Miscellaneous Ramblings

2 Promising Browsers: Opera 10 Turbo and Stainless

Charles Moore - 2009.07.09 - Tip Jar

At midpoint 2009, my current fleet of Web browsers is solidly anchored by Opera Turbo 10 Beta by virtue of the fact that if one doesn't care much about good image quality, it's so much faster than any other browser over my dialup connection (wireless broadband is promised here in rural Nova Scotia before the end of the year, but no joy so far, and I'm not holding my breath) that every other browser is simply eclipsed.

The secret to Opera 10 Turbo's speed is server-side optimization and compression technology that speeds up throughput over slow connections by reducing the amount of data needed to display Web pages by up to 80%, which is a blessing when stuck with rural dial-up that gives me 26,400 bps throughput on good days.

For about a year I subscribed to an optional compression feature called Dial-Up Accelerator from my ISP - a product of Slipstream Data Inc., a Canadian software development subsidiary of BlackBerry smartphone maker Research In Motion (RIM), but it was clunky, somewhat buggy, and didn't work appreciably faster than Opera Turbo's free built-in compression - and it nuked the image quality more drastically. I unsubscribed as soon as I determined how good and dependable Turbo was.

Opera claims that Turbo easily delivers 3x to 4x the speed of slower connections and can offer "broadband-like" speeds on dial-up. The latter is more than a bit of a stretch, at least in the context of my really slow dialup service, but it sure is a lot faster.

As for the image quality degradation, you can turn Turbo off when you need full image resolution.

Of course, Opera was already my favorite browser even before Turbo debuted for a whole raft of other reasons, but the Turbo feature clinches its top dog status.

Opera's Mac default skin gets a fresh look that seemed a bit too gray for my taste at first, although I've warmed to it, but there are plenty of very attractive Opera skin themes - some quite spectacular - that can be downloaded from the Opera website.

Also new in Opera 10b1 is a resizable tab bar that displays thumbnails of your open Web pages on mouseover and can now also be used to show all open tabs as thumbnails. Opera's Speed Dial bookmark thumbnail feature can also be customized to suit your taste by using the "Configure" button to display from 4 to 25 favorite websites, and some of the optional themes add a custom background to the Speed Dial page, dressing it up more like Safari 4's Top Sites feature.

Opera 10b1 includes webmail integration, so if you use a webmail service as your default mail client, you can configure Opera 10 to open the compose page from your webmail service provider when you click on email addresses, and the same applies to Opera's Feed Reader feature for RSS/atom feeds. The search field is resizable for when you need more than two words of search parameters.

Opera 10's uses the Presto 2.2 version of Opera's unique browser engine (as opposed to Apple's WebKit or Mozilla.org's Gecko) which, not counting the Turbo feature, is claimed to to be up to 40% faster on resource intensive pages such as Gmail and Facebook.

Spelling errors are now red-underlined as you type in all fields where you can input text, and a contextual menu includes spelling suggestions and the ability to change dictionary languages or to select additional dictionaries.

The integrated Opera Mail email client, which I don't use, now supports rich text messages including inline images, styled text, links, and/or custom HTML, and a new Delete after X days feature automatically removes messages from POP servers after the specified interval.

Will I keep using Opera when broadband finally arrives in this neck of the woods? You bet! There are plenty of non-speed related reasons to love this browser, such as its excellent Download Manager, which deserves mention since it's so much better than any other browser's, with excellent progress monitoring and full control, including dependably resumable downloads after a pause or shutdown and no-hassle multiple downloads.

Opera's Zoom controls are also among the best, if not the best, with a handy pulldown menu and button in the lower right corner to resize pages. If the page is too wide for your screen, simply hit Fit to Width, and Opera will resize the page so you avoid horizontal scrolling. I also like Opera's implementation of the sidebar, which stays out of your way until bidden to appear with a button-click - and hiding again efficiently.

And I just like the way Opera's user interface is laid out, although I wish it had a bigger progress bar (but at least it still has one, unlike Safari 4). Another Opera advantage is that it works nicely with both OS X 10.5 "Leopard" and 10.4 "Tiger".

Stainless 0.6.5 Now a Usable Alternative Browser

However, I'm still using other browsers, particularly when I need image quality and don't want to bother switching Opera over to non-Turbo mode.

One of the fastest I've been using is Stainless, a multi-process browser only for OS X Leopard based on Apple's WebKit Open Source browser engine.

The new Stainless browser, currently in beta
Stainless is built on WebKit and puts tabs above the address bar.

Stainless started out as as a technology demo to showcase the developer's multiprocessing architecture in response to Google Chrome, but it's proved so popular that they've decided to morph Stainless into a full-fledged browser with some unique features that you won't find in Chrome or in any other browser.

Stuff like parallel sessions, which allows you to log into a site using different credentials in separate tabs at the same time, a private cookie storage system, and session-aware bookmarks that remember the session in which they were saved.

Stainless preferencesI tried Stainless shortly after it debuted and was underwhelmed, but the latest beta 0.65 version is now a useful and usable tool - still pretty bare-bones, but lean and speedy with the basic features I can't get along without - namely tabs and a bookmarks function. Alas, there's no progress bar - just a Safari-esque spinning wheel to inform you that something is happening.

Consistent with its Chrome inspiration, its tabs appear above the Address field, but not up in the title bar as was abortively tried in the Safari 4 public preview.

There's no conventional Bookmarks menu, but the "Bookmark Shelf" feature where you can drag Web page icons. Bookmarks are stored as compact icons, with text identification on mouseover, and a variety of configuration and function options in the preferences.

This one is quickly growing on me.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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