I usually have at least three browsers open at any time. One will be a Mozilla Gecko app (Firefox, Camino, or SeaMonkey) and one an Apple WebKit based program (Stainless, Cruz, iCab, Shiira, OmniWeb, or especially since Safari 4 was released, Safari itself). Interestingly, I find […]


I usually have at least three browsers open at any time. One will be a Mozilla Gecko app (Firefox, Camino, or SeaMonkey) and one an Apple WebKit based program (Stainless, Cruz, iCab, Shiira, OmniWeb, or especially since Safari 4 was released, Safari itself). Interestingly, I find I like Safari 4 better on my old Pismo PowerBooks running OS 10.4.11 than I do under Leopard on my Core 2 Duo MacBook where Stainless tends to get the nod.

However, the browser I consistently use more than all of the others combined is Opera, and it’s an abiding puzzlement to me as to why Opera has thus far been unable to carve out a more substantial market niche in North America.

According to NetApplications’ HitsLink Market Share statistics watch for August, Opera now has a cumulative global two percent share (2.35 percent when Opera Mini is included) behind Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Firefox, Apple’s Safari, and Google’s Chrome, thanks largely to its popularity in Eastern Europe and Asia, where it has about four percent of the market. Opera claims that in some regions of the globe, such as Russia, Ukraine and parts of Europe, it is now the most popular browser with growth last year of 67 percent and roughly 100 million users worldwide (translation into 39 languages probably doesn’t hurt either). But its penetration in the U.S. and Canada is more like one percent. Indeed, Google’s Chrome, still a beta with no general release Mac version, has now bumped Opera from forth to fifth place in the U.S. browser market.

“The reality is that in the U.S. we have some work to do,” Opera boss Jon von Tetzchner recently told BBC News.

Opera 10 reportedly hit 10 million downloads in its first week, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out in the September Hitslink stats, but there’s no indication that Opera 10 is taking the U.S. market by storm.

Personally, I warmed slowly to Opera, which has been around since 1994, and released its first Mac versions in the late ’90s, at which time it had an interesting interface and some unique features, but was pretty awful performance-wise. However, Opera’s Mac support is now impressively strong, and since the release of Opera 8, it’s been a fixture on my desktop, and most of the time it’s the browser I reach for first for general surfing and a lot of my work-related browsing as well.

Probably one of the things about Opera that handicaps it in North America is that it’s a bit — and in some instances more than a bit — different from other browsers, which is partly why I like it, but North American consumers tend to be conformists, which explains why Windows has 90-odd percent of the desktop operating system market. When there’s the slightest learning curve to scale, many people balk. With Opera, the learning curve is not steep, but it’s there.

Have you given Opera a try? Did you stick with it? Why or why not?

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  1. Hi, I live in Spain and I have to say that here, in the Western part of Europe, Opera is a perfect stranger, few people know it and less people do use it. People stick with IE or, if lucky, have switched to Firefox, Safari and Opera are generally unknown.
    Personally I discovered it when I switched to mac a year and a half ago and i was looking for new browsers to try with my new machine. Although I knew it existed I had never tried it (mainly because I hadn’t yet owned a computer of my own), and when I did I really liked it and I’ve been using it (along with Safari and Firefox) since I first tried it. After deleting my HD and installing Snow Leopard from scratch I just installed Safari and Opera and I’m really doing OK.
    I think people had to give it a try, and if they actually made the effort of understanding its power many people would choose it as their default browser

  2. Doesn’t the free version have ads bundled into the browser? It’s been awhile since I’ve looked at Opera. I’m not much of a fan as the UI is not intuitive and the browser doesn’t feel at home on any of the OS’s that it supports, in particular OSX. Opera does everything but does not excel at anything to make it a “must have” product.

    1. They removed the ads back in 2005.

    2. Opera got rid of ads back in I believe version 9. Now that Opera 10.5 is out it actually completely destroys other web browsers like Chrome and Safari. It’s widgets are nice, and it has advanced features like Opera Turbo, Opera Unite, and Opera Link. I’d recommend it for anyone

  3. Opera is in the middle of no man’s land. It does not have the 1,000 plugins that Firefox has, while Safari and Chrome are geared towards speed and minimalism.

    It also didn’t help that they initially charged for their browser even though it was revolutionary at the time. Even now they have some interesting features though I doubt it would make me switch from Safari.

