Opera 9.5 and Firefox 3

What a week it’s been for a browser whore – 2 major updates to trial! Opera brought out 9.5 last week (in a move that felt a bit “We must beat Firefox!”), and Mozilla delivered FF 3 this week after some false contractions. What follows isn’t meant to be a proper review, just a brain dump of impressions from living with each one for a few days. Neither have I ‘plumped’ for one browser – I continue to use them all!

Mac Native Themes

Both of these browsers are in the same difficult position – trying to keep a ‘family’ style across platforms while also being a good desktop citizen. My position on that is that looking and acting like a native app is far more important than keeping it in the family, but I guess if you use the same browser on dual platforms, it helps consistency.

Both of these new browsers have much improved Mac themes, that still don’t quite hit the mark. Firefox has managed to get a unified toolbar at last, but still needs an Arronax theme to finish it off. I’ve not found anyone yet who thinks the bloated back button is a good idea (yes I do know you can turn it off with ‘use small icons’) – it also looks more like a slider rather than a button:

ffdefault

That’s the default, and here it is with GrApple Graphite applied:

arronax

See how it adds nice little mac touches like the header for the sidebar, at the same height as the tabs? Lovely! However, beyond the browser theme, Josh Aas has done incredible work in connecting to Cocoa API’s, resulting in elements like proper, rounded semi-transparent menus and progress thermometers. FF no longer feels like the homely Java app that it once felt like on OS X!

Opera’s new mac theme is a vast improvement too, although to be honest, any change to the previous theme would be an improvement. I’d refused to use Opera for anything other than testing sites because of it. When the alpha for 9.5 was released, it didn’t look much better, but a week before the final release, it finally started shaping up.

However, it still falls short. For example all the toolbar buttons are grey except for the stop/reload and home:

newoperamac

It doesn’t feel as good as the ‘native’ Opera skin, which is lighter and crisper, and to me, feels more mac-like. The dark tabs have caused some controversy, but I quite like it in this configuration:

journal%20/%20hicksdesign

This is something I like about Opera – being able to have the toolbar underneath the tab – don’t ask me why though. Form widgets and scrollbars aside, I prefer to use the native theme in Opera.

Neither browser has an updated icon (a new FF icon is awaiting approval!), but Opera in particular really needs to. The shadow is the first thing that strikes you as being wrong, not just the lack of transparency, but the fact that it has highlights in it! I really fancy having a go at updating the Opera icon.

Rendering

First of all, Opera really wins on speed, hands down. It renders fast, and the interface is nimble. Speed is a very subjective thing, and is governed by all sorts of different factors, so this is just my experience. Firefox on the other hand still has some of the sluggish interface feel from v1 & 2- when switching tabs or resizing the window. Opera joins Camino and Omniweb as being the fastest browsers I have, but overall, I reckon Opera has the edge. It also has lots of new CSS goodness, including text-shadow (yay! can has etched text!) and @media queries.

Firefox has still to implement selectors like text-shadow, but rendering is much improved nonetheless. The move to Cairo has brought with it decent crisp type at last, with support for kerning and ligatures (even if they don’t always happen where they should).

Other Features

  • FF now has growl support! Something Opera would benefit from, as their ‘toast’ style notifications are decidedly un-mac.
  • The new FF location bar menu is great, and I think the new of quickly adding a bookmark (click the star to add, and deal with filing it away later)
  • I don’t think it’s new to 9.5, but I like Opera’s content blocking system. When turned on you can click the areas you want to block (which feels like a shooting game!).
  • Opera does thumbnail previews of tabs when you hover over them. I’d love them to provide this as a sidebar option like Omniweb.

Cons

Downsides to Opera? I miss being able to correct spelling on a single word. I keep looking for a history menu at the top that isn’t there. I miss a preference to open new tabs in the background when cmd-clicking (you can hold down shift to do this, but I want a preference!). I’d also feel more inclined to make use of the mail client and RSS reader if they weren’t just basic unstyled views. It still feels like you still have to put in some work to get the chrome layout looking as you want it, but to be honest these are fairly small nitpicks. Opera is now a browser that I would want to use everyday.

Downsides to Firefox? Well, first of all, I really hate the way it adds ‘- Mozilla Firefox’ to the window title (can that be turned off?), I just want it to butt out! Update – this seems to be a inconsistent bug rather than an intended feature!

I would’ve liked a little more movement on the CSS side and Acid 3. Again, these are small complaints rather than major ones, and like Opera, it’s become a browser I would want to use!

Summary

Out of the two – Firefox has most mac native look and feel (once Arronax has polished things up a bit) while Opera has better performance. Both are great, and the world is better off with them both of them around. Not sure that I’m better off though – for me the choice of browser is harder than ever.

The Hickensian is the journal of Jon Hicks, one half of the creative partnership Hicksdesign. Take a look at the work we do.

Upcoming Talks

I sometimes pop up at conferences and waffle about design, icon creation in particular. Here's where I'll be next:

An Event Apart Chicago- "Icon Design Process" - 25-26th August 2014

Web Expo Guildford- "Icon Design Process" - 26th September 2014

Beyond Tellerrand Berlin – 3rd-5th November 2014

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