Whenever I think about what Opera means to me, it always comes to this. One small, simple, cute little GIF smiley I’ve first seen God-knows-how-many years ago:
That’s basically it. For such a simple thing, it really does sum up my feelings spot on. Though it might almost be more accurate to say it DID sum them up. We’re still not quite there, though. There’s some hope left just yet, but it’s getting harder and harder to hold on to it.
That tiny little image right there represents a ton of emotions and memories for me. Sure, some of it is for personal reasons – that image popped up on the internet around 2003. Or, to put it on a more personal level, just around the time I met my girlfriend. I was already an active Opera user back then – I’ve been using Opera as my main browser since around version 3.5 or 3.6, meaning since something like 1998 or 1999. From 2000 up, I was already pretty enthusiastic about Opera – the fastest browser available, jam-packed with revolutionary things and features no other browser had back then, and customizable like nothing you’ve ever seen. So yeah, I was really digging Opera, as they say (or at least I think they do). And I was spreading the word.
It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that when I met my girlfriend a couple of years later, she became quite a fan herself. Actually, in many ways, her enthusiasm and knowledge of the Opera browser customizations and features (and problems) in some areas far surpassed mine. You could say that our interest in Opera brought us closer to each other. Yes, it might sound kinda weird and more so nerdy, but then again, we certainly ARE nerds, so what can you do?
Honestly, though, in those years when that image showed up, it was quite easy to be passionate about something as seemingly unrelatable and boring as some piece of software, a browser. Those years, seen in retrospect, were really the golden years of the Opera browser. Yes, there were a few stumbles on the way (remember the problems with fonts on Linux? Aaarrggg…), nobody and nothing is perfect, but overall, the people at Opera were at the top of their game and the community of people centered around the Opera browser was one of the best communities I’ve ever seen on the internet to this day. And the feeling of awesomeness was certainly not limited to users – honestly, when was the last time you saw a high-profile company issue a press release promising that their CEO will attempt to swim the Atlantic Ocean to America if the newly released Opera 8 gets one million downloads within the first four days after launch? And he DID attempt it, too! 😉
In 2008, Opera expanded to our country, which, in a lot of ways, was very exciting. Six years ago, almost to the day, they’ve organized a casual party for the fans, a party we couldn’t miss, even though it meant spending more than six hours on a train. The aforementioned Opera CEO, Jon von Tetzchner, was not only present, but was in fact very approachable (which to me always comes as a surprise when dealing with “the big boss” of any company) and, even more importantly, genuinely interested in what do we do, why do we like the Opera browser, what are our opinions on it and many more. Again, to this very day, that little party was certainly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. The people from Opera were so cool and enthusiastic I genuinely wished I had something to offer to Opera and could apply for a job there. Many people in IT dream of working for Google (well, at least they did). I’ve dreamt of working for Opera. Once again, see that little image on the top of the post.
But then, very gradually, it all started to change. Some of the decisions and paths taken started to feel a bit awkward, some of the enthusiasm seemed to be gone. Opera seemed to have lost its touch. It was no longer the fastest browser out there and problems were piling up (though, to be fair, it wasn’t always Opera’s fault – I’m looking at you, Google! *shakes fist*). In 2010, Jon von Tetzchner stepped down as a CEO of Opera ASA, which was unexpected and kinda disheartening, but still, these things tend to happen and you certainly need a change of pace from time to time. But the news kept getting worse – in June 2011, Jon decided to leave Opera, citing differences of opinions with the board on the browser’s future. And that was really worrying. But surely Opera, the company we’ve supported with great passion and enthusiasm for more than ten years, won’t let us down?
Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be and it went downhill from there. Some of the features got removed, some kept being pushed back more and more. Opera 12, the first Opera without Jon on board, was not a bad browser – far from it. But it was obvious something’s happening and it’s not good. That little pixelated GIF gesture still applied – it was still “our” browser, “our” company – but sometimes, sometimes it felt kinda sad remembering what Opera was and what it seems to be transforming into. And if you ask me, I still think the best Opera there ever was is Opera 11.64.
However, the real shocker was yet to come. A year ago, in February 2013, Opera ASA announced their intention to abandon their own Presto rendering engine Opera was using, and switch to Webkit, used by quite a few browsers, Chrome/Chromium being the most obvious and popular one.
This of course had the potential to turn good or bad. It made sense in a way. Presto was great, but it required a constant effort to keep the most important websites running smoothly – not everyone bothered to debug their code so it would work in Opera. It wasn’t that Opera was buggy or something – but it was (as it was its heritage) quite strict when it came to web standards, which meant that something that worked in other not-so-strict browsers did not necesarilly work in Opera. And truth be told, some seemed to break or cripple their sites in Opera quite intentionally (Google! *shakes fist*). So the move to a less strict and more popular (and therefore more supported) Webkit made sense – from the business point of view, which was quite a change for a company so dedicated to standing up for what it believed in. Then again, from the web standards point of view, shared by the armies of us loyal Opera fans, preaching the importance of web standards for years, it was something of a betrayal. We knew that the market share is the most important thing for any company – we just were not sure if it should be so important to forget your own principles seemingly on the spot. Remember, we were quite passionate about Opera and what did it stand for in the past 15 years – so it felt a bit like a betrayal. It felt like Richard Stallman saying “oh well, damn the free software” and getting a well-paid job at Apple.
