There’s plenty happening on the free software front this week. Let’s begin with the stunning new Opera 9.0 Technical Preview 1 (Build 8031). Available in separate Windows, Linux/Unix and Mac versions.
It turns the premise of the old Opera browser as we know it on its head! What can I say? Except that Opera 9 follows on Firefox is more ways than one. To begin with you can now access all Opera’s configuration options via opera:config. Type this into a new Tab to gain access to all browser settings. By default the view is condensed.
And while I advise a careful explanation before you attempt to make any changes. Don’t despair if you accidentally commit a boo-boo. Just click the adjacent Default button to restore setting to Opera’s recommended one. But that’s not the most significant change. The entire user interface is more Firefox-like than before. And even I still manage to accidentally open a new instance of Opera. Because the default to open a new Tab is no longer Ctrl+N. It’s Ctrl+T just like Firefox.
Ctrl+N opens a whole new Opera session. So you can effectively have multiple Operas running on your desktop; each with its own set of tabs. Except when you close one of these Windows, you won’t be able to recover your stored session. Unless you also open new multiple sessions the next time. And the quick paste URL and Go feature that I so loved in Opera is no longer Ctrl+D. Its now Ctrl+Shift+V. The older shortcut key combination is now used to open a Bookmark page dialog.
Opera 9 TP1 is first public release of the new browser version code named Merlin. It makes Opera shortcuts often identical to Firefox. Which is really its #1 competitor. Internet Explorer 6 is D-E-A-D except it (and Microsoft?) just doesn’t know it yet! Even the much-vaunted IE7 Beta in development doesn’t really reinvent the browser. All it does is integrate more advanced features (now offered separately in the MSN Search toolbar object). To which anti-phishing will be added shortly. But IE7 will only work only with Windows XP SP2/Windows Server 2003 SP2 and Microsoft Vista. So if you don’t run any of these Windows versions, better change to Opera. Because overall it’s a better browser than Firefox.
But if you’ve been using Opera as a mail client, I highly recommend backing up your saved messages. Because the new M2 mail and news client uses a different format that’s incompatible with previous versions. And although the release notes say that the IMPA feature has been improved. I couldn’t find a noticeable change. If anything I was still unable to access IMAP mail servers. And if during the install you choose not to upgrade then you will lose all access to mail, chat and RSS feeds. I couldn’t find a way to undo this step. Short of uninstalling Opera 9 TP1 before re-installing it!
There are lots of other interface and usability changes. The pop-up blocker is not only more aggressive, it also traps several dialogs that would manage to bypass previous filters. The warning and error-message display has been improved. But for this geek they are an annoyance. I don’t need advice on why the site isn’t loading. I’m still discovering how to disable them. Because the key problem with the new opera:config file is it uses numeric values without an explanation of what each signifies!
The Transfers (download manager) has been improved considerably. And now displays not just the downloading file data rate, but also the time left to completion. Of course it still doesn’t do segmented downloads. But then one can’t expect everything now can we?
The in-page content Find command now highlights each instance of searched-for keywords in a page. The first instance is highlighted in yellow. With all subsequent instances in green. And if you don’t like this behavior, it should be possible to change the highlight colors as the browser’s entire visual interface is controlled using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).
Viewing a web page source now defaults to a really basic internal editor instead of Wordpad (as you did for previous versions for Windows). You can also lock Tabs so that they will remain activated across sessions regardless of your session settings. (The default is to open previously open Tabs, but you can also have Opera prompt you on every startup: just like Maxthon, but not like Firefox/Mozilla which needs a Sessionsaver extension installed).
Opera 9 TP1 is even more standards-compliant. It no longer fails the Acid2 CSS test. And unlike Firefox 1.0.7 renders the page perfectly. It also supports SVG Graphics, XSLT, Canvas 2D and Web Forms 2.0. As well as rich-text editing. So that in web-mail programs you can apply formatting to messages. However in GMail the editor appeared all scrunched up in one corner. And some versions of the open-source Textarea WYSIWYG editor doesn’t display their entire feature set.
But there are several “quirks” in store for the unwary. I discovered two by accident. In the first I had an Opera IRC chat session open. Then I changed to a different Tab to check out something. But when I returned to my mid-way message, all I saw was junk! I could see what other members in the channel were saying. And my chats would appear in readable text. But not in my chat window. I finally left the room. Then rejoined it a few seconds later. And everything was back to normal. Except I’d lost my previous transcript 🙁
The second was more annoying. I clicked one of the Panel icons to access an abbreviated display. But when I clicked the close button, the entire Panel vanished. Finally after some searching in the Opera Community’s Beta Testing thread. I found that Shift+F4 will toggle this short-panel extension without causing the entire Panel to vanish off-screen. Also beware adding RSS feeds with lots of data. Or your browser will stop responding. The good news is that Opera now supports Atom 1.0. Again if only they had included support for Atom 2.0 too. But let’s leave it at that. Download a copy of Opera 9 Technical Preview 1 for yourself and see the difference. If you want specifics, there’s a changelog available.
Turning to other software, I discovered the free Burrrn. This tiny utility creates audio CDs with CD-Text from wav, mp3, mpc, ogg, aac, mp4, ape, flac, ofr, wv, tta, m3u, pls and fpl play lists and cue sheets. The interface is very simple. You can set the CD burn speed (depends on what your CD-Burner supports). The total available time is displayed that decreases with each track added. While unlike Nero you can’t juggle track times here to get a perfect fit. But this is free and Nero is not (unless bundled with your CD Writer or you download a cracked version). It can also erase a CD-RW disk.
The software can also increase or decrease the volume on a per track basis or for the whole album. And if after you added a bunch of tracks the time is more than the CD supports, don’t use the Clear button to remove extras. It will empty the entire listings! Instead select the tracks to delete and press the Delete button.
And before you create a CD make sure your temporary folder is located on a drive with enough free space. Burrrn will create a WAV file for each track to be encoded. On average a 4 MB MP3 file creates a 25 MB WAV file. Of course Burrn will clean up once done and empty its cache. I used Burrrn to create a few custom audio CD compilations from my vast MP3 library. All because I still don’t have a portable MP3 player. And still have to fall back on my Sony Discman.
And finally the all-new OpenOffice.org 2.0 has been released for Windows. This now combines a word processor (Writer), spread sheet (Calculate), presentation graphics (Present) and InfoBase (database). The latter uses the Java-based HSQLDB database.
By default OpenOffice.org 2 supports the open standard OASIS OpenDocument XML format (recommended by the European Union). OASIS OpenDocument format is a vendor and implementation independent file format that Microsoft may support in the forthcoming Office 12. There’s also a new Multi-pane view that provides access to all important tools and windows through one coherent, integrated, and simple user interface much like Microsoft PowerPoint.
OpenOffice.org 2 supports CustomShapes, very similar to Microsoft AutoShapes. And the latter are imported and displayed correctly. CustomShapes can change not only size but also appearance. And the PDF export feature has been extended. You can now define even compression levels for embedded images. There’s also support for Mailmerge, Word Count, nested tables, digital signatures, XForms and WordPerfect filters. I will be testing this suite and will bring you a complete review soon. If the 75 MB Windows installer’s too big to grab in one go. Try the BitTorrent version instead.
That’s it for now. Stay Safe! If you want to be alerted about changes to the blog, sign-up using the (new) Change Detection panel (bottom left in sidebar).