    1. Speed and minimalism? For me, Opera always beat Safari on both counts.
      Chrome — OK, I’ll give you speed on that one. But it’s a resource hog. Opera has always been the fast, lightweight option in the browser market.

    2. Totally agree with slinkygn, Opera IS fast and lightweight. I started to notice that people don’t even know how Opera looks like, but shout that Firefox/Chrome is better. Ehh..

    3. I have not done extensive testing on dozens of pc’s, but on the (relatively low end) pc’s I’ve built for my girlfriend and several relatives i noticed that the latest version goes a lot faster and can handle more simultaneous tabs (O 15+ versus FF 2-3 max)
      even though it has preview tabs, torrent, mail etcetera all enabled by default.

  4. Lovin Opera for a couple years now, but could never switch over for full-time because my crutch, 1Password, can’t plugin yet. Maybe one day…

  5. I would say Opera doesn’t have as much market share because it purposely presents itself as an “alternative” browser for a minority market.

    From what I know of friends that use it, and also from Operas own marketing materials, it’s positioned as the browser that does things differently from the regular browsers. It has a unique interface, and just generally operates differently from Safari, FireFox, and MSIE.

    This is a great marketing point, and a good way to survive in a very competitive market, but to then turn around and suggest that it’s odd that Opera doesn’t suck up more of the market is just crazy-talk. It’s purposely designed to be a niche, “alternative” product, for those that don’t like the more standard browsers.

    To gain significant share, Opera would have to look and operate the way the majority of people like their browsers to operate. You can’t be quirky and different and also have the majority market share. Opera the company, is smart to position it’s product this way and no one that uses Opera the browser should be under the illusion that it will suddenly take over from Safari or FireFox in terms of market share. It won’t happen.

    1. I’d say you are wrong about Opera wanting to be just a niche browser. Opera makes more money the more users they have. They have 40-50 million users on the desktop right now! Obviously they want as many as possible.

  6. Back when I was running Windows 95 and MSIE was so unstable that we called it “Exploder” I actually paid $20 dollars for Opera, it was so much better.
    For a few years, Opera came in two versions – a paid version and an ad supported free version, but they dropped that years ago.
    Opera is very big in the embedded market and that’s where they make most of their money.
    I think if I were still running Windows I would use Opera as my default browser. However, on OS X Opera (and Firefox) just don’t integrate well into the system – they show they are multi-platform programs.
    I still keep a copy of Opera around. Sometimes I’ll run into a website that renders much wider than my screen in both Safari and Camino. Opera has a button to force such sites to render in the width of the browser – a feature other browsers still lack.

  7. i’ve tried and re-tried Opera more times than i can count. the feeling i always come back to is that it’s just a pain in the ass. there are way too many ways to tweak the ui, and none of them feel intuitive. in my mind all the added features, so to speak, don’t actually make it a better browser, they just make it cluttered. i also feel most of the time when using it that the people that made it like to feel superior about themselves or something – i can see them as hardcore linux freaks.
    i’ll keep dipping my toes in the water every now & then, but it’s highly doubtful it’ll ever feature prominently in my daily usage.

    1. haha. this review is SPOT ON. it’s like you took words out of my mouth!

    2. Great response oliver. At the end of the day, Opera never gave me a substantial *reason* to switch. Opera is simply not better than the leading browsers. I don’t see enough innovation to make the change worthwhile.

    3. “all the added features, so to speak, don’t actually make it a better browser, they just make it cluttered”

      Except they are hidden or disabled by default, and you won’t notice them until you actually activate them.

      Opera is far from cluttered. It’s all in your head because of your bias against Opera.

      “i also feel most of the time when using it that the people that made it like to feel superior about themselves or something”

      Not everyone is like you, Mac-fanboy-who-feels-superior-for-using-Mac, duh…

    4. manlip – wow. anger issues?

      i’m sorry you seem to have taken such offense at my post, but i have no ‘bias’ against Opera, i just plain don’t like it and am entitled to think so, as you are to think it’s great.
      as for apparently being a ‘mac-fan-boy-bla-bla’, i don’t recall my original post mentioning anything about using a mac. i’ve used Opera on pc’s and mac’s, and have been continually unthrilled by the experience on both. my comments on Opera are about the browser, not the platform.

    5. @oliver

      You are the one who started whining about “hardcore Linux freaks”, which is funny considering that no one is more religious than Mac fanboys like you.

    6. @ maniip – you certainly are quick to resort to name calling. now who’s the one with the bias?

      whatever your predictably original response might be to that, i’ll sign off with this crazy concept – if you hate macs so much, or mac users for that matter, maybe consider reading a website that’s not geared towards that very same market.

