10 Reasons To Love Opera (the browser)

Post ImageI love Opera, I really do. It’s an awesome web browser, and it’s a shame that it doesn’t have more market share (most stats put it around 1% or less). I could go on for days about the many different reasons that Opera rocks, but here are my favorite ten (in no particular order, based on the latest version, 9.1):

Paste and go (Screenshot)
This one really shows the attention to detail that the Opera team has. How many times have you copied a URL to the clipboard, only to go paste it in the address bar of your browser? Then you have to click go or press enter. With this handy feature, Opera saves you that second step. As the name suggests, you can paste and go all in one step!

Instant back and forward
I don’t think this is listed as an official feature, but it should be! In IE or Firefox, clicking back will usually take a few seconds for the previous page to reload – not so in Opera. As soon as you press back (or forward) the previous (or next) page is instantly there. Firefox is pretty good at this too, but Opera is quite simply superior.

Highlighted Text Context Menu (Screenshot)
As soon as you highlight some text in Opera, a context menu appears with a bunch of useful commands at the ready. Again, it saves that extra step of right clicking after you have highlighted text. It might sound inconsequential, but it makes a huge difference.

Top 10 Sites (Screenshot)
Everyone has a set of websites they regularly visit. Opera is smart enough to keep track of these sites, and gives the ten most visited sites a special and easy-to-access menu. It’s kind of like automatic favorites. Very handy.

After experiencing this feature, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it. Ever keep notepad open while browsing so you can copy things you might need later? No need to do so with Opera! Highlight any text and you can then turn it into a note, or you can manually create a note with whatever text you want. Notes are associated with a website too, so you can quickly see your notes for a given page. Incredibly useful feature.

Better Tabbed Browsing
All modern browsers have tabbed browsing, but none of them do it as well as Opera does. For one thing, tabs are ordered (say you have three tabs, A, B, C. Click on A, then click on C, then close C. Opera goes back to A, the other browsers go to B). Again with the attention to detail, right click on any link and you have two options: open in a new tab (which brings it to the front) or open in a new background tab (which does not). Awesome.

Search Keywords & Create Search (Screenshot)
IE and Firefox handle search engines pretty well (with the search box I mean), but it’s pretty much up to the site developer to help the browsers recognize the search engine. Not so in Opera. Right click in any search box and choose “Create search…” and automagically you have a new entry in your search engines. You can also associate keywords with engines. So for dictionary.com, you might associate “d”. Then you can type “d word” in the address bar, and Opera will take you there.

Mouse Gestures
Of all my favorite features, this one takes the most getting used to. Essentially mouse gestures allow you to navigate or modify the window using only the mouse. Just another small feature that can save you a bunch of time.

Trash Can
Have you ever closed a tab, only to realize a few moments later that you still need it? In other browsers you have to try to get back to the page again. In Opera, just click on the Trash Can, and choose the tab you closed. So damn handy.

Site Preferences
This feature gives you the ability to modify preferences only for a given site. Want to turn off javascript just for one site? Opera lets you do it. Not a feature you’ll use daily, but it can definitely come in handy.

Like I said, I could go on! If you like what you see, you should definitely try Opera. It’s completely free, and there are no advertisements inside (much older versions had a banner). And if you’re afraid your favorite sites won’t load correctly, don’t worry. It’s increasingly rare to find a site that doesn’t work correctly in Opera. And actually, Opera is the only Acid2-compliant browser for Windows!

In fact, I have just one problem with Opera – my del.icio.us page loads incredibly slowly. I have no idea why, but I’d like to get it fixed. If you have any ideas, let me know!

UPDATE: It appears Opera simply doesn’t like my huge list of tags. I changed my del.icio.us preferences to display as a cloud, and only tags with at least 5 items, and now it loads very quickly!

Read: Opera

Integrated Launch Day for Vista, Office, Exchange?

Post ImageMicrosoft sure seems to like integrated launch dates! I guess it works for them though – my recollection of the Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005 launch day is that went very well and generated good press coverage for both applications (and not surprisingly, highlighted how well they work together).

There’s a story floating around today that Microsoft will ship Windows Vista, Office 2007, and Exchange 2007 on December 5th. Apparently ZDNet have since taken down the article, and it isn’t clear why. Hence the question mark in the title of this post. I do think an integrated launch for the applications would be a smart idea though!

Here are some related news articles from today:

Microsoft Live

Post ImageMicrosoft made a fairly big announcement today in San Francisco. Some will say this is Microsoft playing catchup or follow the leader, others will say this is Microsoft innovating, and still others will say this is simply Microsoft making make a smart business move. I think I fall into the latter camp. Here are the details:

Kicking off what he called the “live era” of software, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said on Tuesday that the company plans to launch new Internet-based complements to its core products.

Gates said Microsoft is working on two products, “Windows Live” and “Office Live,” that create opportunities for the company to sell online subscriptions and advertising. Both are targeted at smaller businesses and consumers.

Services like Windows Live and Office Live have been expected for a very long time, so I can’t say the announcement is earth shattering. It will have very far reaching effects though. Joe Wilcox has a couple of good posts where he explains what “Live” is, and what “Live” is not. Here’s my favorite “not”:

While Google might be a catalyst in Microsoft’s services strategy, the reasons for launching Live are much broader than the search rival. Microsoft is looking to accomplish a couple things: For MSN, the new services are a way to drive additional revenue–whether from advertising or paid services–off clearly identified market segments, small businesses for Office Live and active online consumers for Windows Live. For Windows and Office, Microsoft hopes to generate greater customer value and make new-version Office and Windows upgrades more appealing. MSN has done a tremendous job cranking out new products and services, well ahead of the long Office and Windows development cycles. The point: If Google didn’t exist, Microsoft probably still would have embarked on a services strategy.

