Opera today launched the first preview version of its Chromium-based desktop browser for Windows and Mac since the company announced the switch from its own browser engine to Google’s in February. This switch has allowed Opera to add new features like support for Google’s SPDY protocol into its browser, but Opera Next includes quite a few more new features than just a new engine.
Opera, for example, has revamped its Speed Dial new tab page, which allows you to easily filter your shortcuts and sort them into folders. The browser now also finally features just a single bar for URLs and search queries, just like Chrome. It’s also been given a full user interface redesign, which now gives the browser a markedly more modern look.
The team also developed a new customizable news discovery feature that “allows you to lean back and get fed with new articles from your country, or whatever region you want to get inspiration from, right in your browser – all in one place.” It’s basically Google News in your browser and includes the ability to filter stories by category (arts, food, technology, etc.). It’s not clear how Opera chooses which stories to display here, but after a short test, it feels like the service aggregates a good number of relevant sources, and the Pinterest-like layout works well for quickly scanning the news.
Also new in this version is Opera’s new “Stash” view, which allows you to quickly bookmark sites (just press the heart icon in the URL bar) and then later compare them with a resizable page preview. This feature, the company says, should be especially useful when you are comparison shopping or doing travel research. Here is what this looks like:
It’s clear that the switch to Chromium and Google’s rendering engine is already making the browser feel faster and allowing the company to focus a bit more on the features that can differentiate it from the competition instead of having to worry about its own rendering engine.
In return, however, the new version is also missing quite a few features. The browser, of course, still includes some Opera staples like the Turbo mode (now called “off-road mode”), but gone are Opera Notes, Link, tab thumbnails and a number of other features Opera users have been accustomed to. It’s not clear if they will come back in later versions.
With this launch, Opera has also spun out the formerly built-in email client, which is now available as a standalone product. It’s a surprisingly lightweight mail client that may actually have a leg up on some of the recent startups that have tried to reinvent email. Opera Mail easily lets you attach labels to messages and filter out emails with attachments like documents, images, videos and audio files.
Mozilla was keen to talk up the 3.0 version of its Firefox OS simulator back in March, but didn’t have much to share about when eager developers could start fiddling with it. Thankfully for HTML5 buffs, that six-week quiet period is over — the team just announced on the official Mozilla Hacks blog that the newly updated simulator is now available to download.
All of the features that appeared in the preview release are accounted for — think support for rotating displays and a mock geolocation API for testing location-aware apps — but the simulator suite has been polished a bit since we last saw it. Most of those tweaks are housekeeping changes: the size of the download has been reduced, which has led to snappier boot times, and the simulator now supports common OS shortcuts like Cmd + Q to shut down, but the simulator has also been updated to run newer versions of Firefox OS and the Gaia user interface layer.
With that said, prospective Firefox OS developers will probably use one simulator feature more than any other: the ability to push work-in-progress applications to connected test devices. Mozilla and its hardware partners Huawei, LG, and ZTE (who showed off its first FFOS device at Mobile World Congress) have been pointing to device launches in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela later this year, but the quality of the experiences found on those phones will ultimately determine whether or not Firefox OS flops.
Even so, strong early sales of Firefox OS developer devices may point to a promising official launch for the first set of consumer-facing phones later this year. Just look at Spanish hardware OEM startup Geeksphone — it began selling its Keon and Peak reference devices for $119 and $194, respectively, late last month, and the company was forced to limit the number of handsets sold that on launch day so the 20-person team could keep up with shipping.
That’s a promising start especially for a company as young as Geeksphones, but there’s no question that Firefox OS is going to face some serious competition in its launch markets. Android powers a staggering number of cheap smartphones, and Nokia has refocused its efforts to build low-cost devices based both on Windows Phone and the aging Series 40 OS. Meanwhile, persistent rumors of a low-cost iPhone continue to make the rounds — Firefox OS seemed like a novel option for new and adventurous smartphone owners when I first played with it, but we’ll have to see how the rest of the industry responds.
At the end of last year, Google announced that it would start testing a number of changes to Chrome’s New Tab page. The changes that were currently percolating through the development channels were anything but popular. Instead of the usual eight links to your most-visited sites, the Chrome beta channel currently features a large Google Search box and just your four most-visited links. Now, it looks like Google is giving up on these changes.
The other major change that was massively annoying (and made me switch back to the stable channel, too), was that Google added an “Apps” tab to the bookmarks bar and removed the usual shortcuts to web apps from the Chrome Web Store from the second page of the New Tab page.
The latest beta version of Chrome has now reverted back to the old New Tab page. As intrepid Google watcher (and now Google employee) Francois Beaufort noticed last week, the offline version of Chrome now renders two rows with four tiles each again, with the Google Search box still sitting above these, though). Chances are this design will now make its way through the release channels. It’s not clear what will happen to the “Apps” icon in the bookmarks bar, though.
You can still see what the experience would have looked like by switching the “Enable Instant extended API” to “enabled” in the latest Chrome beta.
Firefox 20 is now available for download. The emphasis of today’s release is on Firefox’s private browsing mode, which now allows Firefox desktop users to open a private browsing window without the need to shut down the whole browser, while Firefox for Android users can now use per-tab private browsing. Also new in this version is a download manager for the desktop, the ability to customize the shortcuts on the home screen with your favorite sites and support for additional HTML5 and WebRTC features.
The new version of Firefox for Android now also supports more devices that use less powerful ARMv6 processors, including the Samsung Galaxy Next, Dart, Pop and Q, as well as the HTC Aria and Legend.
The new porn per-tab private browsing mode, Mozilla writes in today’s announcement, lets you “shop for a birthday gift in a private window with your existing browsing session uninterrupted. You can also use a private browsing window to check multiple email accounts simultaneously.”
The feature that users will probably notice first, however, is the new download experience. Here is what it looks like:
For developers, this new version introduces support for WebRTC’s getUserMedia call, which allows developers to access a user’s camera or microphone (with permission, of course). Firefox 20 also now supports blend modes for the <canvas> element and a number of <audio> and <video> improvements.