Five reasons I prefer Opera over Firefox

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.

As a Linux user, particularly one who appreciates Slackware and Fluxbox, having a high degree of easily customizable options at my fingertips is a big plus in my book.

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.

Next page: Reason number three: Native functionality, et al

25 thoughts on “Five reasons I prefer Opera over Firefox

  1. Great write up! Sums up my feelings almost exactly. I could care less that Opera is closed source. In one small, fast, good looking package I have my browser, mail client, bittorrent client, rss reader, and download manager.

    I wish more people would discover just how good Opera is.

    • Most definitely!

      I do think that Opera’s biggest barrier to widespread adoption right now is the simple fact that it’s proprietary. I would bet that if the Powers That Be at Opera were to GPL their browser, we’d see a lot more FLOSS types giving it a second look.

      However, I still think that a good chunk of Firefox’s appeal is that it’s the best open source browser.

      I think if Opera wants to broaden its appeal, it needs to consider what it is going up against in the browser arena. If someone is going to use a proprietary browser, it’s going to be IE or Safari, not Opera. And if someone is going to use an open source browser, it’s going to be Firefox.

      Opera fails in both of those categories, regardless of its qualities.

  2. Great article. You can also edit the menu bar, although it’s not as user friendly as moving icons around like it is for other bars.

    You can go to the preferences -> advanced -> toolbars and click on the duplicate button under the “menu setup” section. It will create a copy of the default menu.ini file in your profile folder. From there you can manually edit it and customize it and just about any menu from the menu bar to right-click menus in Opera.

    • True, I’d forgotten about that. I did that once to experiment with adding an additional menu with a bunch of custom things on it. I haven’t bothered playing around with that in quite a while, because it’s too much work. 😛

  3. i’ve used opera periodically over the years, always trying it out whenever a new version hits the streets, but i always come sulking back to firefox, mostly due to the extensions (which is a far greater thing than widgets, which are useless. i don’t need an app inside the browser, i need extra browser functionality)

    sorry opera, really wanna use you, but…

    • This is actually one of the reasons I think Opera should GPL at least a basic version of their browser, or as one alternative, open up their API so that people could easily code 3rd party extensions.

      I assume extensions you can’t live without in Firefox are giving you functionality that isn’t natively available in Opera?

      I also agree that for the most part, Widgets in Opera are pretty useless. The only one that I’ve tried that I find useful is the Twitter Opera Widget.

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  5. A well written post with focus on pretty much the same things I feel as well.

    Opera has been my browser-of-choice for the last 4 years now – and can’t help to feel “held back” whenevery I try the alternatives. And that is something I do every now and then as I feel it’s important to go for the best when it comes to the tool I use most of the day.

    • I use Firefox quite a bit, for the same reasons; I don’t feel that it’s a good idea, as someone interested in technology and innovation, to only ever touch one application for any given thing.

      So whenever a major release of Firefox hits the streets, I “force” myself to use it, usually for at least a couple of weeks. That’s normally long enough for me to shake out any quirks it might have, and see if there have been any improvements (or problems added).

      So far, to be perfectly honest, I was impressed at the improvements in tabbed browsing behavior in Firefox 3. The way Firefox natively handles tabs is perhaps my biggest complaint, and while there’s still a significant lack of user-configurable options for tabs natively, at least they fixed some of the utterly broken behavior that was present in previous versions.

      Before FF3, I was convinced that they either needed to fix that crap, or ditch tabs altogether and make tabs available only via extensions (i.e., do it right, or don’t do it at all, because you’ll just confuse people if you do something like that half-assed).

      But yeah, like you, after a couple of weeks of using Firefox (no matter what version), I eventually got back to Opera, because it’s a lot less kludgey and cumbersome, SO much faster (after using Firefox for a couple of weeks, going back to Opera is like getting behind the wheel of a sports car after driving an SUV) and, well, just works better.

      BTW, at this time, when I say “works better”, I should clarify that I’m using Opera 10 beta 2. I found that after Opera 9.50 or so, there were rampant problems with error handling/crashing, but in about two weeks of solid use, I’ve managed to crash Opera 10b2 a grand total of twice, and that’s with me really pushing it to its limits.

      I’ll be installing beta 3 today; I’m curious to see how the new stuff they added works.

  6. You can move around the menu bar as well. At least you have the option to hide menubar (in the File menu), which will replace it wth a button on the left side of tab bar. Than you can move it around where you want. Or you can remove it completely, and press Alt to make it appear.

    One thing goes the UI costumize ability: The power of easily addable buttons with various purposes.

  7. Nice post, Trent. You make a lot of great points. But I completely disagree with your third point about native functionality.

    “Because that’s the thing. When I use Firefox without any add-ons at all, it’s painful for me. The interface is pretty inflexible, there’s a massive lack of configuration ability for tab behavior and tabbed browsing, there’s no native content blocking functionality (of which I am aware), no mouse gestures (I know, I’m probably the only one that likes this as a feature, but if you use it for a while, you’ll see why), no speed dial… and it’s STILL slower to start up and slower to respond than Opera on the same hardware.”

    Your first sentences here I find amusing because that’s how I feel about Opera as a whole, and there is no recourse to extensions to gain all the functionality I can achieve with them in FF.

    More than that, I don’t want speed dial or mouse gestures. Some people use their hosts files for content blocking and don’t want it built in their browser. I don’t want an IRC or bittorrent client. I don’t need to sync bookmarks. All of these amount to bloat to me.

    That’s clearly what the FF team has gone for: minimalism, add on what you want or need. The response you always hear is that this minimalism is a feature, not a bug, because it is. And one I wholly appreciate.

