Appealing to the hard core

Opera founder unveils feature-rich Vivaldi power browser

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Almost two years ago, the Norwegian browser firm Opera ripped out the guts of its product and adopted the more standard WebKit and Chromium technologies, essentially making it more like rivals Chrome and Safari. But it wasn’t just Opera’s innards that changed; the browser also became more streamlined and perhaps less… geeky.

Many Opera fans were deeply displeased at the loss of what they saw as key differentiating functionality. So now Jon von Tetzchner, the man who founded Opera and who would probably never have allowed those drastic feature changes, is back to serve this hard core with a new browser called Vivaldi.

Old meets new

Vivaldi doesn’t mark a return to Opera’s old internals – it uses Chromium as a base and has a user interface that is itself unusually built using web technologies – but it does bring back features such as tab stacking, an advanced bookmark manager, keyboard shortcuts and the ability to start with multiple session windows.

Opera used to be “more feature-rich, for a crowd of users that want more from their browser,” von Tetzchner told me:

After I quit [as CEO in 2010, then fully in 2011], Opera changed their philosophy. They made kind of a browser that’s more in line with most of the other browsers and doesn’t have a lot of features. The focus is in a way on making the browser disappear, and I think there’s a lot of people that want something different.

While these users could install Chrome with “30 extensions” to get all the functionality they want, von Tetzchner argued, now they can install Vivaldi and get everything in the main package.

Gigaom rendered on Vivaldi technical preview
Gigaom rendered on Vivaldi technical preview

Based on the quick play I’ve had with the first Vivaldi technical preview, publicly released on Tuesday, there’s more to it than just reviving the old Opera feel (though that’s a clear aim). For example, the HTML5-based UI allows the browser to rather neatly adopt the color scheme for the page being visited. The use of web technologies for the front end also makes it easier to launch cross-platform – the technical preview is available for Windows, OS X and Linux right from the start.

Future features

The “sister service” to the browser, the community suite, already launched quietly about a year back. This was in many ways a replacement for the old, ditched My Opera community, and it provides blogging and forum functionality.

“We believe it will be the natural playing ground for those that are using the browser, with a free mail service and a place you can put your photos,” von Tetzchner said, noting that the mail servers are based in Iceland. “It’s not really a commercial site; we haven’t spent a lot of time marketing it. But we will add more functionality and change it gradually.”

Von Tetzchner told me more new browser features will be revealed by the time Vivaldi reaches its first full version (WebRTC will likely be supported, for instance.) A mobile version is also in the works, though von Tetzchner wouldn’t say more on that subject than “We’re going for a browser that has more functionality than what you’re used to, but also has more different ways to do things – the principle of that will be the same on mobile as it is on desktop.”

The Vivaldi team numbers around 25, a “substantial part” of which is the technical team, and more than half of which are former Opera workers. Von Tetzchner is personally funding it all for now, but the browser’s business model will be the standard affiliate-deal affair.

Will Vivaldi be big? It’s hard to say – Opera itself hasn’t broke past a market share of a few percent for many years, apart from in the feature-phone market. But Vivaldi does seem to combine a fresh new look with an impressively old-school appeal to the power user, and it may well find its niche. Perhaps not everyone does want the browser to just disappear into the background after all.

8 Responses to “Opera founder unveils feature-rich Vivaldi power browser”

  1. I am a power user, spending almost all my computing time (around 5hrs/day in Opera 12.16 for Linux. Opera is practically my desktop. There is still no email application that matches the indexing, searching and filtering capabilities of the Opera email client. This is a major reason while I’m still using Opera. I can view all emails to and from a specific customer, or view all email related to a specific project, or list all email containing a text document, all without the need to do a search. Thunderbird is no match when it comes to virtual folders. Opera wins hands down.

    I currently subscribe to 30+ RSS feeds, and it’s extremely useful having the feed integrated with my email.

    I typically have between 20 and 50 browser tabs open at any one time, and I would be lost without Opera’s ability to reopen all that tabs that were open when Opera was previously closed.

    To maximise vertical space, I have the tab bar arranged down the left hand side of the screen. This also means that the tabs remain a sensible width, even with a large number open tabs. On a wide screen, even with the tabs and the Favourites/Email/Notes/Downloads/History panel open, there is more than enough width remaining for even the widest of web pages. Tabs at the top of the screen occupy far too much screen real estate.

    Other Opera features I can’t do without include: mouse gestures, keyboard navigation and short-cuts, reopening of previously closed pages (and not just the last one closed), Tab stacking, the ability to save multiple sessions, each with with multiple tabs, the ability to create new sessions by dragging tabs off the tab bar, the ability to view multiple tabs in a single application by stacking or tiling pages, and there are many more.

    I use Notes extensively and find it very useful for storing complex templates for newsletters, invoices and much more. and of course, Notes is very handy for annotating web pages I visit.

    Even though I find the Presto rendering engine getting rather long in the tooth, it still displays most web pages I visit reasonably accurately, although sometimes without all the bells and whistles seen in more modern browsers.

    I have been using Opera for almost 20 years and become so familiar with its features that I can’t imagine switching to multiple applications to do less than what I can get out of Opera 12. If Vivaldi can offer the features I use in Opera 12.16, then I’ll be switching as soon as it’s out of beta.

  2. “While these users could install Chrome with “30 extensions” to get all the functionality they want, von Tetzchner argued, now they can install Vivaldi and get everything in the main package.” I installed Vivaldi but I don’t seem to have AdBlock, Evernote Web Clipper and FVD Downloader, so about what extensions we are talking about? I especially miss AdBlock, I forgot how shitty web pages really look.

      • My point is that it’s easy to be better than Chrome at this stage. I really miss first Chrome versions. If extra functionality get added to Vivaldi we’ll get another lazy hog. Hopefully not because I like its (almost) spartan appearance.

  3. VivaldiFTW

    “While these users could install Chrome with “30 extensions” to get all the functionality they want, von Tetzchner argued, now they can install Vivaldi and get everything in the main package.”
    What, you mean I can get tab stacking in Chrome via extensions? Yeah, right… :))