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working with the web

Opera in the Web Browser Grand Prix

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.


  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.