Bruce Lawson's personal site

The vision behind Opera 15 and beyond

It’s not often that I post stuff directly related to my employer, but for web/ browser wonks, what Opera’s done (swapping its rendering engine and redesigning) is unusual.

Following Tuesday’s launch of Opera 15 for Windows and Mac, my chum Andreas Bovens and I wrote an overview of the over-arching vision behind it, and some of the design decisions.

When we released our first browser in 1996, most web users were people who weren’t afraid to tinker, and who liked lots of options and configurability. Fast-forward 17 years, and the Web is everywhere. Speedy browsing and sites working properly is the most important thing to many, many people.

That leaves us with the riddle that every software developer faces at some point: how best to make a UI simple enough to be intuitive for a consumer who wants a solid, fast browser that just works, and yet is customizable and extensible so that power users can add the features they want?

The answer is to build a strong, extensible foundation on which to innovate. Opera 15 is a fresh start, to which we will continue to add features.

A closer look at Opera 15

When we took the decision to switch to Chromium, compatibility was one reason — but most importantly, we wanted to spend our time on browser innovation, rather than competing on building a rendering engine. We had a deep look at Opera’s internal architecture and it soon became clear that Quick, the cross-platform UI framework we’d introduced back in 2003, was so entangled with Presto’s code that just swapping Presto with Chromium was far from a straightforward task.

The same was true for M2: adding it to Opera 15 would require rebuilding it from scratch, more to download for users and more UI for those who don’t use the feature. For that reason, we spun it out into a separate download.

At the same time, we also wanted to give Opera a more native look and feel. And hence, taking also into account that native toolkits have evolved over the last 10 years (especially on Mac), we decided to build the whole UI with native code: we stripped away Chromium’s UI layer, and built it piece by piece from scratch — a big undertaking, and what you see today is just the beginning.

At first, we also planned to build Speed Dial, Stash, Discover and so on with native code, but when seeing that the performance of our first functional web-based prototypes was excellent, we decided to go with a web-based (and hence cross-platform) UI for these parts instead. Indeed, you can open Web Inspector and see how they’re built.

So, starting from this fresh base, we decided to carefully consider how to build up Opera again: over the years, Presto-based Opera had become overloaded with features, a number of them confusing rather than helping our users — you can’t imagine how many reports we’ve gotten from users telling us that their favorite site was broken, simply because they had turned on fit-to-width by accident, for instance.

So, the approach when building the new product has been and still is to cater for various browsing use cases, but at all times, to keep the UI really simple, so that anyone can use it.

Let’s have a close-up look at four of Opera 15’s features, and explain the thinking that went into them.

Speed Dial

We introduced the Speed Dial concept in 2007. When we extended it allow unlimited Speed Dial entries, we became aware that the conceptual difference between traditional bookmarks and Speed Dial was shrinking. Indeed, rather than browsing through a tree structure in a menu or panel, hunting for the right bookmark, users were relying on the address bar’s auto-complete, Speed Dial entries, or built-in search to get to their site of choice. That gave us the idea to move bookmarks right into the browser window where all the browsing happens. The addition of one level-deep folders with visual thumbnails and super-fast search allows you to find any favorite site in an instant.


We found that modern browsers are hard to do research in. You open tab after tab (comparing different shopping items for instance), and after a while you can’t keep track of what’s where. Sessions and tab stacking attempted to help, but also confused a lot of users, adding extra UI complexity. So we came up with Stash, which is a vertical overview of items you’ve added with super-fast full-text search, so you can compare and filter. This limits the amount of tabs you need to have open, reducing the number of running processes.


Now the Web is everywhere, it’s very common to be lounging on a sofa, or waiting at a bus stop, entertaining yourself with a notebook, tablet or phone. But with a world of content out there, where to start? Discover is a feature that brings pre-selected content, in a range of languages and subjects, straight to your brain.

Off-road Mode

Not everyone is on a fast connection all the time. Opera 10 introduced Opera Turbo to render pages faster on slow connections, which was subsequently improved by compressing images into WebP format in Opera 11.10. Off-road mode in Opera 15 adds SPDY to the mix so that your pages render even faster.

…and beyond

It’s no coincidence that Opera 15 was released on the same day as our rapid release cycle began. You’ll soon see what’s on the table for future versions. At the moment, we’re looking at themes, syncing between devices and improving tab handling.

