Browser truce

I have been using Opera for nearly ten years now, and for most of that time it has been the quickest and best-thought out browser on any platform. It had tabbed browsing, keyboard control, bespoke ad blocking, and full indexed searching of email and bookmarks before anyone else. You can get all these things with addons in Firefox, but it is a tedious and disorganised process.

But it still has irritating quirks. The email client sorts and searches wonderfully, but it doesn’t do anything else. In particular, it doesn’t do MAPI and it has a pretty horrible editor. There are always sites that don’t work at all with Opera, and some, like Flickr, that don’t work well. So it is a bad habit of mine to run beta versions of Opera, in the hope that these problems will be fixed, and the latest weekly builds have had a couple of bad regressions. First came a bug in the regular release which wiped out the multimedia keys on the keyboard. Since the volume control on my amplifier is tucked way under the desk, this was a major pain. It was fixed after about six weeks, but the new build has a problem which stops it displaying compressed pages from the cache, which is even worse. Since almost all high-traffic websites routinely compress their pages, this means you can’t navigate back to them.

So I decided to give Firefox and Thunderbird a try. I can’t see any real advantages, except that they more or less work. Thunderbird has much better handling of addresses and so on than Opera, and, I suppose, better text editing, though what I would really like is a way to use a proper external editor. But I can’t get used to having to wait for search results to come up. I have been so spoiled by Opera’s instant, incremental search.

Firefox works with more sites than Opera, which is always an advantage, and one reason why I already used it. The Adblock extension is a little better than Opera’s version once you are used to it. It deals more efficiently with Flash ads.

On the other hand, the process of looking for extensions is confusing and when you get them they are badly documented; there is nothing which seems to work the way that Opera’s note-taking system does. The skins are mostly ugly and sometimes jump alarmingly about. I really miss one-finger keyboard navigation. Opera has a wonderful system for pasting text snippets into forms. Its search bar is easier to customise and in some ways better integrated.

I think Opera is probably doomed, on the PC at least, if it can’t get its AJAXy shit together. Everyone seems to be writing that for Firefox and possibly Safari. On mobile phones, of course, it is marvellous. Still, I will probably switch back when a version is released where both the back button and the volume control work properly.

But, really, we have reached the enviable stage where browsers are about as interesting as washing machines, and easier and quicker to replace when they go wrong.

It’s like Ubuntu: there’s no really compelling reason not to use it. Who would have thought that software could make so much progress?

The official OpenOffice blogger extension, on the other hand, is just horrible, at least with MT. Back to my home-rolled posting device.

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