I never thought I’d see Microsoft throw in the towel on their browser engine. Or that, by the time it happened, I’d see that as a bad thing.

But it’s true: like Opera did a few years ago, Microsoft is dropping not only the old Internet Explorer engine, but the newer Edge engine, and will be building Edge on Chromium going forward. That means Edge, Chrome, Opera and Safari are all built on the same codebase. (Chromium split from Apple’s WebKit a while back, but they still have a lot in common.)

Monoculture is still a problem, no matter who runs it. We’re already at the point where webdevs are treating Chrome like the defacto standard, the way they did IE6 back in the day.

Firefox is going to be even more important in the future, ensuring that the web continues to be built on interoperable standards instead of one stakeholder’s goals.

Mozilla is a non-profit organization, and like many, they’re running a year-end donation drive. Now is a good time to contribute to their mission to keep the internet and the web open. (I’ve already made my annual donation to them.)

I think I may want to finally shut down or retool that old Alternative Browser Alliance site I ran during the Second Browser War. The last time I made a significant update to it, Chrome was the new upstart.

Opera RingThe reporting is a bit confusing, but it looks like the Opera web browser has been sold to a Chinese consortium. The group wanted to buy the Norwegian company outright, but the bid failed, and they fell back to an alternate deal.

According to NewsWeb:

The following business units of Opera will be included in the Transaction:

· Mobile Browser, including Operator Co-brand solutions
· Desktop Browser
· Performance and Privacy Apps
· Opera’s technology licensing business outside of Opera TV
· Opera’s 29.09% ownership in the Chinese joint venture nHorizon

The Consumer Business will be reorganized into a separate company structure. For
clarity, the following businesses are not included in the Consumer Business or
the Transaction:

· Opera Mediaworks
· Opera Apps & Games (including Bemobi)
· Opera TV

It’s a shame to see Opera broken up and dispersed…but in a way, that already happened years ago. When they switched to WebKit in 2013, they lost what made them unique and (IMO) valuable: They’d been a solid third-party (well, fourth-party) that helped keep the web from collapsing back into a monopoly. Within a year the community portal was gone as well.

Since then I’ve only bothered with the desktop browser occasionally when I need to test multiple sessions at once. I used to keep a copy on my phone for times when I was stuck on a slow connection, but these days the cell network in my area is a lot faster. When it gets slow, it’s also unstable, so compression doesn’t help much.

VivaldiI think I will check out Vivaldi again, though. Founded in part by Opera co-founder Jon von Tetzchner, it started as a new home for the Opera community. When I first checked out their browser, it was a really rough preview, but it’s at 1.2 now. While it’s using Blink as the rendering engine, they seem to be trying to innovate through the UI instead, with a heavy emphasis on customizing everything.

(via Slashdot)

Opera IconIt still feels like an April Fool’s joke, but Opera is in fact switching to WebKit and discontinuing their own engine, Presto.

I can sort of understand. They can stop worrying about the long-running headaches of browser-sniffing websites that assume Opera can’t do things that it can. They can focus their efforts on the features they want to add or enhance, instead of maintaining their own separate codebase.

But here’s the thing: Throughout its history, Opera has served as a check against monoculture, against a single engine dominating the web too thoroughly. And now, it’s embracing the engine that dominates the fast-growing mobile web.

Remember the bad old days when people just wrote for Internet Explorer, and there was basically no innovation in web browser capabilities? It took Firefox’s success to turn the tide, but Opera was there, needling the industry with things like the “Bork edition” which turned the tables on browser-sniffing websites. Opera was a constant reminder that no, the web isn’t just Internet Explorer and Firefox, or just Internet Explorer and Webkit, or just two flavors of WebKit. That it was worth building technologies to leverage cross-browser web standards instead of picking the current 800-pound gorilla and feeding it even more.

There’s a real value in having different engines approaching the web in different ways, because it prevents stagnation. And there’s real value in having different engines use different code, even when implementing the same capabilities, because that means when a security flaw is found in one browser, it doesn’t apply to all of them. I go into this in a lot more detail in the old, but IMO still relevant article, Why do we need alternative web browsers?

The problem, of course, is that as much as I appreciate that role for Opera, it’s never really been their goal. Opera’s purpose is to sell web browser-related services. In the past, an open web was necessary to do that. Now, they’re throwing in their lot with the front-runner instead.

That leaves Mozilla, whose mission actually is to promote an open web, to go it alone. Apple and Microsoft certainly don’t care. And Google only really cares to the extent that their services are available as widely as possible. And when you get onto mobile, all three prioritize getting you into their particular silo.

