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Faster, Sleeker Opera 10 Is Built for Better Web Apps

Opera 10 Beta 1 on the desktop. Click the image for a larger view.

Opera has released the first beta version of its upcoming Opera 10 web browser. The latest test release gives Opera fans a taste of what’s coming in the final release later this year, namely a faster, slicker browser with a whole new look and feel.

Opera 10, available for download now, is chock-full of new features, but the most noticeable change is the slick new interface designed by the renowned Jon Hicks, who joined the Opera team in 2008. Mac users especially will notice the difference in the new look which is now much more “Mac-like.”

Under the chrome, much of Opera 10′s focus is on speed. Already no slouch when it comes to page rendering, an overhaul in the JavaScript engine means that intensive web apps like Gmail or Facebook load and respond considerably faster in Opera 10. In fact Opera, claims that the new beta has a 40 percent speed gain over its predecessors.

Like the coming Firefox 3.5 and the latest versions of Safari, Chrome and IE, Opera is a browser built for empowering web applications. As more of our daily tasks move into the web browser, developers are beefing up the rendering and scripting engines inside the latest browser releases to handle the sometimes heavy loads of web apps with more grace and raw speed. Another key component to making web apps feel closer to their desktop counterparts in the browser is support for emerging standards like HTML 5, which Opera has long supported.

Along with the faster engine and the new look and feel come a few new features and some welcome refinements to the features that have long set Opera apart from the pack.

The most noticeable new feature is what Opera calls “visual tabs.” Visual tabs refers to the expandable bar just below your tabs. Either pull down the tab bar or double-click the handle to reveal thumbnails of all your open tabs (see screenshot above). It’s a quick way to get to a specific tab, but it would be much nicer if the new feature had a keyboard shortcut or a tab switcher — as it stands in beta 1, the new visual tabs feature is not integrated with the control-tab tab switcher.

Opera’s speed dial, the feature which shows your most-visited favorite websites in thumbnails [thanks for the correction, Meek!], and which has proved popular enough that every major browser has since copied it, also gets some new features in Opera 10. It’s now possible to customize your speed-dial page, for example, those with large monitors can increase the number of thumbnails displayed by default.

As far as support for the emerging HTML 5 specification, Opera was the first browser to the party and remains one of the web’s primary proponents of the newest web-app technology. So, there isn’t much new to report on that front in Opera 10, but it’s worthy to note the beta does include support for the controversial @font-face rule. This CSS element will allow site designers to embed custom fonts on their servers and break free of the web’s long-standing limitation of rendering type with only a handful of usable fonts. So far few websites are using web-based fonts, but if companies like Typekit catch on, Opera users will definitely have a head start.

As Opera users know, Opera isn’t just a web browser, it also includes an e-mail client, a newsfeed reader and even a BitTorrent client within the browser. But for those that don’t want to use Opera’s various auxiliary apps, Opera 10 makes it much easier to set your own defaults for handling e-mail, RSS subscriptions or torrent files.

Other new features in Opera 10 include an update for Dragonfly, Opera’s set of debugging tools for web developers, which now allows you to edit the DOM and inspect HTTP headers.

While today’s release of Opera 10 is still technically a beta, we didn’t encounter any bugs or strange behavior. Still, as always, you might want to hold off on using the release for mission-critical tasks. For those that would like to test out the latest version and enjoy the speed benefits and slick new look, head over to the Opera 10 download page and grab a copy.

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