Opera: is this the new Internet Explorer 6?

A cryptic question for you. When’s a webpage not a webpage, or a browser not a browser? The answer of course is when its not doing its job properly.

The web’s big thing is that it began standards-driven and is constantly refined over time. Whatever you want to code, there’s a right way to do it. If you don’t stick to this, that’s OK. But don’t expect anyone to read your content or use your browser.

HTML as a markup language does its job pretty well. Everything works as it was intended, which considering how much is there and how long its been going is amazing, really.

Sometimes someone comes along and for whatever reason, decide to do their own thing. But world domination aspirations apart, Whatever you view and wherever you view it on, you’ll see what the author intended you to see.

Microsoft screwed everything up with Internet Explorer. It used unbelievably sloppy coding. But they finally fixed it and with Version 8, its not too bad. But then along comes Opera.

So how does Opera manage to get everything so wrong?

Forget about the quality, feel the width

Opera is a great little company. They bravely set out to build a fast, cool looking browser and develop it across many platforms, including the emerging SmartPhone market.

Originally, the free Opera download came with adverts. These days though, its advert-free. It was always a fast browser and a great choice if you wanted to be a little different.

Opera’s never going to be big-time, with alternatives to Internet Explorer like Chrome, Firefox and Safari out there. But some – mainly Europeans – love its look and feel.

But its made a huge mistake with its page presentation. It probably had the best intentions. Sorry, guys you’ve just got it wrong.

The writing’s on the wall – or on the screen in this case

The big limitation with all browsers is the restricted choice of fonts available. When a page is being written, there is no control of over what font the reader may have installed on the platform they’re reading it one. So, you have to compromise.

Everyone uses a small selection of fonts, one’s that pretty well everyone will have installed – Arial, Verdana and their derivatives. Sure, hardly the most exciting looking in the world, but as I said, a reasonable compromise. But not Opera. Oh, no.

Opera decided to let the operating system use its desktop font. That’s fine if you’re stuck with a standard Windows desktop that’s forcing you to run an uninspiring and boring font, but for Apple or Linux users, it all goes wrong, horribly wrong.

Undoing the designers best efforts

Apple and Linux desktops like Ubuntu put a huge amount of effort into providing a great user experience. Icons, window design, screen rendering and ergonomics are spot on. The fonts are chosen for maximum readability and look great.

But they aren’t browser fonts. They’re just too wide to use if you’re looking at a web page.

Back to the drawing board, guys

I bet if the desktop fonts had been width managed, everything would have looked amazing viewed through Opera. That management is missing so a page will break wherever it wants to and overflows paragraphs and looks, well – just wrong.

Its an easy fix for Opera, but currently, with no compatible mode, you can only scale down. That affects the graphics too, leaving you with a poor user experience.

Let’s wait for the next version…

I’m sure they’ll sort this out. I really hope so, because a wide range of browsers provides everyone with a choice and is good for development. The jury’s out on this one, I’m afraid.

Let’s just hope Opera also fixes the page caching so it loads as fast as the other browsers. But that’s a topic for another day…