While most industry watchers have been looking at Firefox as the most significant pretender to IE's (Internet Explorer's) crown, Opera has been plotting an attack of its own. This browser has been around almost since the birth of the web, but this beta of version 9.0 shows Opera has still got its finger on the pulse.

The main interface is clear and reasonably uncluttered. Support for tabs is better than ever, while pop-up and content blocking is well executed. You can even attach notes to a specific website or ask the program to filter out pictures or remove references to specified topics from the page. But Opera is more than a selection of beautifully executed tools.

Perhaps most attractively, Opera has introduced extensive support for BitTorrent, a comparatively recent and (until now) wilfully arcane file-transfer system. Opera's dedicated interface makes it easier to swap music files, movies and the like. Those charged with protecting digital media rights may question whether this is a good thing, but it's guaranteed to make Opera more popular.

Many browsers have latched on to the Google taskbar idea, and Opera boasts a similar feature, automatically rerouting the browser to Google's page and displaying relevant entries in their full-screen glory. Best of all, Opera's version lets you assign your own web page, so if you would prefer to have one-entry access to eBay or Amazon, you can.

It's touches like this that make Opera an intriguing prospect. The browser is to be applauded for its support for 'widgets' – small applets that let you add extra features to your browser – which add flexibility to an already extremely versatile program.

Opera 9.0 Beta: Specs

  • 500MHz Pentium or Athlon processor
  • Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
  • 32MB RAM
  • 30MB hard disk space
  • 500MHz Pentium or Athlon processor
  • Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
  • 32MB RAM
  • 30MB hard disk space

OUR VERDICT

Opera's got its work cut out to eat into the hefty market share held by IE and Firefox. However, this secure, versatile browser is packed with features, and it's free, so what have you got to lose by giving it a try?

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