Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Opera is THE browser for Linux

Ever since my “big switch” away from Windows a few years ago, I couldn't help but notice how much worse, quality wise, Firefox worked on Linux as compared to its Windows version. Don't get me wrong, Firefox on Ubuntu is not a bad piece of software – I use it heavily and usually I have multiple windows open in several desktops each with multiple tabs. Sure it crashes once or twice day, not a big deal. I even like occasional crashes. Crashes are exciting, they add a little bit of spice to every day's perfectness of my computing environment. :-)

What's been killing me though, wasn't that – it was what I call a “800Mz scrolling” problem. When I am on a battery, the laptop naturally is trying to preserve some power and switches to a conservative CPU scaling governor which likes to stick to 800Mz unless applications absolutely need more. Which is fine, most laptops do that. Except that Firefox on Linux really needs a lot of CPU power to scroll pages. This is kind of ridiculous, since scrolling has been done (mostly) by graphics hardware on Windows for the last 15 years, but FireFox on Linux demands 2Gz of CPU horsepower to scroll a freaking page, unless it's something as trivial as http://google.com.

Find a moderately heavy web page, quickly scroll up and down using the strip on a touchpad's left side and watch for 10 seconds – FF will be scrolling, turning your 800Mz Core Duo2 into 386SX 32Mz relic. I run Windows on VirtualBox, and “virtual WinFirefox” is many times more responsive than it's native Linux version, it scrolls web pages quickly dammit...

So one day and installed the latest Opera. Again. This wasn't my first time though, I've done it before and every time I get turned off by how foreign and ugly Opera always feels: the hotkeys were always wrong, UI didn't resemble any other applications on Windows or Linux, the whole package felt like it just landed from Mars.

The latest version is different. Alt+D finally took me to the address bar by default. Backspace took me to a previous page. UI was still butt-ugly, but it took me only a few seconds to find a theme that looked great, right there in “Tools/Appearance”, no googling required. The mandatory ad blocker is built-in and filters are easily discoverable. Most hot keys were already in place and a few missing ones were easy to add.

But how about that incredible rendering speed! Plus nearly instant start-up times, and the damn thing can actually SCROLL TEXT quickly! What a miracle... It also seamlessly imported my Firefox bookmarks. And after three days of casual surfing I am yet to find a single site, a single page rendered incorrectly. Those sweet mouse gestures are as close to heaven (Safari's multi-touch) as you can get without switching to OSX. Check them out!

Here is the list of changes I've done compared to default settings:

Preferences/Advanced/Shortcuts: remove actions for mouse buttons #5 and #6. This will disable back/forward actions on horizontal touchpad scrolling (in case it annoys you like it does me).

Preferences/Advanced/Shortcuts: add ctrl+K for moving focus to Google search bar and add Ctrl+1 and Ctrl+2 for cycling through tabs.

Appearance/Skin – change the disgusting default skin to “d_t_a__opera_9_only__-trial2” (available via “find more skins”). Or find something you like – almost everything there is better than the default nightmare Opera comes dressed up in.

Download filters for ad-blocking: http://www.fanboy.co.nz/adblock/opera/urlfilter.ini

Done! You've got yourself the most powerful browser the world of Linux has ever seen.

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