Polishing the Opera browser interface


Opera Skins should be renamed to Opera Themes. Most Windows users are familiar with the term “themes” and would more easily relate to the idea that the browser’s appearance can easily be changed. In fact, even Gnome (for Linux) refers to the predefined appearances as “Themes”. Firefox already calls these as Themes and seems to be a head of Opera in making things easier for the end user.

Default Opera skins should be designed to integrate visually with the Operating system it is being used on. I’m not a major fan of the whole idea of one skin to fit all platforms. While the skin may match more closely in Windows Vista than it does in Ubuntu. Firefox does a very good job of distinguishing itself on on the major platforms Mac and Windows and even does a great job of using an appropriate skin for Windows XP and for Windows Vista. This has actually been discussed before, but a change has yet to be made.

The “Find more skins” section in the Appearance dialog should be a little more intuitive. Honestly, the radio button approach to switching between “Show installed skins” and “Find more skins” is a very very poor design choice. Speaking for most users, a dialog window with radio buttons usually gives the idea of a setting that will be saved and not so much a toggle or tab between downloaded and downloadable skins. I think that converting these two into actual tabs would clutter the view and cause more confusion, but if they were separated into their own parent tabs they could be more beneficial. I’m thinking “Skin” and “Get Skins” would be much more efficient than the current design from a visual and designer perspective.

The “Delete” button for skins is completely out of place. If you open up the Skin dialog window, you will notice a list of your downloaded skins with a single button to the right of the list just wasting dialog space. I believe that it would make more sense to appear in-line with the selected skin, thus removing clutter and being available only when necessary.

Downloaded skins should use the actual skin name properly as saved in the “skin.ini” file that is packaged with each skin. It’s a little be pathetic that the setting has been used to name your skin, yet Opera lacks the ability to display the proper title for the skin and instead displays the filename (without the file extension).

The skins list should include a preview image of the skin listed. Skins currently have an optional setting in the “skin.ini” file to specify a preview image. Opera lacks the ability to display a preview image even if one is specified.

Skins should list the skin version number in a column near the skin name or title. Currently, since Opera lacks the ability to correctly display any information about a skin in the list other than it’s filename, the skin version number is usually present in the listed skin name.

Opera should be capable or automatically updating the currently used skin or at least prompting the user of an available update. It seems that Opera for the longest time has been set in it’s ways of forcing the end users to manually update the browser and all of it’s settings. Recent snapshots of Opera 10 have introduced the ability for the browser to automatically update itself, so it makes sense for the developer team to stick with the progress of making the rest of Opera (including it’s skin) automated.

Opera skins should be listed with browser compatibility so that outdated skins aren’t used with newer browser releases. I’ve in the past come across several skins that just didn’t seem to work correctly with the updated version of Opera that I was using. They were either rendering completely wrong or simply missing icons that were needed. It makes sense to try to help your users find skins for their browser that will not introduce problems that they will not understand and will most likely write off as a problem with Opera in general, possibly even abandoning the browser.

“Enable special effects” should be a little more descriptive. If I were an average computer user and came across this option in the Skin section of the Appearance dialog then I would most likely leave it checked, but I would also have no idea of what it does. I think it would be in order to at the very least work in a tool tip to explain a couple of the special effects such as fading and blending of tabs on mouse hover and such in a very user friendly and informative way.


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