Sunday, August 12, 2007

What ails Opera?

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Until a few years ago, Internet Explorer was the dominant and the most used browser on earth, infact, it still is. But things have changed. Internet Explorer has constantly been on the receiving end of user’s wrath. Numerous security holes and vulnerabilities and lack of improvement have given them enough bad publicity, such that users have started seeking for alternatives. Two such alternatives that are competing for user’s attention are Opera and Firefox.

Opera has been around since 1994 while Firefox made its appearance in the browser race only in 2003 (though it had been around for two more years but under different names). Even after being released nine years earlier than Firefox, Opera is still considered as the underdog in the battle of the browsers. Why hasn’t Opera been able to appeal to the users? I’m an Opera user myself and I feel that technically it’s the best browser available. But why is Opera’s market share less than 2% despite being one of the best browsers? In my opinion, there are several reasons for this.

1. Opera was too long an adware

When Opera was released it was an adware. From 1994 till 2005 Opera displayed ad banners, enough to piss off any user. So despite being a veteran in the browser business Opera did not enjoy much popularity. When Opera became free two years ago, it was already late because Firefox had established itself as a browser of people’s choice. It’s difficult to make people switch from softwares they get accustomed to. And to make that even more difficult, Opera’s interface resembles no browser available today which brings us to the next point.

2. Cluttered interface.

When a software company is trying to woo users that were already using some other browser, you would expect them to provide an interface that is cool and appealing to the eye. Instead, Opera’s default interface is so unimaginative and cluttered with buttons you never use, while the most useful buttons are hidden away. Opera’s standard interface introduces migrating users with new non standard buttons and forces them to either accept them or customize them. People would hardly go about customizing the interface of a browser they are just trying out. Take a look at what a new user sees when he installs and runs Opera for the first time.




A. These buttons are repeated. Why would you need one back button and a rewind button, and a forward button and a fast forward button? Wouldn’t just a fast forward and a rewind button have done the job?
B. What is the purpose of having a trash can on the main interface?
C. We don’t need a dedicated search box for “Find on page”. Ctrl+F does the job fine.
D. How many of us use “Voice”?
E. Author Mode? What’s that?

The more useful features that set Opera apart are nowhere to be seen. Revolutionary features like Session Saver, RSS feeder and Content blocking are hidden and not easily noticeable to average users.

3. Inadequate promotion.

Opera is lacking in the promotion department. For some strange reasons neither the users nor the organization is very enthusiastic about promoting Opera. Look at Firefox and their aggressive promotional strategy. There are websites dedicated to the sole purpose of promoting Firefox. Advertising is important. People needs to be constantly stimulated and shown the advantages of using Opera. Marketing is the key to success.

4. Lack of customization.

Though Opera supports customization, it isn’t as flexible as Firefox. Firefox’s biggest strength is its extensions. It’s true that Opera has most of the features already inbuilt and just works out of the box, but the power users and the more adventurous type are put off by the inability to customize it to their liking. Infact, Opera is the only major browser that does not support add-ons, something that is unthinkable of. Opera introduced something called User JavaScript that had lot of potential for customization and creating Firefox type extensions. But again because of lack of proper marketing most Opera users are not even aware of its existence. There isn’t even a proper GUI for using UserJs.

Opera deserves much more than mere 1.8% of market share and it annoys me to see the company taking no initiative to popularise it. Unless they get into some serious marketing, Opera will continue to languish at the bottom of the browser market.

21 comments:

  1. "Cluttered interface."

    You are cheating by enabling a toolbar which is hidden by default (the one with voice, find in page, etc.), so most of your comments here are pointless.

    The purpose of the trash can is to reopen closed tabs. Extremely useful.

    "The more useful features that set Opera apart are nowhere to be seen. Revolutionary features like Session Saver, RSS feeder and Content blocking are hidden and not easily noticeable to average users."

    Sessions just work. When you restart Opera it continues where you left off. So moot point.

