Okay, I have to admit I was a bit concerned when I downloaded version 9.5 of Opera, which shipped June 13. At first glance, this lean, mean browsing machine seemed to be showing signs of middle-age spread. At 6.8 MB, the install file is about twice as fat as the approximately 3 MB I'm used to from Opera -- it is even larger than the 5.7 MB install of Mozilla Firefox 2.0 (but not larger than Firefox 3 at 7.8 MB). I was afraid they'd slapped heavy saddlebags on the racehorse browser I'd grown to love.
It turns out I needn't have worried. The core improvements in Opera 9.5 are more technical than cosmetic (though they have changed the looks a bit), in spite of the expanded download.
Faster than ever
In fact, it's like they've given Opera a new heart. The new version loaded faster than a greyhound on speed, and pages appeared in a flash. Even with a dial-up connection, Opera 9.5 is definitely loading faster than before, and just as fast -- or faster -- than Firefox.
The company also notes that Opera supports aspects of standards under development, such as HTML 5 and CSS 3. In fact, a pre-release version of Opera 9.5 was one of two browsers that passed the new Acid3 browser test less than a month after the test was made available in early March of this year. The other winner was WebKit , whose engine drives Safari. So Opera continues to ride the edge of the curve vis a vis Web standards.
Opera links your systems
A major addition to Opera 9.5 is Opera Link. This is similar to Google Browser Sync, which synchronizes Firefox bookmarks, Web history, browser sessions and passwords across multiple computers. (Incidentally, Firefox fans should be aware that, according to a note on Lifehacker, Google Browser Sync will be discontinued rather than updated for Firefox 3.)
So what is Opera Link, exactly, and how does it work? Say you have three machines running Opera -- your desktop, a laptop and a mobile phone running Opera Mini. If you change the bookmarks on any one of these, Opera Link will automatically update the bookmarks on the other two, synchronizing them. What's more, even if you are on a "foreign" browser you can access your bookmarks through the Opera Link Web site, a password-protected repository of your data.
And, while it is not a bookmark backup program, if you lose some earlier bookmarks you can return to your pre-synched list, which is stored on the Web site when you activate Opera Link.
Currently, Opera Link is limited to bookmarks, the personal bookmark bar and Opera's Speed Dial. More items, such as passwords and Web history, may be included in later versions. It's a good way to help keep your act together no matter what you're using or where you are.
Speed Dial speeds you along
Speed Dial is not new in Opera 9.5 -- it appeared in a 9.2 version -- but it deserves a mention here as one huge time saver.
Each time you open a new tab, the new page (which, if you were using, say, Internet Explorer, would be blank) shows thumbnails of any Web page(s) you've set up for Speed Dial. There is always one blank thumbnail in the center of the page -- you click on it if you want to create a new Speed Dial; you can then pick the new page from a list of your bookmarks or the list of opened pages.
After that, each time you open a new tab, you click on the Speed Dial thumbnail of the page you want and you are there. Two clicks. It is a tremendous convenience. Granted, you can pick through your bookmarks or type in the URL you want, but Speed Dial shortens the process.
One other upgrade in Opera 9.5 is worth mentioning. Always noted for its security, Opera 9.5 now opens with Fraud Protection enabled by default. Instead of opting in, you have to opt out, which is a good idea, considering the thieves and scoundrels lurking on the Web. Opera draws its phishing information from Netcraft and PhishTank , and malware protection from Haute Secure . And Opera 9.5 also supports Extended Validation certificates, providing added assurance and trust for secure Web sites.
So, if you want one of the fastest, safest, convenience loaded browsers available, go for Opera. For speed and improved security alone, Opera 9.5 is a worthy upgrade.