An alpha version of Opera 10, the latest in a long line of web browser clients from the Norwegian-based developers, has been made available to download. Anyone remember Opera? It used to be the next big thing, until the next big thing came along in the shape of Firefox that is. Opera did turn its attention, briefly, to throwing rocks at Microsoft but those attempts to claim unfair treatment seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Deaf ears could also describe the powers that be at Apple, who have decided that the one area where Opera does do well, in providing a mini-browser for mobile devices, cannot apply to the iPhone. Apple has prevented Opera from distributing the mini-browser through the iPhone App Store, effectively putting the kibosh on it for that device. Not that this has stopped Opera from grabbing some attention on other smartphones, such as the recent announcement of an Opera browser for the Google Android.

But it is in the big browser league that Opera has the biggest struggle, with Internet Explorer still ruling the roost and Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari pretty much mopping up the spills, with a very little help from new entrant Google Chrome.

In an attempt to woo back some users, Opera has announced a brand new browser rendering engine called Opera Presto 2.2 which will be the foundation of all future Opera 10 products. Promising a 30 percent increase in browsing speed over Opera 9.5 with the Presto 2.1 engine, there has also been a fine tuning of standards support which together have enabled Opera 10 to hit a 100/100 Acid3 test score which is mightily impressive. If you are a web browser developer, but means diddly squat if you are just a consumer.

What might make an impression with the general public are new features such as spell-checking as you type, and HTML support in the Opera Mail client. Although the spell checking is hardly news to Firefox users, and surely most people use Gmail or Yahoo for web based email anyway?

“My favorite development in this release is the support for new Web technologies, which allows people to explore new ways of using the Internet," says Johan Borg, Vice President of Consumer Engineering, Opera Software. "Our 100/100 Acid3 Test score is only a first indication of the impact these new Web technologies will have."

The harsh truth is that I suspect it will make very little real world impact, where such test scores are hardly on the radar. Opera should stick to what it does really well, and that is the development of that embedded mini-browser client. Put all your effort into that and let the fat lady sing for the desktop client.

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See, as an Opera desktop user, I do tend to ignore the browser: but only because it consistently does what it does quietly, correctly, and capably. Which is a sign of a good application IMHO.

May I direct your respective attentions to a brief & hilarious, albeit obviously biased (although actually somewhat accurate) summary comparison:

Honestly though, who really thinks that popular equals good? Popular films quite often suck, and it's highly rare for popular music ever not to suck. Popular people are often quite unpleasant, to.

So, I certainly think the Opera team should keep on working to improve their desktop browser. It'd be a healthy challenge to try to make any substantial improvements, and it's not like they should really expect to make big bucks or fame and fortune by developing a (free) browser, anyway.