Oct 30th 2010

Print Preview

It was brought to my attention this morning that it’s been Opera’s intention to remove its amazing inline print preview feature from its Mac builds. This is a horrible mistake in my opinion, and it’s a removal of a feature I use quite often when developing.

Print preview in Opera has always been one of its best features. Long before I used Opera as my main browser I used an install of Opera 5 to write my high school term paper using HTML and a print stylesheet… in 2001. I would have a print preview button in my toolbar, and I would click it when I made a change. After a bit of work I had a print stylesheet that did my work for me laying out my term paper, leaving me free to simply write the thing without having to deal with bullshit from a word processor. I kept the stylesheet around and recycled it for my art history papers when attending university. Years later when I’d author print stylesheets for websites it became an indispensable tool as it was always instantaneous because by clicking a button I’d instantly see any changes I made.

Not anymore. It appears now it’s expected of the Mac Web developer to use Mac OS X’s print preview. It simply prints to a PDF which then subsequently is opened in Preview. Doesn’t anyone at Opera see how completely asinine that is? Sure, it’s perfectly fine and the expected behavior for the average Mac user, but a developer can’t be expected to develop using such inefficient methods especially when he is used to a better method which existed and worked quite well in previous versions of Opera.

Now, Opera hasn’t actually completely removed the feature. The reason why I only just now discovered this disgrace is that I only use the print preview toolbar button, and it’s not been removed. It’s just been buggy since Opera 10.5 by displaying a print dialog box which won’t go away and will sometimes automatically print the document for you without your permission. Also, a bug exists in it that’s also in Windows where it won’t scroll all the way down. In my review of Opera 10.5 I used a video to demonstrate how it behaved.1 There’s been absolutely no announcements from Opera or any employee at Opera about the removal of this feature until just this morning. The only thing I could find was a mention about its removal from the File menu buried within the changelogs of a build’s release on the Desktop Team’s blog. What’s not clear is if Opera’s intent is to remove inline print preview completely even when accessed through an interface button, but by the choice of words in the changelog there it appears that is the intent; its existence when accessed from the toolbar button today appears to be just due to an omission. Why not just have inline print preview work through the interface button so us developers can still have access to it? To accomplish this all that’s necessary is to fix a few bugs.

I can understand Opera’s logic by doing this. It’s all about better integration with the system, and I applaud them for their efforts in doing so. It can be potentially confusing for users to see print preview behave like it does in Opera when accessing it from the File menu when they’re used to using Mac OS X’s built-in print preview system from the print dialog box. However, putting a button on the interface specifically for print previewing is a conscious decision, and I can’t see why what remains of Opera’s original print preview system can’t be fixed and continue to behave like I’ve been used to its working for nearly 10 years now. Using print preview in this manner is primarily meant to be as a developer tool anyway. It’s one of Opera’s best developer features, and it’s a feature no other browser has. To my knowledge not a single competing browser has copied this feature like they have on so many of Opera’s other amazing features. This means I can’t just open up Chrome, Firefox, or Safari and test a print stylesheet in this way. Currently, the only way for me to efficiently author print stylesheets is to have a Windows install of Opera handy for testing, and the necessity to do such is about as stupid as wearing a Darth Vader costume at a Star Trek convention.

No, we are not removing any features from Opera, and we don’t intend to.

Håvard Moen, an employee in the Desktop QA department of Opera, tweeted this just yesterday. Håvard is a very respectable man of his word, and I know very well he can’t speak for the Mac developers. But, please Opera, don’t remove this feature. It’s a feature removal because its functionality is being replaced with something that’s inadequate from a developer’s standpoint. If you’re serious about creating a good development environment for developers then don’t remove useful development tools.

  1. Since making this video Opera has fixed some of the bugs but not all. The dialog box artifacting problem and the mail bug I demonstrated still exists. However, all I want to focus on today is print preview. It doesn’t lock Opera up anymore, but the dialog box remains.