Reason number three: Native functionality
Opera innovated a lot in the browser world, which makes it surprising to me why it never has had more than single-digit (or less!) market share.
What did it innovate, you ask? Opera was the first browser available that had things like tabbed browsing (since 1994!), built-in popup blocking functionality, session saving, the “speed dial”, bookmark syncing, mouse gestures (there’s a decent writeup of Opera innovating browser features here, if you want to read more and not just take my word for it).
Many of the features that Opera created have been copied (in some cases improving on the concept and in some cases not so much) by other browsers. You may not need or care about any of these, but many of them have become part of my normal day-to-day usage of my web surfing habits, and I’m painfully aware of it when I use a browser that can’t handle tab behavior correctly, or popup blocking effectively, or mouse gestures.
Out of the box, Opera does all of these things (and more that I didn’t even mention), without the risk of 3rd party add-ons slowing it down, making it unstable, and without making it potentially less secure.
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.
Then, to bring Firefox’s functionality up to the level to which I have grown accustomed in Opera, I need to install an extension for content-blocking, an extension for mouse gestures, an extension for tabbing, a bittorrent client extension, an extension that mimics Opera’s speed dial (poorly, I might add, but it’s the only one that even comes close), an extension to sync my bookmarks, a session management extension…. the list goes on.
At that point, while most of the bases are covered, some of them are covered half-assed by these add-ons, and the browser is even slower to start and even slower to respond, and tends to hang occasionally or crash entirely as well.
Not to mention, if I update Firefox (because there are numerous updates coming out constantly), I have discovered that oftentimes extensions no longer work, and need to be reinstalled (if they’re even available for the updated version). This quickly devolves into an “add-on hunt”, an activity for which I do NOT possess very much fondness at all.
When I compare the two experiences, it’s a lot less effort and frustration to just use Opera, since it already does all these things anyway.
Reason number four: Skinning/Aesthetics
This might seem like a small reason, and I agree, it is silly, but this is something that bugs me.
Opera, like Firefox, has about a billion skins/themes for it that change its appearance. While this doesn’t affect functionality, I still like this, primarily because I believe that an application that you use every day for a lot of different things should still be nice to look at.
So why do I prefer Opera over Firefox for this? One simple reason: I can switch skins in Opera without having to restart the browser.
Petty? Sure. But I HATE the fact that seemingly every little change in Firefox has a corresponding “Restart Firefox to complete your changes” message.
I actually think it stems back to the whole problem with Firefox’s developer culture, their whole approach to fixing bugs and handling features. Back in the early days of Firefox, you could still switch themes without restarting.
However, weirdness usually ensued… buttons would be misaligned or go missing entirely, other things would often go wrong with applying a theme to an already-running Firefox.
Numerous bug reports were submitted about this. But did they fix the bug? No. Instead, they slapped a band-aid on it and just forced an entire app restart any time you want to apply a different theme… for a simple, cosmetic change that Opera handles on the fly without any problems whatsoever, Firefox requires an entire restart.
Really, guys? That’s your response?
This kind of developer laziness is evident in many “features” of Firefox, not just theming. That was back in the Firefox 1.0 days; we’re currently on Firefox 3.5 as of the writing of this post, and I still can’t switch to a different theme in Firefox without restarting the whole browser, which is just plain silly. If any Firefox developers happen to read this little rant, seriously guys. Fix this for real already. It’s embarrassing.
Which brings me to my next reason: attitude.