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Opera or Firefox

Submitted by Druss on Mon, 2006-07-17 12:37

A couple of the guys at work were having this rather inane argument yesterday on which was the better browser - Opera or Firefox.. apparently vi vs. emacs is no longer 'in' any more :S I generally keep away from these ultimately inconclusive arguments, but I thought that I might blog about it..

So here's my take on it (Versions: FF Opera: 9.0). This is something of a draught at the moment:

Firefox plus points:

  • Free and Open Source.
  • Extensions, extensions, extensions.. the biggest plus point of Firefox.
  • Vibrant developer community.
  • Second most popular browser out there.
  • Small download.
  • Inbuilt incremental updater.
  • Almost every aspect of the browser is configurable.

Opera plus points:

  • Smaller download. The browser just exudes leanness.
  • The above download includes:
    • an IRC client.
    • an e-mail client.
    • a bit-torrent client.
    • a news reader.
  • Faster start-up - especially noticeable (compared to other browsers) on low end PC configurations.
  • Pages load and render faster and better. One of the few browsers out there to pass the Acid 2 test.
  • Better caching and as a result, quicker and easier navigation.
  • User-friendly out of the box. Some of the features that I highly appreciate are:
    • Save tab state / session management: Opera optionally saves information on the tabs open when you close the browser (or it crashes) allowing you to continue from where you left off the next time you open the browser.
    • 'Reload every x minutes': A simple feature but something that I personally use on a regular basis.
  • Some powerful features such as user defined style sheets are available out of the box.
  • A downloadable 'extension' for (rudimentary) voice support.

Opera minus points:

  • I don't particularly care for the e-mail client, news reader, IRC client and a bit torrent client in my browser. I'd much rather they were all downloadable extensions / widgets.
  • No developed extension support - Opera has however introduced something called widgets which is apparently set to fill this particular void.
  • Overzealous caching: Sometimes the heavy caching support can be rather annoying. For e.g. when you visit a website that requires you to log in; once you have logged in and are redirected to the initial page, it might appear as if you haven't successfully logged in. This is due to the page being loaded from the cache.
  • A few interface niggles such as the in-page find feature being a pop-up rather than a 'bar' as in FF.
  • No auto-updater, just a notifier..

Firefox minus points:

  • The download manager sucks.
  • Tabs: Tab handling in Firefox could be better. Each tab doesn't have its own close button, and operations in one tab spill over into other tabs - e.g. loading a page will display messages in the status bar for all tabs.
  • Extensions: There's way too much reliance on extensions for basic features that IMO should be built into the browser. Some extensions don't work well with each other.

That's about all I could come up with..

All in all, IMO, as a plain browser, Opera is a much better proposition out-of-the-box. It's faster, cleaner, leaner and highly intuitive. However, when it comes to extensions and general customisability which is pretty much Firefox's raison d'etre, Opera falls woefully short. There is also the consideration of supporting an Open Source project (Firefox) vs. a Closed Source project.