    I don’t use Opera precisely because for the features I do want I don’t like the single choice that the Opera developers provide me. I use FF because I have the option of several versions of content blocking, several versions of tab software, several versions of whether monitors, ad nauseam.

    “…without the risk of 3rd party add-ons slowing it down, making it unstable, and without making it potentially less secure.”

    I agree with you here. The major downfall of the FF open API method is the results that inherently come with letting bad programmers make bad apps. Instability and insecurity. Over the years I’ve seen many apps fall by the wayside because they were unstable, and a few for security reasons. It’s survival by fire.

    There used to be a very prominent tab feature extension (can’t remember the name), and I realized it was causing FF to crash regularly. So I went in search of info and found a whole forum of people talking about it, and they as a community went about replicating all the different functionality in about 10 separate tiny extensions. They worked flawlessly and I used them for over a year, until I noticed that somebody had either collected those together or had simply created a replacement for the original crappy extension. I’ve been using Tab Mix Plus ever since.

    Now, for such essential extensions like Tab Mix Plus, I’d like to avoid the dark years of crappy extensions. I’d like to see the FF team do testing of such essential apps and give them the thumbs up. Or perhaps have the FF team absorb these developers into FF, and have that be the official extension. I still don’t want it in there automatically, but I do want some code testing/checking.

    • Well, Pat, as you and I have discussed many times, it’s all a matter of what one is willing to sacrifice for what. The “right-tool-for-the-right-job” philosophy easily applies here, and that’s ultimately what counts.

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but for myself, even though there are a lot of things built in to Opera which I don’t use (I’ve never cared for the mail client side of Opera, for example), it doesn’t bother me that it’s there. If I don’t use it, it stays out of my way and I’m not even aware of it.

      And since the download is still a slim 9.6MB (even with all this extra stuff you don’t like), ‘bloat’ is a matter of perspective.

      For me, the features I don’t use in Opera don’t bother me. But the lack of features in Firefox that I DO prefer to use does bother me. And adding all the add-ons to FF to bring it up to that point sacrifices speed and stability in ways that I find unacceptable. It’s for this reason that when I make my comparisons, I compare out-of-the-box Opera to out-of-the-box Firefox, with no add-ons whatsoever.

      For you, the lack of the ability to install 3rd party add-ons to Opera (to add functionality you can’t live without) is unacceptable… I can definitely see that. To that I say “then use Firefox!”, wholeheartedly.

      Because that’s it, ultimately. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying in any way “don’t use Firefox” or even “Firefox sucks”.

      Remember, the title of this article was “Five reasons I prefer Opera over Firefox”. 🙂

      That said, I do think that it’d be easier to come to some kind of middle ground if Opera were to GPL at least a basic version of their browser so that 3rd party add-ons could be written for it to fill in some of the functionality gaps you and users like you have with it.

      For me, getting Firefox to work in the ways that I have come to expect out of a browser is just too much work, too much frustration, and still yields an unacceptable result (particularly when without much tweaking at all I can get that out of Opera).

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  9. I wish that more software was designed as well as Opera. I did not used to be a fan when Opera 9 was the latest version, but ever since I started trying development builds of Opera 9.5, I have been hooked. What I found ironic was that so many of the reasons why the fanboys said that Firefox was the obvious choice are actually better reasons to choose Opera. Stability, performance, security, or even its adherence to web “standards”, which to me is still a ridiculous ploy, since so many of the “standards” are established by the developers of Firefox. How can you create a standard one day, then point fingers at someone else who isn’t playing by your rules?

    Anyway, I love getting new builds from, or through auto-update if you have “download all snapshots” enabled through opera:config. It just feels weird that more people don’t use Opera. Perhaps when Opera 10 goes final?

    • I started having massive stability problems with Opera 9.50 or so, continuing all the way up to 9.64 (when I stopped using it and switched to Opera 10 beta 2).

      10 beta 2 was solid as a rock, however, and I like some of the new features (expanded speed dial, tab previews, etc.).

      I’m with you though… I’m often really surprised Opera isn’t more popular. It’s just so slick and well put together by comparison to Firefox, which has always felt really klunky and kludgey to me.

  10. On the off-chance Opera is listening…
    I know you won’t add extensions for fear of security holes. Fine: but build in Ad Block and one-click Downthemall functionality [and, damnit!, FIX THE PAGE SCRAMBLING- hotmail and many search engines are unsuable in Opera!!!]. You’ll have a chance to survive then.

    • I’d actually like to see the ability to have the stupid search toolbar open a new tab with search results instead of using the current tab. That’s another one of those “duh” items that without it, I don’t really have any need for the search toolbar, so I don’t use it.

    • and to the guy above Trent:

      adblock is built in. Downthemall is built in. Just use the links panel to filter and select multiple links and then RMB click and select savef to download folder.

  11. Personally, I kinda like Opera, though it just doesn’t feel right, so I use SeaMonkey instead. Has about the same feature set, based on Firefox, and much less quirky.

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  13. I’ve used Opera a lot and prefer its user interface over other browsers, and their commitment to security(in their shareware days they patched a hole in my paid 6.x when 7.x had been out a while, for one thing). It does have rendering problems, often solved by hitting the “fit width” button.
    I would point out that most of the good things in both Opera and Firefox are the result of the competition between the two. They seem to be the 2 browsers that everyone else is trying to catch up to or beat.
    Oh, and I’m aware they’ve had to patch like everyone else, I just like the promptness with which they do so.

  14. Pingback: The 5 Browsers That Annoy Me The Least « The Linux Critic

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