File Under: Browsers, Software & Tools

Is Opera 10.5 the ‘Fastest Browser on Earth?’ Maybe.

Opera 10.5 beta on the desktop.

Opera has released the first beta for Opera 10.5, boasting that it’s “the fastest browser on Earth.” We took a copy for a spin and found that it is indeed snappy, besting Safari 4 and Firefox 3.6 in our informal testing.

At the moment the Opera 10.5 beta is available for Windows only; the Mac and Linux versions of Opera 10.5 remain alpha releases, though Opera assures Webmonkey that beta releases for both are in the works.

Part of the reason of the delay on other platforms may be Opera 10.5′s focus on tightly integrating with Windows 7. As we mentioned in our review of the first alpha, Opera 10.5 beta takes advantage of all the Aero Glass effects in Windows 7 and integrates nicely with Aero Peek, Jump Lists and other Win 7-specific features.

Opera 10.5′s new “Opera menu” saves screen real estate.

Opera 10.5 also looks significantly different, having eliminated the menu bar in favor a new “Opera menu,” which looks and behaves much like the single button menus found in Microsoft Office. The Opera menu is unobtrusive, hanging down like an inverted tab on the far left of your window, and saves considerable screen real estate, making it very nice for netbooks. If it’s not to your liking you can turn the old menu back on by clicking “show menu bar.”

Aside from the revamped look of Opera 10.5 the big news in the beta release is speed. Opera is calling the beta “the faster browser on Earth,” a bold claim, but one that, at least partially, lives up the hype.

In our informal testing Opera recorded the fastest start up times of any browser in Windows 7, besting even Chrome by just a hair. When it comes to page rendering times the new Carakan rendering engine and the new Vega graphics engine in Opera 10.5 clearly speed things up, but as for the fastest browser on Earth, well, it’s hard to say.

Certainly Opera 10.5 is significantly faster than the current, official version of Opera, and can hold its own with any other browser out there. Opera 10.5 consistently beat Safari’s page rendering times, but against Firefox and Chrome the results were a bit more of a mixed bag — sometimes Opera came out on top, other times not.

However, at this point all four browsers are so close in terms of speed that the real differentiating factor is the feature set. And it’s here that Opera really shines with nice Windows 7 features as well as plenty of extras, including everything from a BitTorrent client to Opera’s Unite web server tools (not part of the beta release, but no doubt set to arrive before Opera 10.5 is finished).

Opera 10.5 beta also has some small, but very useful new features like the new URL bar search field. Part of Opera’s new URL search features are lifted from Firefox’s Awesomebar — allowing you to search your history and bookmarks as you type — but Opera goes a little beyond Firefox by allowing your to search actual content on the pages you’ve visited, and integrates your search engine plugins (which leaves us wondering why there’s still a separate search box).

Opera 10.5 also sees the browser continuing its pioneering support for web standards with more HTML5 support (including the video tag using the Ogg Theora codec) and CSS 3 (transitions and transforms are now supported).

Last but not least, Opera catches up to other browsers by adding a private browsing mode.

Although this release is still a beta, we found it to be plenty stable in our testing and the speed boost definitely makes it worth a download if you’re an Opera fan (and using Windows). Mac and Linux users will have to wait, but we’ll be sure to let you know when those versions are available.

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