This is a post that I started a couple of months ago, but finally just got around to revising (since Opera 11 has since been released) and finishing. Hopefully its all in tact.
Being fairly new to Mac OS X, I was excited to install Opera and see how it compares to the default browser Safari as well as others such as Firefox and Google Chrome in terms usability and appearance.
While I hadn’t used Mac OS much since version 9 and then briefly OS X (with my old iBook before it died), I did remember that Opera didn’t exactly have the most elegant user interface. Nor did most other third party web browsers that I tested at the time. Then again, OS X wasn’t as refined then as it is now either. Keep in mind, these are my opinions and you are free to have your own.
I was happy to find that Opera seems to have the most natural feeling user interface when compared to Firefox and Google Chrome, using Safari as the standard since most die-hard Mac users are likely familiar with it the most.
While I didn’t capture Safari in a view where the tabs are visible, the image above is a decent comparison of the browsers’ default address bars and navigation buttons.
As you can see, the buttons, address box and search box in Opera mimic those found in Safari quite well and are not much of a change at all for any ex-Safari user. The tabs used in Opera are also very similar to those found in Safari (pictured below), with the most significant exception being that they are flipped vertically and placed above the address bar (in Opera) rather than below (like in Safari).
While some people may prefer Firefox or Google Chrome over both Opera and Safari, the point remains that their designs are inconsistent with the overall look and feel of the OS in general. That’s not to say that Opera doesn’t have some inconsistencies of its own. There are a few of them, but most of what I’ve found are minor detail tweaks that are needed to perfect the skin.
Just to mention a few things that are stand out to me, the “New tab” icon size should be decreased slightly, retaining the Opera style while removing the unnecessary bold touch. If you compare this button to the same button found in Safari you’ll notice that Opera’s approach is a bit too bold and that changing this makes it more elegant looking (in my opinion of course).
The borders for the navigation buttons, address box and search box should all be slightly adjusted to match the colors used for these in Safari. There are slight inconsistencies among these, with disabled button borders being darker than enabled button borders.
Another inconsistency with Opera is that text boxes in the address bar are not highlighted with a blue glowing border when they are focused…as they are in Safari, Firefox and Google Chrome. Its difficult for me to see if this is advantageous or simply an oversight, however, the “pro-integration” side of me certainly thinks this should be fixed to match the behavior of other browsers in OS X.
Various icons throughout the user interface need to be desaturated to remove color for consistency. An example of this can be found in the address box with the drop down icon. If you look close, the drop down icon is actually blue whereas other similar icons, like the drop down icon in the search box, are gray scaled. This is also a bug I’ve seen in the Windows and Linux skins, but the OS that demands attention to detail is likely the one that this is most noticeable on.
The Speed Dial page, though it was “invented” before the other spin-offs, now uses a darker background that makes it feel a bit more familiar to Safari’s implementation. I find this to add to the integration effect, whereas previous Speed Dial background images felt out of place. On the other hand, Opera doesn’t boast comparatively appealing 3D thumbnails or features to those found in Safari. Instead, the Opera Speed Dial packs in a redundant search box and no immediate method of searching through your history (visually at that!) or displaying your top visited sites automatically.
With a default Speed Dial tab open, knowingly or not, you’re looking at three different ways of searching the Internet…all with the same available list of search engines. You can search from the address bar by simply prepending your search terms with a specific search engine “keyword”, from the dedicated search box in the address box or from the additional search box in the Speed Dial. If I had any influence on this design, I would remove both dedicated search boxes and make the address box smarter and more visually suggestive of performing a search when it is in use.
While I’m suggesting changes to the Speed Dial tab, why not take advantage of Opera’s ability to generate thumbnails of pages to give the user a visual of the pages they are searching through just like Safari is capable of? With the ability to generate these thumbnails already, there is no reason why Opera shouldn’t implement a similarly more appealing visual search of previously visited sites.
As I said before, all browsers have their problems with UI design and integration, especially in Mac OS X. Of the available browsers for this platform, the one with the most features and the best OS X integration is far and away Opera 11. The performance improvement isn’t bad either, with my test results showing Opera 11 beating out Safari 5.0.3 easily in the SunSpider benchmark. You can take my opinions with a grain of salt if you wish, but you should undoubtedly give Opera 11 a spin if you haven’t already!