    7. @oliver, I don’t hate Macs at all. I just find it hilarious that a Mac fanboy bashes Opera users for something Mac fanboys are infamous for.

      Reality is, you are just reflecting your own fanboyism over on other people. Maybe you feel superior for using Mac. I don’t. Nor do I feel superior for using Opera (or Firefox). They are just tools!

    8. @maniip – it really pains me to re-enter this debate, but please feel to point out to me and anyone else unlucky enough to be following this, in no uncertain terms the following:

      a) where i bashed opera users
      b) where in any of my posts have i displayed my apparent unquestionable devotion to apple products
      c) where i have been ‘reflecting’ ‘fanboyism’

      When i say, in no uncertain terms, i mean QUOTE ME.

      In order to set the record straight, i plain don’t like Opera. This is an opinion that has been reached after trying the program numerous times over many years and many different versions (yes, including the latest), on both pc and mac. I find it slower than my usual browser, it doesn’t work properly on sites it require it to, it has an interface i’m not overly enthused about, and has an extended feature set that i don’t care about.

      In short i don’t like it, and i don’t have too.

    9. @oliver

      Are you joking?

      Here’s what you wrote:

      “i also feel most of the time when using it that the people that made it like to feel superior about themselves or something – i can see them as hardcore linux freaks.”

      Again, this is quite ironic, coming from a Mac fanboy!

      Opera is far from slower. It actually has the most responsive UI, and the fastest rendering of all browsers. The UI looks just like any other browser.

      But this is, again, besides the point. You have an irrational hatred of Opera based on your own misconceptions. Fine. But your comment about Opera users is amazingly hypocritical considering your Apple fanboy status.

  8. Brian Elliott Friday, October 16, 2009

    I’ve got to agree with the comment above that Opera needs to support 1Password to be considered a potential primary browser on my mac.

  9. I love Opera Mini (version 5 is a lot like iPhone’s Safari, need I say more to describe the epicness of it?) and, umm, dislike Opera on the computer. Why? Because it has a c**pload of unnecessary features. For example, whether I use its built-in email client or not, it sits there and takes up space. Or a widget engine as part of a browser?! Sounds almost as random as a video converter as part of a word processor. I don’t say the email client, the widget engine, or whatever feature is bad. In my opinion, it just doesn’t have to be part of a browser! Released as an extension (a la Firefox) or as a separate app, each of them could win many hearts while not clogging up installations of “I just freaking want to surf!”-type users. I prefer Safari and Firefox, as they don’t have anything more than I ask them to. Of course, it’s just my opinion, but I believe throwing everything the developers can think of into the app can just be a successful tactic with the 2.35% (actually even less when counting out the awesome Opera Mini) of users, who either need most of those added features, or simply don’t know about other browsers.

    1. Actually, the additional features don’t activate until you actually start using them.

      Opera is a smaller download than competing browsers, so your complaint that “they take up space” is just crazy. Opera uses LESS space than less functional browsers!

      Widgets USE THE BROWSER ENGINE. Of course they need to be part of the browser. But they are running separate from the browser and can run without the browser running in the latest alpha build.

      Opera’s installation is not clogged up. It’s smaller than anyone else, and those extras don’t even appear until you specifically activate them.

  10. I find Opera to be bloated, overloaded, overwhelming and ugly. The interface is a mishmash of confusion, and it takes me forever to find what I’m looking for.

    I keep it around to test my websites, and in the hope that one day a new release will be greatly simplified and become a better OS X citizen…it is making strides in that direction but far slower and far more painfully than I expect from well developed apps.

    A line from Burroughs’ Thanksgiving Prayer sums up my experience nicely — “You always were a headache and you always were a bore.”

    1. Have you tried Opera 10? Jon Hicks, most famous for designing the Firefox logo, is now a senior designer at Opera and have completely revamped the skin and user interface.

      It looks gorgeously modern and slick both on OS X and Windows.

    2. I am extremely disappointed with the UI of Opera 10. I find it ugly, clunky, and not a good match for OS X.

    3. @Maintainer

      How can Opera be “bloated” when it’s a much smaller download than all the other less functional browsers, exactly? “Bloat” is when all the features make the application bulky and slow, but Opera actually has the smallest download size and snappiest UI of them all.

      Ugly? LOL. You are desperate to make up anything you can about Opera, aren’t you?

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