Opera should shape up or ship out

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SummaryOpera has its headquarters in Oslo, Norway

Opera has its headquarters in Oslo, Norway. One of the lesser known browsers, this author had publicly defended and supported it earlier because Opera, an innovation engine, was way ahead of its time as an internet application suite. It had multiple nifty features and cross platform availability; a real delight to use with its inbuilt mail, RSS reader and built in IRC Chat. As such, Opera had built up a loyal fan base and served this author’s needs for close to a decade. Opera Mini enabled digital access on dumb phones by using impressive proprietary compressive algorithms which saved the users from usurious and excessive mobile data charges.

Unfortunately, Opera’s top management made hasty questionable decisions in the name of user interface. It worked on a re-design of the mail application with its confused direction. RSS Reader was deprecated, as it did not see development of any new features. The core Presto Engine was throwing up errors on most trafficked internet websites like Google and Facebook but it wasn’t entirely Opera’s fault. This is because Google, for example, implemented browser sniffing across its Web properties by excluding Opera selectively on Blogger, Instant Search, Orkut and Picasa across multiple time intervals as and when they were introduced.

Majority of the users mistakenly assumed that it’s the browser fault when converse was true. Opera’s market share has remained static to less than 2% on the desktops, but this is a contestable claim. This author did not face any issues with that till Opera announced support for browser extensions that alienated the community because Opera shipped with native code that far surpassed other browsers with an extension system.

Opera’s replacement was very hard to find. On Linux, there was a limited choice except Sea-Monkey (an odd name for all-in-one internet application suite) which had become bloated in terms of user interface making the matters worse. In the interim, Firefox announced its rapid development schedule. Using Chromium (the open source aspect of Google Chrome) was equivalent of Chinese water torture. Ironically, open source Firefox ships with bare bones interface and extensions are the only way out to make it usable to any degree. However, it is lesser of the two evils than Chrome, which is a spawn of a massive advertisement driven tracking ecosystem called as Google. It partners with Adobe Flash, a broken system with maximum number of zero day vulnerabilities and a closed proprietary product that is one of the most dangerous format on the internet. Apple’s Safari is not available for Linux and Midori (based on Webkit) was a decent alternative for light browsing.

In view of low desktop market share, the management had seen the writing on the wall too clearly and announced end of life for Presto that worked on older iterations. The author was curious about Opera’s shift to Blink engine (alternative to Webkit) and supported by evil Google.

The first impression is usually the last. Opera 15, the latest stable release on Mac was a far cry from earlier nimble lean downloaded installable packages, which has completely removed the bookmarks (promised to return it in later versions after community outcry).

Instead it has introduced “Stash” (to read later) and “Discover” as its content discovery engine. The start page has an ugly plastered Google bar, that cannot be removed. The search engines cannot be customised. There is no Linux support, so far, which is unusual for a company that claims cross platform compatibility. Opera has not officially communicated any time frame for Linux.

Any objective criticism to point out its flaws in execution, on their forums, is reprimanded. Opera’s trolls bogs users with extended arguments instead of tending to the issues that caused the criticism in the first place. This author is not sure if they are company owned “digital goons”. This author had been locked out of his own account but luckily restored after the intervention of an Opera employee. This author migrated user data completely to Firefox and other offline services.

Opera, it seems, is slowly adopting advertisement driven model like Google. It is likely being bankrolled by Google, affiliates like Amazon and Bing, questionable sources for “Discover” and trying to imagine an alternative universe of “Stash” without bookmarks. Without fail, user interface alone is likely to dictate adoption in future. Yet, Opera has morphed into Google’s handmaiden, very appropriately called as “Chro-Pera”. There are persistent signs that it has lost its mojo and is hard wired on a definite suicidal mission by alienating its core power users that includes this author. Is the management drugged or out of their minds? The company should realise to shape up or ship out. They can make humble beginnings from the treasure trove of ideas that its users have generated instead of alienating them. The final verdict awaits a definitive answer.

The writer is a practicing doctor with keen interest in technology

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