I know, I’m a Linux guy, and an advocate of Free/Open Source Software.
However, I’m also a user, and I’m a right-tool-for-the-right-job kind of guy. I’m picky as hell about my software, and I think the simple fact that I choose Linux for my day-to-day desktop use says a lot about its ability to meet my needs.
However, I’ve never been in on the big love affair the open source community has with Firefox. Yes, I think it’s great that it’s taken enough market share away from Microsoft to spur them into action — it’s been argued that IE7 and IE8 would never have existed in any form approaching a “modern” browser if it hadn’t been for Firefox pushing them to catch up.
However, like Linux, Firefox needs critics. It may still be better than what Microsoft offers, but it isn’t perfect by a long shot. It doesn’t meet my needs as an end user, which is why I’m still using a closed-source browser as my primary web surfing tool. So why does an open source advocate like myself use Opera instead of Firefox? Read on.
Reason number one: Opera has a much more flexible interface.
With the sole exception of the menu bar (i.e., File, Edit, View, etc.), every element of Opera’s interface can be moved to where the user wants/likes it. While I like a fairly traditional browser interface layout, I can move things around to suit my needs to any level I want.
If I like, I can have the tab bar above the address bar and main buttons, or below it, or on either side, or the bottom. I can likewise move the buttons to the right of the address bar, the bottom of the screen, wherever. I can also place the “personal bar” anywhere as well.
Because of Opera’s highly customizable interface, I can go minimalist, which is close to how Opera ships in its default layout, or quite complex, placing buttons and tool elements exactly where I need them for a large variety of tasks.
In short, Opera’s interface is easily customizable, without the need for installing any add-ons, to a very high degree.
By comparison, Firefox is a bit clunky and rigid. I can move my buttons around on the same row, and I can move my address bar around, but I’ve never been able to figure out how to move the tab bar or the bookmarks toolbar anywhere, and overall it has far fewer options available for tweaking the interface to exactly how I like it.
Oh, I know. “But you can install lots of add-ons in Firefox that can do these things!” you say. That’s nice that it has that ability. But in my experience, the more add-ons I install in Firefox, the slower it runs and the more unstable and buggy it seems. I’ll talk more on that later.
Reason number two: Opera is easier on resources by default
I’m not made of money, so I’m running occasionally on some aging hardware, and when I run Opera next to Firefox, that is never more apparent. Firefox uses more RAM — and this is out of the box, without any add-ons installed yet — than Opera.
Code bloat and feature creep or not… out of the box Opera does a lot more than Firefox with less. And it doesn’t eat up my precious resources the way Firefox does on my older, crankier machines.
And when I actually install all the add-ons in Firefox that I need in order to get the same functionality that Opera has out of the box, well, that leads me to my next reason.