    Feeds are useless unless you have them, and when one is available the standard icon appears. Another moot point.

    Content blocking is an advanced feature.

    "Lack of customization"

    You are assuming that most people are going to customize their browser. At best, they will download a new skin, and that is where Opera does much better since you can use a skin without restarting, unlike Firefox.

    "the power users and the more adventurous type are put off by the inability to customize it to their liking"

    Inability? There are LOTS of ways to cuztomize Opera. See operawiki.info, for example.

    "Infact, Opera is the only major browser that does not support add-ons"

    Completely false. There are many ways to add stuff to Opera.

    "it annoys me to see the company taking no initiative to popularise it"

    Really! And what would that initiative be, then?

    It's easy to scream "DO MORE MARKETING", but do you even know what kind of marketig Opera does?

    Do you even have even a tiny idea about what you expect them to do? Or are you just goig to scream "MORE MARKETING" and leave it at that?

    ReplyDelete
  2. The above comment is probably from someone from Opera's forum, that defends Opera to the death. I think WinneWinne or WhineWhine or something like that

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  3. Regarding #2:

    A. The buttons have slightly different functions.

    Back and forward have the same functionality as any other browser.

    Rewind takes you to the first page on a different domain, for instance back to the google search page where you clicked on a link.

    Fast Forward tries to find a link on the current page that takes you to the next page (searches, forums, etc.) or if you clicked on an image from an image gallery page, it takes you to the next image in the gallery.

    B. the trash can is for reopening accidentaly closed tabs or blocked popups.

    C. some people may prefer to use find-as-you type. But this actually could be done better (now its a little clumsy)

    D. Voice could probably be used by people with disabilites (blindness, etc.). The next version of opera will have support for external screen readers.

    E. The button allows you to switch between Author mode and User mode. Author mode is viewing the page as the page author intended, User mode allows you to use your own stylesheet, for better accesibilty, web development debugging etc.

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  4. @1st anonymous:

    Being a fanboy won't help. We want users who can give developers the correct feedback, show them the flaws and help them improve.

    @3rd anonymous

    The F.Forward button and the Rewind button also does the function of the forward and back button. So the simple back and fwd buttons are redundant and can be removed.
    Very few people use voice and is not necessary to be displayed in the main interface. Though including a tool for the handicapped is a nice gesture.
    The Author mode is again something which an average user wouldn't use.

    They have to clear up the interface a bit making it easier for people to switch browser.

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  5. Great comment, Kaushik. Obviously, anyone who points out errors in your blog post must be a fanboy. Let's keep ignoring the way you turned on a toolbar which is disabled by default and claimed that you can't get addons for Opera. Yeah, blog posts based on factual errors sure are useful!

    "Very few people use voice and is not necessary to be displayed in the main interface."

    Not only do you dismiss comments from people who inform you about factual errors, but you actually keep making false claims after having been corrected!

    Voice is NOT displayed in the "main interface". You will need to click to display an optional toolbar.

    "They have to clear up the interface a bit making it easier for people to switch browser."

    The interface looks like any other browser. In fact, IE7 looks far more "alien" than Opera compared to older browsers. IE7's interface is far more clutterd than Opera's.

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  6. I didn't turn on the toolbar deliberately to make Opera look bad. I just wanted to show how many useless buttons are there in the interface. Most of which I wrote about the interface is based upon actual feedback made by people who tried Opera and didn't like it.

    And what addons does Opera supports? I would like to see it. Opera has never released an API for 3rd party developers so I don't know from where on earth you've found Opera addons.

    If you disagree with me so much , atleast care to leave your own remarks as to why Opera is not popular, I hope atleast you agree on that bit. And if you feel that Opera is popular enough and nothing needs to be done, then this post is not for you.

    I only wish we had better fans than you.

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  7. As the first "anon" poster said, everything you're complaining about is just fine.

    Opera shouldn't change a thing.

