For at least eight years, I have been an Opera user—and for much of that time, I have considered it the best browser around and strongly recommended it to others.
Today, I throw Opera at the metaphorical garbage heap, to focus instead on Firefox. This following a transitional period of roughly six months, where I have been using Opera and Firefox in parallel.
Firefox has improved over the years. Most importantly: It no longer deletes (!) the config files when it crashes—an inexcusable programming error, which was present for at least several years (and which has been a strong influence in my repeatedly interrupting experimental Firefox use in the past).
Firefox has a great number of plugins. While most of these are of no value, some are extremely useful, notably Vimperatorw and NoScriptw. Opera has very little “external” functionality, which makes it crippled in comparison (a plug-in framework of some sort was recently announced, but the success is too uncertain and the time frame too long to sway me).
On that line: Firefox has Vimperator…
Opera has a number of annoying behaviours, e.g. concerning the address bar (which tends to grab focus when it should not and keep focus after it has been told to let go).
Specifically, the last straw that now makes me abandon Opera: Today, I loaded about a dozen tabs from an unusually slow website. I moved onto the first tab, with a half-loaded page, pressed the space bar to jump over a contentless introduction—but instead of jumping downwards, the address was overwritten with a space. (Incorrect initial focus.) I then clicked on the page, switching the focus to where it belonged, and pressed space again—only to see yet another space added to the address bar. (Counter-intuitively, two clicks are required to “unfocus” the “activated” address bar.) Within a few minutes, this repeated on most of the remaining tabs—and since this was the umpteenth time this happened, the last straw was in place.
(Should I not have known better and adapted? Possibly, but using a computer is a largely automatic procedure with me: If I wish to scroll down, my fingers do the right thing without thought, just like my legs do the job of turning a corner without thought. If someone or something screws with standardized behaviour, I am thrown off. Consider trying to turn a corner when the legs go in the opposite direction of what they do on a normal day…)
Opera has a user-despising attitude to features of “we know best”, “the more, the merrier”, and “let us shove the features down the users throat”. (A common problem in world of software, see also my writings on software development.) Notably, these problems have become worse from release to release, and (in some ways) Opera is actually deteriorating.
The worst example is possibly “fast forward”—a function that when activated tries to jump to the next page (according to some heuristic). This is not a bad thing in itself (at least, were it more accurate…); however, this function has been mapped to a number of keys in a non-standard way—including the space bar. Now, the space bar, in a text-reading context, means “scroll one page down in the current document”, in a tradition going back to at least the 80s and used in all browsers I have ever made more than casual use of. In Opera, the meaning has been altered using fast forward to “scroll down or skip to what I incorrectly believe to be the next document”. Not only does this break standard in-document navigation, but it is also extremely confusing, because the user is never told about this non-standard behaviour.
(Generally, Opera has many odd and unexpected key mappings.)
A more subtle, and largely unknown, example is “fraud protection”: Unless explicitly de-activated, this feature “dials home” concerning every site visited (!) to check the credibility of the site. This is done with good intentions, but causes unnecessary time delays, opens a very wide gate for abuse, and brings little benefit in practice: Before I found out and turned it off, I cannot recall it giving me as much as one single warning…
Two strong arguments for Opera in the early days, speed and tabbed browsing, are moot today: Tabbed browsing is standard, and any speed advantage Opera has is rarely detectable in practice—and Chrome is alleged to be even faster. (Do no use Chrome, however: There are too many potential security problems.)
Opera is a commercial tool, while Firefox is Open Source. Now, I am not ideologically bound to the use of Open Source software, let alone Free software; however, my experiences have shown great advantages with Open Source, including faster bug fixes, higher quality, and a greater consideration for power users. Further, while I have seen no signs of malicious abuse using Opera (e.g. spying on users), it can never be ruled out—and is a very real possibility for the future. Firefox, in contrast, would be exceedingly unlikely to even try something like that—and would be unable to do so for long without being exposed.
If I have not made the point: Firefox has Vimperator.
The two things still speaking for Opera: Firstly, it has a few very handy functions (e.g. “fit to width”), which Firefox still lacks or only gives an inferior emulation of, with our without plugins. However, these are things that can be sufficiently worked-around to avoid a knock-out victory’s over-coming the heavy point deficit in the twelfth round. The one severe weakness that Firefox has is the lack of a decent tool to match keys to functions—but Vimperator solves parts of that problem. Secondly, Opera does run better out of the box (after some time has been spent on de-activating various features) and has an easier configuration. However, this short-term advantage does not carry-over to the long-term.