If you’re a power-user (and if you’re reading this, you almost certainly are) and you find that Opera 15 doesn’t have a feature you depend upon, first check the growing list of extensions. You may find the basic bookmarks manager extension that I worked on with Stuart Langridge fits the bill — or you may find the cottonTracks extension is an innovative way to solve a problem. If you miss Notes, try the Evernote extension.

If you find Opera 15 is missing something that you absolutely depend on, that’s why we still have Opera 12 out, and why you are not auto-updated to 15. And of course, Opera 16 is just around the corner.

We’re looking at your comments and feedback (as we have for 17 years!). Please send us bug reports if you find mistakes. Inside the company, we all have our own personal wish-lists (I keep harping on about ctrl+enter and Turkish Discover; Andreas harasses everyone about Extension APIs and bookmarks).

Some of these will be rolled out to more than 50 million users. Some won’t — we’re not looking to make a faster horse. Nor are we cloning Opera 12, or any other browser. We will continue to innovate to build the best browser.

70 Responses to “ The vision behind Opera 15 and beyond ”

Comment by Ken

I lasted nearly 5 minutes before I uninstalled it.
Looks like 12 will be the last version of Opera I use.

Comment by Matthias

I personally will continue using Opera 12 until Chromium-Opera has the following features:
– customizable interface and keyboard shortcuts
– dragonfly
– cached history navigation
– site-specific preferences
– … I actually wanted to make a short list of the things that are currently deal-breakers for me, but I noticed this list would get too long… guess I’ll just have to hope that Opera 12 will still get security updates for some time.

Comment by Bruce

@matthias wrote ” many people used sessions to organize their pages. Are sessions going to come back later?”

Right click anywhere in your tabs, choose “save as speed dial group” [which should say “speed dial folder”; string bug fixed in Opera 16]. This saves all open tabs as a Speed Dial folder. Right click a folder, choose “open all”. I’ve asked for “open all in a new window” to be added later.

@andreas said “several things referred to in O15 aren’t even there” – they are all there. “the Bookmark Importer is greyed out. Why?” because bookmarks are coming back in a later version

Comment by Haudihou

Features overload?

All the good features, that make Opera Opera, a and still the Opera 15 setup.exe is much bigger than Opera 12 setup file is.

Comment by mauro_cerisola

Thanks for explaining, Bruce.

While I find still hard to like Opera 15, here is my list of most-wished features from Opera 12:
– vertical tab bar: helps coping with 16:9 monitors, where I have plenty of width but lack height;
– print preview: who knows how many sheets and ink my print will take?

Comment by Matthias

Thanks Mauro – I’ve added those to the feature request list

You added “vertical tab bar” and “print preview” to the feature request list?

What about the other features requested here in the comments? By Andreas and me for example?

Sorry I don’t want to sound rude, but I’m just interested what you guys at Opera actually have on your feature request list! 🙂

Comment by Waleed El mougy

I want to suggest some adding to opera 15 and that was in opera 12.12
1- I have many accounts in same site but when I try to use them as saved passwords in opera 15 I surprise that I can use only one account with its password
so I want to add something to able me to choose from many accounts when I try to use them as saved passwords
2- I hope to add (empty on exit) check box to history and cache disk to able me to delete them when I close the opera 15 if the check box was selected
3- I hope to add (delete new cookies when exiting opera) check box cookies page in setting in opera 15
4- I hope to add the forms page that has my personal information to able me to auto-fill forms with these info I have filled before in this forms page
thanks a lot

Comment by Bruce


the other feature requests were already logged.

I don’t know that we’d publish the huge feature discussion list, as some are things we’re developing internally and don’t want to discuss openly yet. But I’m lobbying hard to be more forthcoming about upcoming features.

However, they haven’t made me King of Opera yet.

Comment by mem


Thanks for the post; I found your site by reading through some of the feedback on Opera’s main site. I share this more by way of conversation than complaint—I guess you’ve probably had enough flames and trolls to last for awhile.

I actually bought Opera as a kid back in the 90s—I’ll have to see whether my floppy disk is still sitting in archives somewhere—so I’ve been using it for awhile.

I’m also a software engineer, and I (at least in theory) understand that Opera has a fairly significant hole to climb out of if greater share in a (shrinking?) desktop browser market is one of the business goals as competition in mobile browsing is heating up. Opera has always had something of niche status as a browser, and I guess that’s another reason you have such passionate (I’m being nice) users.