    Opera's doing just fine with its sub-1% market share (what's that, about 1 million daily active users?)

    --------

    Kidding aside, this is the same attitude I got when I pointed out many of these same kinds of issues several years ago. I understand that no one likes to have their products criticized, but its getting over that reflex to get defensive and actually listening to users to find out what they want that will help a company produce a better product.

    Now, I'm not accusing Opera employees of this, but it doesn't help them in their decision making if all conversations about shortcomings are stifled by fans.

    There's a lot positive that can come from fans, especially on the positive outreach of committed fans, but when fans are focused on defense rather than offense, their value is mostly mooted.

    - A

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  8. These same kids of issues? You mean making up things? Turning on toolbars that are disabled by default and pretending that they are enabled by default?

    If you are going to criticize something, at least get your facts straight and be honest about it.

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  9. Dear Kaushik you really have no idea what Opera is.. it's clear you only used for 30 seconds.
    Just read the 1st reply.

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  10. Dear anonymous, I have been an Opera user for the last 2 years and I've used nothing else but Opera. I want everybody to use Opera and that's why I'm discussing the potential problems that might prevent people from trying out opera. You can't deny that people prefer Firefox to Opera. Instead of getting defensive, let us acknowledge and try to understand the problems new users face and help then get over it.

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  11. My fair (and hopefully unbiased) comments...

    Point 1:

    I don't disagree that Opera waited too long to remove the ad banner, but the point is basically moot. The fact that there was an ad banner in the software two years ago does not discourage new users.

    Point 2:

    [A] First, you have it backwards - the rewind/fast-forward buttons are the redundant ones - they jump several pages at a time, which can be done with the drop down page list from the standard buttons. Second, the main problem in my eyes is that the fast-forward button does two different actions in different circumstances: (i) If a user has gone back a few pages, it functions as opposite to rewind by going to the next domain forward in the history. (ii) If there are no pages to go forward to, the button functions as a "next page guesser" and will go to what Opera has decided is the next page in a sequence. Try it on a google search. This latter function is excellent and should be kept IMO, but the others should be removed.

    [B] Disagree, it's one of Opera's best features, which is now in Firefox. I don't think the button is there by default in Firefox but it's not cluttering anything up at all.

    [C] Agree - and what makes this even more redundant is that you can select "find in page" search from the Google Search dropdown on the main address bar.

    [D] & [E] I understand where you're coming from with this, but as others have said the toolbar is not enabled by default so 90% of users won't see those until after they've been playing around with the browser for a while.

    Point 3:

    Quite true, I guess. The problem, though, is that Firefox has 15-20% market share while Opera has < 2%. Obviously this is the reason why there are more Firefox fan sites out there. There are plenty of Opera ones to be found, too.

    Point 4:

    Nearly everything in the interface can be changed - toolbars, buttons, skins, etc. It's true that great features like UserJS go under-promoted and under-developed though. I, for one, have said many times that UserJS should be auo-installing.
    See also: Firefox Extension equivalents in Opera.

    That was quite a rant in the end :)

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  12. "You can't deny that people prefer Firefox to Opera."

    Yes we can.

    Most Firefox users don't even know about Opera (or care). They have never even tried Opera. If they haven't tried it, they don't know if they really prefer Firefox.

    Most Opera users, however, have probably tried Firefox, since Opera is more of a niche browser for tech savvy people.

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  13. @scott:

    Point 2

    [A]Actually, the rewind/FF buttons do more than just jumping several pages back or forward. Click on the rewind button but don't release the mouse button. If you wait for just a second a small menu will drop down that will show all the previous pages. You can jump to whichever page you want. Most people are unaware of this small trick. So if you have the rewind/FF button you don't need the traditional back and forward button. Alternately, they could have given the more useful back/forward button with a drop down arrow by its side which is more useful and which I use.

    [B] Ok, I agree that was a mistake. Actually I'm so used to Ctrl+Z that I don't need the trash can.

