Opera releases interim version 11.6, continues work on hardware acceleration

Points finger at Google's Chrome, wants 'fair and open' competition

Opera Software on Tuesday released Opera 11.6, an interim build to tide over users while the company continues to work on version 12 and its hardware acceleration.

Opera 11.6 features a new HTML parser -- dubbed Ragnarok by Opera -- as well as a revamped address bar that brings up likely destinations faster and more accurately when the user starts typing. Ragnarok provides slightly better performance, but is intended to render more websites more accurately, said Jan Standal, Opera's vice president of desktop software, in an interview Tuesday.

The update also lets users add websites to "Speed Dial," Opera's default new tab page that shows thumbnail images of favorite sites with a single click, much like bookmarks were saved in earlier editions.

Opera redesigned the user interface for the built-in email client, added support for several HTML and HTML5 standards, including content schemes and content handlers for the latter, and debuted support for Google's new JSON geolocation API (application programming interface).

Standal acknowledged that Opera 11.6 was an interim edition that the company released because it had delayed Opera 12.

Opera has been working on hardware acceleration -- shifting some browser chores from the computer's main processor to its graphics processor to boost performance -- and still plans to debut the feature in version 12.

That work has gone slower than expected, Standal said. Rather than wait for its completion before issuing a new version, Opera decided to launch 11.6 with the pieces that were ready.

"We will ship [Opera 12] when it's ready," said Standal when asked for a timeline for a hardware-accelerated Opera.

Other browser makers, including Google (Chrome), Microsoft (Internet Explorer) and Mozilla (Firefox) have already added graphics-based acceleration to their browsers, in some cases months ago .

Standal hinted that Opera 12 will appear early next year. "We usually release [new versions] every three or four months," he said.

Browser competition has been fierce, and Opera has not done well. While Chrome has boosted its share by 75% in the last year -- and by some measurements jumped ahead of Firefox into second place -- Opera on the desktop has languished with a less than a 2% usage share.

Standal conceded that the market was "hyper-competitive," but said Opera was ready and willing to compete.

"As long as the competition is fair and open," he added. "Competition is very good for users, but only as long as there's a level playing field."

Opera has tried to level that field with moves that have included a formal complaint to European Union antitrust officials in 2007 about Internet Explorer (IE) that eventually forced Microsoft to offer a ballot screen in Windows 7 that allows users to select their default browser.

Opera's eyes are now on Chrome.

"We're paying close attention to the movement on the Web where specific [Web] apps are built to work only on a specific browser," Standal said. "We do see Google launching apps that work only in Chrome, even though there are very few technical reasons for doing that."

Google's Cloud Print service, for instance, can only be used from within Chrome to connect to most printers.

"We have some concern about this trend," said Standal. "We don't think it's in Google's benefit over time."

Opera 11.6 can be downloaded for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux from the Norwegian browser maker's website.

Like Chrome and IE9, Opera lets users search from the address bar, and offers suggestions based on the characters typed. (Image: Opera Software)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .

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