Updated: January 30, 2016
Strange, looking at the official website, the version for Windows reads 32. The version for Linux reads a whole 20 integers less. I wonder how, I wonder why, yesterday you told me, ah nevermind. I guess it's much like the Adobe (R) Flash Player thingie. Version 19 versus version 11.2 sort of thing. Linux is most likely not considered a priority, and it gets an older, outdated version. Skype, the same thing, too.
Well, that's not the point. What I wanted to do is, after many years of not using Opera, try and see if it could somehow show value worthy of inclusion in one's daily software repertoire. But then, if you've read my articles in the past decade, you know that I used Opera for a brief while and then dumped it after a few aggressive, borked updates. So I'm going to test a build that is probably irrelevant, and yet, it's all we have for Linux.
Installation & first steps
Linux Mint has the browser available in the repos, so there's no reason to go astray. Within seconds, you will have Opera up and running. Does it look familiar? Well, it sure does. Remember my Vivaldi review? The similarities are all over the place. Opera is not just a browser, it's a complete Internet suite, and it comes with extras like mail, chat, fancy tools for low-bandwidth users, and some other stuff.
However, Opera did complain about me running an out-of-date version the first time I ran it, and I'm not sure if it's complaining about an unsolvable situation, where it asks me to upgrade to the Windows build numbers, or a small incremental fix for the version available in the repos. Again, I know some of you are already invalidating this review, as I'm potentially dabbling in absolute dinosaur legacy. But that's how it is.
One of the prominent features that Opera introduced to the market, and was subsequently adopted by all other browsers in the very best of monkey-see monkey-do fashions, is the Speed Dial. Basically, you get a bunch of shiny preview thumbnails linking to some of your most popular websites. As if using bookmarks or just typing in the address bar wasn't simple enough, now you have your pr0n sites also show up in vivid, bright color.
Customization & extensions
Opera does give you a fair degree of customization. You can change the default look, use various skins, search engines, plus there's a rather decent scattering of available, useful extensions. The collection is nowhere near as powerful as the one in Chrome, let alone, Firefox, but it's good enough for most practical purposes.
As mentioned, Opera isn't just a browser. You also get integrated mail and chat. To see how good the integration really is, I tried configuring my junk slash test Yahoo account, POP3 and with secure login, of course. This proved to be a somewhat difficult task. First of all, Opera did not preselect secure (SSL/TLS) logins, which can be a security risk. Second, the servers were listed wrong. As a result, the combo of wrong ports and servers meant I was not able to actually connect to my email, and I had to change the settings manually to finally get things to work properly. Just in comparison, Thunderbird does this on its own.
Eventually, this worked, and the mail client is quite neat and powerful, but most people will struggle setting up accounts seamlessly. I guess it's not that drastically different from dedicated email clients, but then, you also don't get any real added value.
Weird stuff and problems
Some things Opera does are rather unique - sometimes in a wrong way. For instance, the turbo mode sounds like a cool feature, but I'm not really sure how useful it really is. Then, you can also have a whole toolbar of tab previews scrolled horizontally. Not sure if I like this option.
Speaking of Opera Turbo, if you click on the icon, it actually opens a Web page in Brazilian Portuguese, which probably means this feature was originally marketed at that audience, but it makes no sense elsewhere, plus the language thingie.
Another weird icon slash site is the My Opera domain. It features quite prominently in the Speed Dial, but it links to a discontinued service. This really gives you a bad feel, because it portrays the company in a bad light, gives you the impression it's closed shop, and also makes you feel like a second class citizen on Linux. All of the above.
You also get a load of bookmarks, all of which are designed to help you spend money. I find this marketing approach to be too aggressive. And I don't appreciate having two or three dozen useless bookmarks in my browser, without me even having tried to use the Web.
Last but not the least, there's also a visual misalignment of the sidebar and the main browsing address bar frame by about 1-2 px. This really provokes the OCD pixies in my head. It also reinforces the feeling Opera's left Linux behind many many months ago.
Browsing and such
Once you get past the initial hurdles and problems, Opera works relatively well. It's fast and responsive, it renders pages fine, but its non-intuitive approach to doing things can really weird you out. I didn't like the sidebar thingie, and somehow, I just could not get used to its presentation layer. And the Speed Dial is super annoying.
Speed Dial be gone!
Well, one of the last things I wanted to do during my test session was to get rid of the Speed Dial. Easier said than done. There's no click-and-shoot option anywhere in the menus, and you actually have to dabble in opera:config, and change a setting like a proper geek. Except this does not really work, and setting any which value has no impact on the presence and visibility of the Speed Dial. It just stays. Don't want.
Before I give you a lengthy closing spiel, let's have a briefest of discussions. First, post Opera 12 builds happen to be more aligned with how Google Chrome does business, so if you're wondering how distanced I am from reality and modern, current technology, the answer is, I am not. Back to our guinea pig, it's an old build, outdated, maybe buggy or even insecure. Who knows. But if a company has it on their official page, it goes into my reviews, too. It's also a pretty good indicator, because Firefox 4 told us all we need to know about Firefox, four years and forty versions ago.
So where does Opera stack on the desirability list? Yes, there's a pretty good reason why I stopped using this browser back then, and the essence of that emotion remains. Some of the technology has changed, but the crux of it comes down to an aggressive financial model and limited ability to customize the browser. Freedom, not really.
Opera might work well, but it just isn't natural enough, not friendly enough. It also exists to monetize first, show web pages second, and somehow it shows through the pages. Sure, it's my personal impression, but if you were hoping for a white knight to champion your cause, Firefox is still the lesser of evils. It is also more customizable, and you still get a feeling it's not all about the dosh. At the end of the day, the wicked combination of somewhat weird, non-intuitive features, inability to tweak as you please, and the Linux software offering lagging a good few years behind Windows makes Opera a very hard sell. Not meant to be. It just does not feel right. That's all.
Note: A lot of you emailed me about Opera 34/35. Fully aware, and I'm planning on testing these newer versions, too. There's a reason why I went the repo way, as you can imagine, but if that is bugging you, I promise another review of a more recent release.