Working in a small company, I handle a lot of IT responsibilities as well as engineering, and I decided to install Opera on a colleague’s machine after the nth infestation with malware and trojans. The site-specific preferences are a life-saver in these situations since you can turn off basically everything—iframes, Javascript, plugins, cookies—and enable them for the sites that you want to actually work. I was a bit surprised to find this missing in 15, though I can appreciate that most of your users probably don’t take advantage of the complete awesomeness that is that feature. (I use it daily in my own browsing as well.) She complained about not being able to import bookmarks, so I just installed 12.16 instead.

My own route to using Opera almost exclusively has been through M2, which I still think is the best mail client I have ever used. (Two reasons: I can easily read contact email without filters, and M2 automatically handles mailing list messages. I have more than 87,000 emails, and M2 is just fantastic. Database loading was, admittedly, quite slow on my old machine, and the mail client is sucking up a fair bit of RAM, but the tradeoffs are worth it, IMHO.)

One thing I do appreciate from an engineering perspective is standards compliance. It’s like skating in hockey or dribbling in football; it’s your worst core competence in a sense: you can’t play if you can’t skate or dribble, and you have to have other skills.

I also appreciate that loosely-coupled suites tend to be more manageable than conglomerate applications, provided that your code base isn’t too fragmented. I expect it could be a nightmare to manage a Torrent client alongside an IRC client and the other skillion features that you’ve integrated into the browser. Dis-integrating (couldn’t help myself) these seems, honestly, like a Good Engineering Idea to me, although I will probably cry over M2’s grave if it’s a casualty of the revisions.

Personally, I think Opera’s business is in for a rough ride and I can only suspect (and hope) that this is Phase I of a rather larger Grand Scheme on the part of Management. Don’t want to be too bleak, but it amazes me that Opera are still around at all given the sheer dominance (and market cap) of the major players. This, I think, is in no small part to seeing the future in embedded browsing ahead of the curve.

Most of your users are probably not “browser-as-a-service” sort of people, but this is where the market is, and what Opera need to capture to live. Opera’s ecosystem, such as it is, is considerably smaller than Google’s (i.e., Google Apps) or Microsoft’s (which admittedly is still growing), and gaining market share is going to require more than just switching engines. You’ll have to be able to integrate the browser (via extension or natively) with Google apps, Flickr, Pintrest, Facebook, LinkedIn et c., while attempting to develop your own set of core dev. APIs that encourage independent application development.

Spinning off M2, augmenting with a well-designed Calendar (integrating well with common calendar apps) and task management could help, though won’t probably knock of Exchange or cause people to migrate from Google. IMAP support is a little dodgy still, too, which is a real killer if you have to support email-in-the-cloud.

In any case, I’ve probably wasted a bit too much of my time, to say nothing of yours. I’ve appreciated Opera and enjoyed using it for a long time, and I hope it’s viable for my use in the future. Thanks for your hard work.

Comment by G Man

FIrst-time user of Opera here. And definitely not a power-user, programmer, or hacker.

Frankly, I love Opera 15 as-is. Simple, light, fast. Safari is a pig; I only use it since I’m stuck in the Apple iCloud ecosystem. Chrome is nice, but overwhelming – since when does my browser need “apps?”

I hope to see the mobile (e.g. iOS) versions of Opera Mini catch up to Opera 15.

That said, what I feel is missing is:
(1) a simple way to import Safari bookmarks (and retain their folder structure)
(2) Opera Link compatibility, to unify everything across all of my devices.

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Comment by Sebi

No bookmarks? Yeah, I read your thoughts about them, and no, I don’t share them. I keep my Quick Dial with maybe 8-9 websites I really browse a lot.
I have my sidebar open with my Bookmarks, and guess what? I can click and browse.. not click and open a folder and then look for what I need. And from what I hear, there are many, many users that feel the same.

No middle-mouse-button click-to-close/click-to-open tab? Jesus!

No master-password?

No options to customise anything whatsoever.

How is this a step forward? I have just uninstalled 16 and went back to 12.

Comment by adore

When I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked on the
-Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from
now on every time a comment is added I receive 4
emails with the same comment. There has to be a way you can remove
me from that service? Kudos!

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