Over the last few years, Mozilla has taken quite a large slice of the internet browser market. Its community-developed Firefox, is now already in its 3rd version, which has been released today. Firefox has been praised for its security features, and often declared safer than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer by security experts. The new Firefox boasts, in addition to a comprehensive redesign of its looks and a host of new features, several new security enhancements which promise to make it even more secure.
But Firefox isn’t the only player in the web browser game. Another recent player is Opera. Actually, it’s not new, per se. Several years ago, before Firefox’s breakthrough into the market, Opera was a paid browser. Later, Opera released an ad-supported free version, and then finally released a fully free version, without any advertising whatsoever, in order to try and capture a larger market share. The release of various beta versions of Firefox 3 took most of the attention of the media, however, and the news about the release of the new 9.5 version of Opera was overlooked. Along with an update of its appearance, the addition of several new gadgets and features, and speed optimization, Opera added a security feature which is very similar to one offered by Firefox 3; both of these enhancements will be described later in this article.
So, is Opera a real player in the browser scene? Can it beat the unbeatable? Let’s find out.
Firefox 3 is a major update to the successful Firefox 2. The interface has been redesigned, and even with the default skin it looks pretty good, and has sleek animations. Notable interface updates include: a redesigned Download Manager that includes an information bar in the browser window; the ability to tag bookmarks; the ability to save open tabs for the next session; Add-On download manager (download add-ons without visiting Mozilla’s site); and many more features. Also, it has undergone tweaking to enhance its speed, and Mozilla claims that it’s now twice as fast as Firefox 2 when loading applications like Gmail. However, I didn’t notice any visible improvement. Major new security features include complex anti-phishing tools – Firefox 3 will hide the content of web pages that are suspected forgeries and warn you when entering pages that distribute malware, using an online database of known sites that was created by Google and StopBadware.org. Also, Firefox 3 gives you easy access to SSL certificates (which are presented in an easy-to-read manner) by clicking near the address bar with your mouse.
Firefox 3 with its new History Search feature, which searches addresses by keywords.
Opera’s new feature list is not as impressive, but it does offer several new features and gadgets, such as the Quick Find, which allows you to search for a website that you have visited over the last few days. Other new features include the ability to swap links and favorites between your Opera cellphone browser and your PC Opera, and a new browser engine that’s supposed to be much quicker than the old one. Opera also added a major security feature, which is similar to that offered by Firefox: the Fraud & Malware protection uses an online database to find a list of ‘bad sites’ and protect you from going to them. Unlike Firefox, that list is maintained by HauteSecure, which is a professional company, and the database is supported by the user community (description of ‘bad sites’, addition of new entries, etc).
But how do previous versions of Firefox and Opera rank against current versions, in terms of security? You’d be surprised by the results. According to Secunia, as of May 2008, Firefox 2.x.x has 23 security vulnerabilities, out of which 3 remain unfixed. Compared to this, Opera 9.x has 14 security vulnerabilities, with all fixed. Internet Explorer ranks last, with 9 out of 28 vulnerabilities that remain unfixed.
As for performance, previous versions of Firefox were known for their heavy resource usage, especially when operating with many extensions. Load times took literally tens of seconds, and the memory consumption often went above the 100mb mark on my machine. Firefox 3 claims to have improved this, but in fact, I had higher memory consumption than I had in Firefox 2. With 5 open websites (in tabs) and not a lot of extensions, Firefox 3 takes up more than 160mb of memory, which is a significant amount. With the same pages open, however, Opera used only 98mb of memory.
Opera’s interface, with the new Quick Dial feature.
When it comes to interface, it’s very much a personal choice. Opera doesn’t have community developed extensions, but many extensions that are common on Firefox, such as Adblock, are already built into Opera, which contributes to its speed. I also liked some of Opera’s cool features, such as the Speed Dial feature (when opening a new tab, instead of a blank page you get a choice of 9 of your most favorite pages to choose from), and the built-in IRC client.
In summary, unless you are an extension addict, you should give Opera 9.5 a try. It will surprise you. It’s faster and lighter than Firefox, and promises to be more secure. Unfortunately, unlike Firefox, Opera doesn’t have the huge database of community-made extensions, which is one of its only drawbacks.