Feb 24th 2009

The Great Feature Train Robbery

It’s interesting for me to see over the period of the past few years where browsers which have more users are ripping off features that Opera invented, sometimes over a decade ago. It’s not that they shouldn’t. They should because it makes their browsers more useful. My browser of choice is Opera. I don’t roll any bones about it.1 I don’t have a superiority complex about my browser of choice; it’s just better than everything else.

Opera’s not without its faults. Its default interface looks like ass, and I’ve tried to help in that matter as much as I could with the tools that are available to me. A few of its multitude of features are underdeveloped and ignored for many versions at a time, and many of the features it has could be done better. Typically Opera improves the features when competition copies and improves upon them. It’s what competition is all about. In that case the title might be a bit misleading, but it was such a good name I stuck with it. I’m not claiming the competition has stolen these features, but just that many of these “innovative” features aren’t even remotely new. Opera’s implemented features that other browsers did first such as history searching in the address bar. It comes full circle, but Opera innovates more than it copies.

Throughout the years Opera’s competition has released versions of their browsers with “new” features which are typically touted as innovations they did themselves, especially by Apple. Mozilla to its defense rarely (if ever to my knowledge) has done this, but Firefox fanboys typically flame others about features Firefox supposedly invented such as tabs when both Opera and Safari’s usage predates Firefox’s implementation of them. Opera invented tabbed browsing with the first version of its browser in 1994. Netcaptor is generally accepted as the inventor of tabbed browsing, although older browsers such as Opera had methods of switching between documents that were essentially tabs prior. It’s still disputable. That’s only one example.

The Safari 4 beta was released today with a whole slew of features (they claim 150 which is bollocks) where many of the most useful features are already within Opera, one of them as old as 15 years ago. I thought I’d outline a few of the new features the browser has and when Opera implemented them.

Top Sites
Lists your most frequently visited websites. There’s also a method to select the ones you want on there.
Called Speed Dial in Opera. Invented by Opera in 2007. (Opera 9.20 and Opera Mini 4)
Tabs on Top
Tabs are placed above the main toolbar.
Invented by Opera in 2000. (Opera 4 or 5)2
Full Page Zoom
Pages are zoomed rather than text resizing. This allows the page to appear bigger without breaking layout.
Invented by Opera in 1996. (Opera 2)

Apple claims that Safari was the first browser with RSS reading. Opera was the first browser with RSS support PERIOD.3 It was also the first browser with built-in RSS (and Atom) reading, predating Safari’s implementation by about 11 months. Opera introduced integrated RSS reading with Opera 7.5 on May 12, 2004. Safari introduced its functionality on April 29, 2005. Firefox beat Safari to RSS support in November 2004, although it didn’t include reading.

Full page zoom is something that always brings a chuckle to me. A few years ago many people complained that Opera didn’t resize text but instead zoomed. They claimed it was stupid, yet to people with a usable brain it made perfect sense. Lately full page zoom is the feature to add if you want to be a “modern browser”. Opera invented it over a decade ago.

Speed Dial is a feature that I don’t think I could use a browser without now. It’s so obviously useful that it’s a wonder Opera or some other company didn’t think of it sooner. It seems to be the feature to copy these days. First Chrome copied it, then a Firefox extension, and now Safari 4. Lead Firefox developer, Asa Dotzler, went ga ga over spatial navigation when he believed that Minimo (one of the many failed Mobile Mozilla attempts) invented it. Opera beat them to it two years prior. With every new version of competing browsers they ask for features which are already implemented in Opera such as with John Gruber on Twitter stated here:

I wish Safari and MobileSafari synced history to MobileMe, so that you could autocomplete sites you viewed in one using the other.

Opera does this and more with Opera Link which syncs your Opera with other installs of Opera Desktop and each device you have with Opera Mini installed. With the release of Opera 9.5 and the introduction of Opera Link it synced bookmarks and Speed Dial. Now in addition to the initial ones it syncs the personal bar, notes, browser history, and custom searches. More is on the way.

More is on the way with innovative features in Opera while the competition tries to keep up.

EDIT: Edited my document based upon a few emails and some tweets about my facts about who invented tabbed browsing. I received my information about this straight from Opera. I’m not allowed access to Opera MultiTorg and Opera 2 to test for myself, so I have to go by knowledgable people’s claims. I trust information from people who can test a browser that predates Neocaptor rather than people wanting to discredit Opera. I’ll state what I’ve found. Aside from the harassing tweets I thank everyone who contacted me.

EDIT: John Welch contacted me about full history searching, and it does appear that Internet Explorer 5 for Mac did it first a few months before Opera. Microsoft did it through the address bar as many are used to now, and now Opera can do it like that also as of Opera 9.5 (I believe). I took the mention of it off as I was listing things Opera innovated there and not others. Looks like Microsoft deserves the credit. I wasn’t too sure about that one to begin with, and it does turn out I was incorrect.

  1. Yes I know “pick any bones” is the correct phrase, but I wanted to stick a Rush reference somewhere.

  2. Really unsure about this one as well. I can pinpoint it down to either one. I’m thinking it was Opera 5. Regardless, Opera’s idea to do that predates others by years. I wish this information wasn’t so scarce.

  3. There was an extension in Firefox to do it first, but does that really count? Perhaps.