[ Prev ][ Table of Contents ][ Front Page ][ Talkback ][ FAQ ][ Next ]

"Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

Opera - a lightweight browser for Linux

By Matthias Arndt

Table Of Contents


Currently, the Linux community lacks a stable and fast web browser.

Of course, there's Netscape but it's neither fast nor 100% stable. Netscape will crash sometimes, especially when you're downloading large files over a slow internet link. (I will refer to Mozilla as Netscape here because it still is a "Netscape"-like browser.)

There are several alternatives out there but they all lack features that are required by most (multimedia) webpages like Java, Javascript, Frame support, tables, CSS and even Flash. My personal opinion is that most of this is just trash, not really needed for a decent website except tables.

Ported from the Windows world, Opera seems to fill the gap. It's still not a full replacement for Netscape on the Linux platform, but it's very close to reaching this goal.

This article focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of Opera, its concepts, and finally a comparison to Netscape.

Screenlayout & Look'n'Feel

A picture is always a good starting point. Click on the link below to see a screenshot of Opera.

Opera - as seen when started, browsing Slashdot  [237 KB]

If you're used to the Windows version of Opera, you'll recognize that the screen layout is the same as in the Windows version.

The first thing that you'll recognize is a somewhat large banner containing advertisements. Opera is a commercial product so the try-before-you-buy version has a banner there. This banner can be controlled to show specific advertisements. But I do not recommend that because you'll lose some of your limited anonymity on the net.

The navigation buttons are familiar and most of them work the same way as in Netscape. However you'll notice the lack of a STOP button to cancel a transfer.

Opera uses some sort of multiple document interface. Contrary to Netscape, all document windows will be opened in the mainframe as subframes. You can choose between either a full view of a single document or you can see several subframes be open at the same time.

Just take a look at the two examples below....

Opera, two documents open at the same time, one is shown fullscreen   [210 KB]

Opera, two documents open at the same time, both shown in seperate subframes   [196 KB]

You'll notice that you have seperate buttons for each open document. This allows you to operate Opera even if theres no windowmanager running. Additional: frame switching is much faster compared to Netscape.

A very nice feature, borrowed from the MS IE, is the ability to switch to a real fullscreen mode. Press F11 and the current browser frame will be shown fullscreen, really filling the full screen, not only the subframe of the Opera window.

Disadvantages in this mode are that you can neither switch to other subframes nor use the forward and backward buttons.

You can customize the look'n'feel of Opera to the extend. Much more than Netscape. Display of documents is controlled by CSS. You may either use one from a web site on the net or supply your own. You can select a whole file to do this or you can customize color, font and size of the various objects as headers, paragraphs, etc.

Take a look at the customization dialog below:

customization dialog for applying personal CSS   [49 KB]

You cannot customize that all in Netscape. Pretty cool feature.

Bookmark Handling

Bookmark handling is very good in Opera. You can import your Netscape bookmarks and your KDE shotcuts (if you have some). A feature, imported from the Windows version, is the possibility to import MS IE bookmarks as well. But I guess, no real Linux user has a need for that, IMHO. One drawback is that the import is readonly. That's somewhat limiting but acceptable.

You can switch between a view with bookmarks or without. The default layout is close to the MS IE ones.

Opera, with imported Netscape bookmarks open   [246 KB]

Note that import of foreign bookmarks is done automatically.

Quality of browsing - what can Opera render?

Well, Opera renders almost any decent HTML code. Tables, Frames, CSS, all are no problem. In that way it has the full quality of Netscape, not found in many alternative browsers on the Linux platform.

In particular, the CSS support is even better than in Netscape. Just compare a site relying completely on CSS and optimized for MS IE. View this page with the MS IE, with Netscape and finally with Opera.
As far as I have noticed so far, Opera's output is closer to the MS IE than Netscape. But that may be subjective.

Opera has three or four features that it does not do properly:

But IMHO no one really needs Javascript, this one is really annoying. Flash is for multimedia freaks and Java, well if you need this, you can still use Netscape.

Opera is able to display PNG pictures, a feature not supported by most alternative browsers.

Opera in comparison to Netscape

Take a look at the following table, then select for yourself.

I haven't used the Konqueror from KDE2 yet - so I cannot give you an comparative overview of that one with Opera.

Opera Netscape
Cost free - but advertisement is shown free - for non-commercial use
Size average (statically linked)
small (dynamic linked)
big (statically linked only)
Speed startup is fast
document loading and rendering is fast
startup is very slow, even with much RAM
document loading and rendering is average
Rendering quality of text (compared to the Windows versions) average (at least with my font settings) average to bad (depends on the font sizes in CSS and fonts used)
Table support yes yes
Frames support yes yes
JavaScript support yes but incomplete yes
Java support no - but seems to be planned for the future yes
CSS support yes yes but incomplete
Stability rather good
sometimes crashes without a reason (at least on my system)
average to good


Opera is very customizable. You can select your own CSS style sheets to use, define shortcuts to search engines.

You can choose the Identity string as well. Using this feature you can claim that your're using the MS IE or Netscape, instead of Opera.

This might be useful on some sites that require the use of one of the big browsers out there.

Last but not least, the screenlayout, the positons of navigation and status bars, can be customized. You can even select to show an advanced navigation bar instead of the small default one.

Technical Notes & Downloading

Opera uses the QT2.2 library. However, it runs nicely without KDE.

Opera is available at

You can choose between tar.gz, deb and rpm packages. These come either statically linked or dynamically linked.

A version for PowerPC Linux is available as well.

I suggest using the statically linked version. Although the packages are bigger, it is more likely that Opera runs.


Installation of Opera is easy.

The tar.gz archives come along with an install skript.

Just unpack the Opera archive to a temporary place and run in the directory,

I have no experience with the deb or rpm packages of Opera. Due to the nature of these formats, I suppose that both just install Opera and you can use it out of the box afterwards.


Opera is a fast and lightweight web browser. It has very good features and is able to render almost 90% of the webpages out there.

There are still some features missing or incomplete. At least, today, Opera is still not ready to be used standalone if you want Javascript, Java and multimedia stuff like Flash. But if you can live without these, you'll find that Opera can be a 100% replacement for Netscape.

Give it a try. Opera has many nice features not seen before in the Linux environment.

Copyright © 2001, Matthias Arndt.
Copying license
Published in Issue 65 of Linux Gazette, April 2001

[ Prev ][ Table of Contents ][ Front Page ][ Talkback ][ FAQ ][ Next ]