Opera Software has released Opera 12, a major update for the company’s flagship desktop web browser.
If you’d like to take Opera 12 for a spin, head over to Opera’s download page. Current Opera users will be automatically updated.
Opera 12 packs in dozens of new features and is considerably snappier than its predecessors. 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 thanks to what Opera calls “smarter tab loading.”
As we mentioned in our beta review, Opera 12 offers experimental WebGL hardware acceleration. Opera’s plans for hardware acceleration go beyond just web content, using your graphics processor to boost the rendering speed of the browser’s user interface as well. While the hardware acceleration is available in this release, you’ll still need to turn it on yourself. See Opera’s earlier guide to enabling hardware acceleration, which also has some good reasons why you might want to wait until it’s finalized before you make the leap.
Opera 12 puts Flash and other plugins out to pasture. All plugins are now “out-of-process,” which means that Flash and other plugins now run in separate processes from the browser itself. That way, should Flash crash, 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.
This is first Opera browser to support themes. There’s a new themes gallery you can check out if you’d like to customize Opera’s look.
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. Opera 12 also supports 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, and the very cool FaceKat — a driving game you steer with your head — to see the WebRTC support in action.
Opera 12 is also notable for some things it doesn’t include, namely Opera Unite and Opera Widgets. Widgets are easily replaced with add-ons, but Unite has no successor. Unite, which allowed you to host a simple website directly on your own computer, is no longer available by default and the company is no longer actively developing it.
The desktop version of Opera is not the most widely used browser on the web by any measure, but it is responsible for much of the innovation we’ve seen in web browsers over the years. If you’ve never used Opera, Opera 12 makes a good introduction. For more details on everything that’s new in this release, check out Opera’s release notes.