com­ment con­tain­ing the word “Drag­on­fly” if you believe the crash is Dragonfly-related. Since fewer peo­ple use Drag­on­fly than those using Opera itself, the pat­terns from Dragonfly-related reports won’t appear as clearly as those from crashes in Opera core, but sub­mit­ting crashlogs and com­ments will help.