In May 2013, the first preview version of a brand new Opera 15 arrived – and to call it a disappointment would be quite an understatement. It was instantly dubbed “Chropera” by many. It bared little resemblance to the Opera browser we knew – it was (as we feared) pretty much a re-skinned Chromium. Pretty much everything that made Opera the browser it was has disappeared. It didn’t actually even support bookmarks (well, it kinda did, in a form of a Speed Dial “stack”, which was a far cry from anything practical or usable). It was as barebone browser as you can get. True, it was way more compatible with many sites out of the box, but it also came with many disadvantages Chrome has (high memory usage, one process per tab, terrible font rendering and many others). Also, there was no Linux version available, which made quite a few people angry, since many long time Opera users do in fact use Linux (myself included, though I don’t limit myself just to Linux like some people do). Supposedly, it’s to come “at a later date”.
When the stable release came in July, we knew it’s going to be a long time until we get something even remotely similar to “our” Opera – even though we were hoping that the preview version was essentialy just that, a very early preview, the stable release was more or less the same. Worse still was the sad lack of communication about what’s to come and when. There was quite an outcry about the missing bookmark feature, being the basic internet tool since…well, since always. The company eventually buckled and promised us some sort of bookmark functionality, but the whole thing was handled quite awkwardly and it didn’t “sit right”. Which, truth be told, has kind of become the norm when it comes to discussing Opera future – there’s a surprising lack of official information, mostly it just comes to us in form of a vague little sentence here and there mentioned by Opera employees in comments on the Desktop Team blog, the place where the previews get announced and released.
And with that, we arrive to the present day (that is January 30th 2014). In the past eight months since the first Opera 15 preview was available, we’ve come to the point where we can expect the first preview of Opera 21 (yes, they did adopt that stupid numbering scheme of upping the major version of the browser every other month or so) any day now…and the enthusiasm in the community has never been so low. It’s not that there were no changes since Opera 15 at all – sure there were. We’ve just got the bookmark functionality a few days back the stable Opera 19 was released. But, honestly, it’s really just a glorified bookmark bar you can put your bookmarks on. It doesn’t even support the bookmark nickname, a feature many Opera users consider mandatory. There are little visible changes otherwise. We still can’t really customize anything – you can’t disable that feature of hiding the “unimportant” parts of an URL in the address bar, you can’t turn off the close button shown on every tab, you can’t customize mouse gestures, there’s no sidebar with notes and other great features, you can’t move the tab bar where you like it…you can’t really do anything. If you don’t like Opera 19 as it is, you’re pretty much done. There’s still hope it might change eventually, but there’s been word (again, a vague mentions on the Desktop Blog) that we can pretty much forget a lot of things Opera users took for granted. But it has become painfully obvious that even if your favorite feature should come eventually, you’re in for a long, long wait. When you’re dealing with developer version updates that feature “big Speed Dial thumbnails turned on as default” as the very highlight of such update and with a browser that considers a switch to turn off said big thumbnails as “advanced feature” you need to unhide in preferences , I guess you’re in trouble (no disrespect to the actual developers of the browser, though – I’m quite certain they do work their asses off).
Oh, and did I mention there’s still no word on when (or if) the Linux version of Opera will actually arrive? That’s right, eight months later since we’ve first heard that it’ll come “at a later date” and still no new information on it at all.
Also, the My Opera community, the hub of that great Opera community I’ve mentioned and a place where many Opera users had their blogs and galleries for years, is being shut down come March.
So, looking back at that cute little GIF up there, you can’t help but feel quite sad. Me and my Opera, we go way, WAY back, as I’ve tried to show you here. We’ve been together through thick and thin. And for the most part it was quite a blast and I’ll keep those memories through the rest of my life. But these days, we hardly ever meet. It’s just not the same anymore. We’ve both changed, I’m sure – some 15 odd years is a long time. I’ve certainly become quite nostalgic – that much is obvious, really. But I can’t help feeling that the Opera I’ve known for such a long time is almost gone.
Dear Opera. Please look at this silly little smiley image and think long and hard about what it actually represents (which shouldn’t be that hard if I managed to make my point here). I know it’s utterly absurd and pathetic to feel this passionate about something as insubstantial and insignificant as a browser, and, most of all, that such feelings have no place in business (and I do realize that Opera is business, first and foremost, even if it acted very casually in the past), but still, I do. Can’t help it. Opera has been a part of my life for too long and I’ve done too much with it (and I dare to say for it). And I know a lot of people who feel the same way. I’ve become a Firefox user in the past 8 months after some 15 years with Opera. I simply can’t use the new Opera on an day-to-day basis, it can’t do what Opera itself has taught me a browser can do. And I still, to this day, hate every minute of using FF and when you look at how I’ve configured my Firefox and what extensions I use, I’m sure you can tell pretty quick I’m still an Opera user at heart. I’m pretty much just emulating the “Opera experience” as close as possible with the tools available. But I still install every single development release of Opera, I still try them all, I still read the comments. I still care. In fact, most of us “oldtimers” still do, I know that much.
We still hope. Say the right words and we’re there with you in a heartbeat.