Opera was Firefox before Firefox was Firefox, only more so – a lonely alternative in a sea of Internet Explorer users, which came out in 1995 originally. It was initially known both for not being IE and for being one of the few browsers you had to pay for, though it became freely downloadable in 2000.
It was also known for high performance – even before Opera switched to Chromium in 2013 for its main under-the-hood components, it was regarded as one of the fastest browsers out there.
It installs in a flash, asks for default browser with a prominent “don’t ask again” checkbox at first startup, and generally gives a no-nonsense impression. It keeps its historically high performance, doing roughly as well as Chrome and Vivaldi on the benchmarks.
The transition into Opera, however, has some bumps – it was surprisingly time-consuming to get my admittedly baroque and extensive collection of bookmarks to import from other browsers, since it plunked everything into an “imported bookmarks” subfolder instead of directly onto the bar. A small thing, but one that probably could’ve been handled more simply.
Still, once that was sorted out, using Opera was both pleasant and straightforward. It’s responsive and smooth and generally very excellent. I might even have made the switch to Opera from Chrome, but for…
Vivaldi, created by former Opera-ite Jon von Tetzchner, is a response to Opera’s perceived trajectory of becoming too mainstream – a feature-rich throwback, instead of a transparent and almost invisible window onto the web.
As you might expect from a browser whose avowed intent is to be the power user’s friend, the level of customizability in Vivaldi is very high, although that also means that some comparatively simple settings are hidden away behind an extra layer or two of menus.
The installation is simple and straightforward, and doesn’t bug you about making Vivaldi default.
It’s got a squared-off, Material Design-ish aesthetic – I found it a pleasure to look at and to use, once I’d gotten everything tweaked to my preferences, and I dug the fact that the top bar changes color based on the icon of the tab you’re currently looking at. (If you find this distracting you can turn it off by modifying the theme under the Settings menu.)
Vivaldi, like Opera, is based on Chromium, which means its most basic underpinnings are very similar to Google Chrome. That’s clearly reflected in the benchmark results, which are, once again, near-identical. Yet the experience of using Vivaldi as a main browser is different – where Chrome tries to make everything as seamless and simple as possible, Vivaldi wants to offer you the option to tweak absolutely everything about the experience within an inch of its life.
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