    Point 4

    I have seen that page long ago, infact I posted that page once in a forum resulting in a big debate. LOL!! But if you look at the list carefully you will see the equivalent of most extensions unavailable. If you ask people who use Firefox and then shift to Opera, they say they miss the extensions. Firefox has almost all type of extension that you can dream of. Opera developers have to release an API for 3rd party devlopers.


    @anonymous:

    "Most Firefox users don't even know about Opera (or care). They have never even tried Opera. If they haven't tried it, they don't know if they really prefer Firefox."

    How come those people heard about Firefox but not Opera? Bad promotion.

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  14. Actually, the rewind/FF buttons do more than just jumping several pages back or forward. Click on the rewind button but don't release the mouse button. If you wait for just a second a small menu will drop down that will show all the previous pages. You can jump to whichever page you want.

    No, you can't. As I and others stated, the rewind and fast forward buttons take you to the previous or next *domain* in history, not previous page. Therefore the drop down menu on these only lists one page from each domain, not every page you've visited. Try it: do a google search, go through several of the pages - using the FF button, peraps? ;) - then click a result and browse a few pages on that same domain. Then compare Back button dropdown with Rewind dropdown.

    Alternately, they could have given the more useful back/forward button with a drop down arrow by its side which is more useful and which I use.

    Are you aware of click-and-drag-down? This instantly brings up the drop down menu meaning you can go back to any page with one click-and-drag, rather than two clicks. But the fact you're probably not aware of this (and neither was I for ages) validates your point somewhat - it certainly would be easier for users if they had the arrows or the above functionality was conveyed to them somehow.

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  15. @scott:

    Thanks for those tips. I didn't knew that.

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  16. I'd agree with what you said about promotion. Opera is much less aggressive than the Mozilla/FF people. But as someone already said, Opera is mor for the tech savvy folks - those who are interested in a new/other browser will find it without costly commercials. So I assume the Opera guys have exactly what they want: A small market share of people who are really interested.

    About buttons: I can hardly believe that you used opera for 2 years and never (accidentally) right-clicked on a button, getting presented a short menu that contains "remove from toolbar". Opera does not have the fancy add-on technology of FF (and there's a reason for that) but on it's own it is the most configurable browser I know of. It's very easy to remove the buttons you don't like, to change their order and to add new ones. How about FF? I just tried to remove the "home" button from my FF. It may be possible but within a few minutes I only discovered how to add new buttons and how to reset everything. Can you tell me how to remove a button that belongs to the default configuration?

    Some things work better in FF or are easier to install (e.g. flash). FF has tabs, too, like most new browsers - Opera invented them as "pages", only the name "tab" was adopted from other browsers later on, and although FF has some fancy features in regards to tabs, they still work best in Opera, IMHO.

    To some extend it's a matter of taste. I have that "open page in FF"-button on my Opera but whenever I use it (rarely, only when needed), I get back to Opera quite soon.

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  17. Anonymous, you can remove the Home button from Firefox by dragging it from the toolbar to the palette of other buttons, just like it says at the top of the window.

    Kaushik, I have to agree with the other posters that your complaint about the "cluttered default interface" isn't really valid when it's not the default interface. Out of A, B, C, D, and E, only A and B are actually shown when a new user "installs and runs Opera for the first time."

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  18. ""Very few people use voice and is not necessary to be displayed in the main interface."