I expect that “copying Google” or “defensive move against Google” will be the most commonly assumed reasons for the new Live services, but I agree with Joe. There’s a lot more to Live than Google, and let’s face it, Windows and Office services over the Internet were pretty much inevitable.

A few people have asked me what “Live” means. While I see Microsoft’s reasoning for tying into Office and Windows brands, I’m skeptical of Live’s appeal. Live certainly doesn’t grab me, and, yes, there is uncertainty about what it means. Is it supposed to mean the living Web? Maybe community or safety? I’ll let Microsoft answer that question.

Did “Windows” grab anyone when it was released? How about “Office”? (Though I suppose both of them described intuitively their respective functions.) I’ll admit that Microsoft has some absolutely terrible product names, but I think the simplicity of Windows Live and Office Live will work well for the company.

Not much word on the developer side of things yet, if there is such a side. As a platforms company, you would expect Microsoft to offer access to the new “Live” platform. Certainly Gadgets and some of the other Vista-era technologies will be important, but details are yet to emerge.

I’ll probably have more to say on “Microsoft Live” later – it’s a lot to digest, even if it was expected.

When should you release software?

Post ImageWhen Dickson and I saw Google Talk the other day, an old discussion about when software should be released was renewed. The application was so basic and underwhelming that we couldn’t help but think they should have waited longer to release it. Usually Dickson thinks that software should be released when it’s more complete, whereas I think it’s okay to release sooner. So how do you determine when software is ready to release? Should you release very early, or just wait until the software is almost ready? What does the word “beta” really mean, anyway? Lots of good questions, and I don’t have answers for all of them. I do have some opinions though, and hopefully you’ll share yours too. Keep in mind that when I talk about “software” in this post, I don’t mean only things like Microsoft Outlook. Websites are software too.

It seems to me that the word “beta” has taken on new meaning in the world of software. In the past, releasing software as beta meant that you wanted it to have some real world use, to iron out the bugs that all software has. Lately though, I think that has changed, thanks in large part to Google. Take Google Talk, for example. The software “just works”. So why release it as beta? Well, for one thing, it has almost no features. And look at the discussion the release has generated in the blogosphere. It’s almost as if Google deliberately released software into the wild as “beta” to get some feedback on where to take it, feature-wise.

The meaning has changed in another way too. In the past, releasing something as “beta” meant essentially, “this is free because in exchange for you using the software, we’re going to get valuable feedback to improve it for eventual sale.” Now however, again thanks in large part to Google, that has changed to “we have no idea how to make money from this, so we’re calling it a beta.” Hence, why Google News has never gotten past it’s beta state. Lots of focus on Google, I know, but they are the new villain after all.

So what does “beta” really mean then? And more importantly, when has your software reached “beta”? Well, I think it depends in large part on what kind of software you have. Consider Microsoft Windows, for example. As we all found out the hard way with Longhorn, releasing an operating system too soon can be extremely detrimental. An operating system is too important a piece of software to release before most of the features are set in place. The Windows Vista beta that was released a couple weeks ago is a much better release – pretty stable, and very much focused on ironing out the bugs. Software like Google Talk however, is probably okay to release very early on, whether or not you call it “beta”, because at the end of the day it doesn’t affect nearly as many people.

Maybe what we have is not a question of what makes a release “beta” but instead, what kind of beta release is it? Consider tip #12 from Joel Spolsky’s Top Twelve Tips for Running a Beta Test:

Don’t confuse a technical beta with a marketing beta. I’ve been talking about technical betas, here, in which the goal is to find bugs and get last-minute feedback. Marketing betas are prerelease versions of the software given to the press, to big customers, and to the guy who is going to write the Dummies book that has to appear on the same day as the product.

Armed with that knowledge, maybe Google Talk and other applications like it are just different types of beta releases. Perhaps we should called Google Talk a “feature beta”, where the goal is to gather information on what sort of features the software should eventually have. I think that’s an interesting way of looking at software, as a series of different types of beta releases. Indeed a software application is never really finished, so maybe a “final release” is more like a “money beta”, where you start charging for the software. Of course, I could go on forever, creating endless types of betas. And there will always be anomolies, like Google News or even Flickr, which is in “beta” but costs money.

So let me try to answer the question, when should you release software? I think part of the answer is a question; what do you want to accomplish by releasing the software? If you want to gather information on what sort of features the application should have, release it early! The danger though is that you may create a negative image for yourself by releasing software that doesn’t really do anything, or which doesn’t meet expectations. If you want to iron out bugs, release the software later in what I would consider a “traditional beta”. And if you have software that you don’t know how to make money from, just release it as “free”. No need to confuse things by calling it a “beta”.

I also think releasing software is a very situational decision, in that no two pieces of software have the same set of circumstances surrounding them. While it may be okay to release one early, it might not be a good idea to release another so early. Deciding when to release software then, requires careful consideration of a number of variables, including what the goal of the release is, does the software work, who is it being released to, what other applications like this exist, etc. Once you’ve come up with a clear idea of all the variables, you can then decide to whether or not the time is right to release your software.