File Under: Browsers

Speed, Web Standards Make Latest Opera Beta Sing

Opera 12 beta

Opera Software has release a beta preview of Opera 12, a coming update for the company’s flagship desktop web browser.

To give it a try, head over to the Opera Next page and download the beta. Existing Opera users should note that this is an Opera Next release so it won’t touch any of your regular Opera settings.

The new beta preview packs in dozens of new features that show Opera 12 well on its way to being the fastest, stablest Opera yet. Part of that speed comes from Opera 12′s 64-bit support on Windows and Mac. Startup and shutdown times have been reduced as well with what Opera describes as “smarter tab loading.”

Another potential speed boost will come from the experimental WebGL hardware acceleration in Opera 12 beta. Opera’s plan for hardware acceleration is to use your graphics processor to boost rendering speeds not just for webpages, but the browser’s user interface as well. Of all the new features in Opera 12 this the most experimental and will require you to enable it by hand. Check out this post on the Opera blog for how to turn on hardware acceleration and some fair warning on why you might want to wait.

This release also adds support for out-of-process plugins, which means that Flash and other plugins now run in separate processes. That means if Flash crashes, it won’t cause the entire browser to crash with it. Like Chrome and Firefox before it, Opera 12′s isolated processes feature applies to plugins like Flash, Silverlight and Java, among others.

Opera has long been a pioneer of web standards and this release continues that tradition, bringing support for a wide variety of emerging web standards like CSS 3 Animations and Transitions, and HTML5 Drag-and-Drop. The latter means that the Flickr uploader we looked at yesterday works just fine in Opera 12. (Sadly, Flickr appears to be doing some user agent sniffing so you’ll need to switch Opera’s user agent to Firefox for it to actually work.)

Drag-and-drop file uploads in Opera 12

Other new features in the Opera 12 beta include support for the Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC) standard. Opera has set up some demos to show off the new WebRTC features, including a series of apps that pull images (with your permission) from your webcam. Be sure to visit Photo Booth, Polaroid, Color Picker and Explode to see WebRTC in action.

Opera 12 adds support for the Do Not Track header, which now enjoys support in every major desktop browser save Google Chrome. Opera has also made some improvements to Opera Reader, which is now known as the proposed CSS 3 standard, Generated Content for Paged Media. Paged Media was first proposed by Håkon Wium Lie, Opera Software’s CTO and creator of cascading stylesheets. The idea is to make it easy for web developers to transform longer pages into a more book-like experience, where the reader flips from page to page instead of scrolling down one long screen.

Opera 12: Reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, no scrolling necessary.

Paged Media really makes the most sense on tablets, but the preliminary support in Opera 12 makes it easier for developers to experiment with the new features. To go along with the updated support in Opera 12, Lie has updated the demos on his site.

This release is also notable for something it doesn’t include, namely Opera Unite. Unite, which allowed you to host a simple website directly on your own computer, is no longer available by default.

Opera is not the most widely used browser on the web by any means, but it is responsible for much of the innovation we’ve seen in web browsers over the years. If you’ve never used Opera, this beta makes a good introduction, though bear in mind that it is a beta release and may have some bugs here and there. For more details on everything that’s new in this release, check out Opera’s release notes.