Webkit browsers are a dime a dozen. The only ones that really matter are Chrome and Safari, and Safari is a lot more important on iOS. Opera will soon be just like Dolphin, Rockmelt and others that I have to rack my brains to remember. Maybe it’ll be enough for the company to survive, but it won’t be enough to keep them relevant.

Opera logo and Opera Unite logoThe Opera web browser has introduced a lot of cutting-edge features* over the years, many of which have since become standard in other browsers like Firefox, Chrome, IE and Safari. But they’ve also introduced features that didn’t catch on. With Opera 12, released yesterday, they’ve taken the first step toward removing Opera Unite and Widgets.

Opera Unite was a fantastic idea to move beyond the standard client-server model that dominates most internet activity and take peer-to-peer communication to the next level. Instead of relying on central servers like Facebook or MSN or Gmail, you could run a chat room, photo gallery or other application directly from your computer.

It never really caught on. If I were to guess why, I’d say that the big reasons were security concerns (turning your computer into a server!), the rise of easy-to-use cloud services, and the increasing move toward mobile computing. It’s one thing to let friends remotely browse a photo gallery from your home desktop that you leave on all the time. It’s another to have them view that gallery data from your iPad over your sketchy and bandwidth-capped cell connection.

As for widgets, they were sort of an odd thing to begin with: not quite applets, not quite extensions, and in competition with native widgets on both Windows and Mac OS that didn’t depend on having a browser open. (Though these days, when don’t you have a browser open?) Honestly, I’m still somewhat mystified as to why Opera created them in the first place.

Opera 11 introduced an extension system, and they’ve released a reference on converting widgets to extensions.

Widgets and Unite are still present in Opera 12, but turned off by default for new installations, and will be removed from a future release “before the end of this year.”

*I still disagree on the issue of tabs, on the basis that a tabbed interface is distinct from MDI.

Opera IconAfter a long wait, Opera 10 is out! So what’s new in this first double-digit web browser?


The biggest new feature is Opera Turbo, which can massively speed up web access on a slow network connection. Turbo takes the compression used for Opera Mini, which has to deal with slow cell phone networks, and brings it to the desktop. On fast connections you won’t need the proxy, but if you’re stuck on dial-up or sharing a busy network, it can help immensely.

I definitely could have used it on the painfully slow hotel wi-fi during Comic-Con!

Turbo can be turned on and off through the status bar, or set to auto-detect your network speed and switch on when it would help, and off when it’s not needed.


Even without Turbo, Opera 10 is a heck of a lot faster than Opera 9 was! The app itself is a lot snappier, it displays pages faster, and it responds quickly. Opera feels lighter than Firefox again, after the (comparatively) clunky 9.x series.

Web Fonts

Opera’s CEO CTO recommended embedding TrueType fonts with CSS in 2007, but Safari was the first web browser to support it in a non-beta release. Now Firefox, Safari and Opera can all download fonts as-needed. That means websites can use fonts that aren’t already installed on your computer.

Until now, if a designer wanted to use a font other than one of the standard fonts that come pre-installed with Windows or Mac OS, they had to save the text as an image. That’s fine for banners and the like, but a pain for anything that changes regularly…like headlines or content.

You can read more about web fonts at Mozilla Hacks, and see them in action at Speed Force (font write-up).

Site Compatibility & Features

Website compatibility has improved a lot, and Opera has continued to add support for newer technologies. It’s great to see Opera, Chrome, Safari and Firefox all working toward the next generation of the web. (If only Internet Explorer were along for the ride – at least IE8 has finally caught up with the last generation.)


Opera has had on-demand spell checking for a while, though on Windows you had to install a separate dictionary. Now it’s built-in, and it’ll underline misspelled words as you type. (Downside: it underlines inside HTML code. I don’t really want to add “href,” “li,” and so forth to my dictionary.)

Unite Postponed

One thing Opera 10 doesn’t have that was introduced in the betas preview snapshots is Opera Unite, which lets you set up a presence on your computer that other people can see for file sharing, social networking, etc. Apparently they decided it needed more work and didn’t want to hold up the release.

But Wait, There’s More!

Some other new features:

  • Visual tabs: Stretch out the tab bar and see a thumbnail of each page you have open.
  • New e-mail client, including the long-requested ability to compose with formatting.
  • Automatic update.
  • Customize Speed Dial.
  • Web apps integration with web-based email and feed readers.
  • Improved developer tools (Dragonfly).
  • Opera Link: synchronize bookmarks, history, notes, etc. across multiple computers and phones. (Not new, but I think it syncs more types of data than it used to)

And a lot more.

As a reminder: Opera is free (as in beer). It has been for almost 4 years now, but it’s worth repeating because every once in a while you see someone who thinks it’s still pay or ad-based software.