Friday, February 12, 2010

Opera claims new beta is fastest browser

Opera moves its latest browser build out of alpha development and into beta and claims that Opera 10.50 beta is the fastest browser currently available. It's not clear at the moment whether it's faster than Google Chrome's development builds, or merely as fast as, but there's no doubt that this new beta should draw a lot of attention for its performance.

Opera 10.50 makes dramatic changes to the browser's engine and look, including moving menus behind a minimalist drop-down.
(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

For users who didn't take a look at the pre-alpha builds released in December 2009 and January 2010, Opera 10.50 has been fully optimized for Windows 7, sporting a new interface, full Windows taskbar integration, and, most notably, a new JavaScript engine that Opera claims makes it faster than Google Chrome.

The new Carakan JavaScript engine is the most important improvement, and the reason behind the browser's faster performance. In empirical tests performed last month on an HP desktop running an Intel Core 2 Q6600 at 2.66GHz with 4GB of RAM and Windows 7 32-bit, the Opera 10.50 pre-alpha scored 435.6 milliseconds in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark. By contrast, Google Chrome, the most recent development build at the time, notched 510.4 ms. Opera 10.10, the current stable build, was more than 7.5 times slower, at 3284.4 ms.

Opera's new interface has been optimized for Windows 7 or Vista. The tabs are now on top, the menu bar has been minimized behind a drop-down on the left nav, and the integration with Windows 7 is robust. Jump lists have Opera Speed Dial support and can start a private browsing tab, while the taskbar gets Aero Peek tab preview windows. These have been so well integrated at this point that the fact that Chrome doesn't have all of them and that Firefox doesn't have them turned on by default at this point stands out.

Several features that weren't in the pre-alpha have now shown up in the beta. One of these is a smart recycle bin icon near the minimize and close window buttons in the upper right of the program window. Click it and you get a list of closed tabs, and a list of blocked pop-ups. The CTRL+Tab hot key look has changed, too. Instead of displaying all the open tabs, pressing the combo will open a preview of the tab on the right, with the Web site's meta-tag name on the left.

Other changes include introducing the same style of predictive smart searching in the address bar that Firefox and Chrome have, keeping track of search history in both the address bar and the search bar, and deleting specific items from those histories. Opera 10.50 also includes improvements to the Presto layout engine, a new graphics library called Vega, and support for HTML 5 and CSS 3.

Throughout several hours of use on a Windows 7 computer, the beta didn't crash, nor display any obvious signs of bugginess. In general, Opera 10.50 beta is surprisingly stable and innovative. Mac and Linux users will have to console themselves with the Opera 10.50 pre-alpha for now, although Opera says an update is imminent.

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