    Totally disagree!
    The voice function is one of the the major features which really sets Opera apart from all other browsers. Its a kind of symbolic statement if you will, saying "I bet you can't do this yet"
    I use it on occasions when I don't feel like reading a big blog of text, or simply when my eyes are a little tired. Another handy use for it, that I put to good use is when we had a gathering of family members a couple of weeks back, and we wanted some information about a historical castle.
    I googled the place and when we liked the look of a particuarly informative site, I highlited the text on the whole page and then right clicked and selected "Speak".
    That meant that everyone could listen to the information at the same time, and there was no need to crowd around the laptop screen as you normally would. It was brilliant! and certainly impressed members of my family who didn't have Opera. What better tool is there to attract new people to Opera. Sure they guy's voice sounds like Stephen Hawking but hey
    that's half the fun of using voice!
    Voice is a great feature and one that will surely help attract new comers as long current Opera users
    are willing to demonstrate this function to non Opera users.
    The only concern is the fact that the "voice" downloads don't come with the browser by default, as some Opera users may not bother trying out the voice functions as it involves further downloading. If it ready to use "out of the box" then I'm sure more Opera users would take to it.The voice button should initially reside in a prominent position, not hidden away, so that new users will ask themselves "I wonder what that does?".
    Long live the voice button.

    What Opera probably does need though, is someone to design a complete "idiots guide" to all the handy features in Opera. Now that's a good assignment for someone to undertake! I've been using Opera for years but I'm still discover handy features that I never tried out before. I am certain many other Opera users aren't aware of exactly everthing Opera can do and sadly don't use Opera to its full almighty potential.

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  19. @kelson

    I understand why so many readers are disagreeing with me with regards to the interface. But from what I've seen personally, the average user finds himself at a loss with the Opera interface but strangely enough, they are quite comfortable with Firefox. I tried to dissect but might be wrong with the interface. But I guess, I wasn't entirely successful. :(


    @kl

    I'm sure you find the voice feature handy. Infact, there might be many more such users who use voice and all sorts of myriad little features that Opera comes bundled with. But here I'm talking about majority. Most people still prefer to read by themselves then being read to by a browser.

    What Opera probably does need though, is someone to design a complete "idiots guide" to all the handy features in Opera.

    Actually Opera already have a nice guide on their website, but nobody reads it.

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  20. Kaushik,

    Whilst I agree, the majority won't touch the Voice feature, many will give it a go (by the way have you tried it?) Some will really find it useful and some like myself will
    find some useful situations where it may be applied.
    The one thing you MUST remember is in order for Opera to compete with the likes of Firefox then it must stand out and be "different". What's the point of any Firefox users switching to Opera if Opera doesn't offer anything uniquely different? Voice along with integrated e-mail is something that marks Opera's USP or Unique Selling Point.

    Yes, Opera has a nice guide but it's not exactly designed for "Idiots". I'm talking about an easy to understand guide that can be read and understood by someone who has never used the internet before. For example the fast forward and reverse buttons are explained in the Opera guide but I still don't fully understand their function. I'd never heard of Widgets before and the Opera guide doesn't exactly explain what they are. When I talk about an "idiots" guide I mean no technical terms should be used but instead everyday examples should be used instead. Instead of just "telling us" Opera needs to "Show Us how more" by using illustrations.
    There is a lot of information in the current guide but not enough is readily understandable for the newbie. Another example is the ability to customise Opera with Tool bars and Buttons, but most of this is trial and error, there are no illustrations that explain how to customise the browser.This is because Opera wrongly assume that all users will be fairly competant on the computer when this is clearly not the case. Newbies won't try customising their browser, either because they are not aware that they can, or they are too scared that they will somehow mess up their browser if they make a mistake.
    Opera for absolute PC beginners is where Opera needs to target its market more. The sooner the computer newbie is "brought up" on Opera the less likely they will turn to the likes of Firefox.
    So Opera needs to be the best,the fastest,the most secure,have the most advanced unique features, and yet be the most computer newbie user friendly browser. When that battle is won then Opera needs to work on achieving zero compatabilty problems with non compliant websites, when that day comes then you WILL have the perfect browser.

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  21. @kl

    Newbies won't try customising their browser, either because they are not aware that they can, or they are too scared that they will somehow mess up their browser if they make a mistake.

    Exactly. That's why it's necessary to have an interface that the average or the "idiot" users are comfortable with. The techie users can always change that to their liking.

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