poor usability in Opera 8

Firefox is getting a lot of media attention right now, but it’s odd that Opera hasn’t gotten much. Many of the features that people are raving about in Firefox have been available for years in Opera. This wired article about Opera discusses the history of the forgotten browser.

Unlike the majority of web users, I’ve used Opera as my primary browser since it’s 5.x release several years ago, however, I’m considering a change. There is a glaring usability problem with the new release of Opera 8.0 (beta) that has been irking me.

Before I tell you what it is, take a look at these three screenshots of the tabs in Firefox, Opera 7 and Opera 8. Look at each of them (click on the thumbnail to see the full-size screenshot) and see if you can identify the problem I’m referring to.

Let me also note that I often have this many tabs or more when I use Opera, so it’s not a contrived situation. In fact, it’s quite common.

Firefox 1.0

Opera 7.54

Opera 8.0 (beta)

The first problem is that you can’t tell what page you’re on in Opera 8 because of the ‘X’ on every stinking tab. You can see the first few letters of the title in Firefox and Opera 7, making it easier to distinguish the different sites.

Secondly, how would you close the current tab?

Using the first two browsers you just use the ‘X’ that is in the same location. You can’t accidentally close a tab because the ‘X’ only closes the current tab. But, in Opera 8 you have to search for the orange ‘X’ on one of the many tabs, and it doesn’t stand out all that well because of the colorful favicons in each tab. That means that I end up spending a few seconds searching for the X that will close the current tab.

Additionally, if you want to switch tabs and accidentally hit the ‘X’, the tab is immediately closed without any confirmation. That has already happened a few times because as you have more and more tabs open, the space becomes smaller and smaller, making very easy to inadvertently hit the ‘X’ instead of the tab.

Lastly, I don’t understand why they changed it. It worked fine before and I don’t see the benefit to having an ‘X’ on every tab. Maybe there’s a reason I’m not aware of, but in using it, I’ve only been frustrated by the change.

It has gotten annoying enough since I started using 8.0 that if future versions still have that behavior, I’ll probably go back to 7.54 or begin using Firefox as my primary browser. I already use Firefox for Gmail, but one of the reasons I stay with Opera is because it restores your session reliably. The session saver extension for Firefox doesn’t work when Firefox crashes, but that is precisely the time I need it to work.

If anyone in Norway is reading this, please reconsider the change. I continue to be a fan of Opera and want to keep using it (I’m even a paying customer) but the competition is improving. Please don’t go backwards in usability.


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  1. The change came as a direct result of usability testing. The X in the upper right corner (or right end of page bar) was ignored by the majority of new users, who typically ended up right-clicking the tab in an attempt to find a way to close it. The X on every tab on the other hand is immediately understandable.

    Also, the trash can on the page bar now allows you to easily recover when you close tabs by accident, regardless of how it happened.

    There will be fine-tuning of the functionality in the final version, to avoid situations like the one presented above. The current internal build only shows the X on the active tab if they become too small.

    Comment by Johan H. Borg on February 1, 2005 @ 5:25 am
  2. If you still don’t feel comfortable with the X, remove it: Go to Preferences, Windows, and choose “Advanced Opera workspace”. Naming and access to that option is likely to change before 8.0 Final.

    Comment by Johan H. Borg on February 1, 2005 @ 5:30 am
  3. I think I originally quit using Opera because of the ads, even though there were ways around it. Are there still ads?

    Comment by Meredith on February 1, 2005 @ 10:08 am
  4. I started using tabbed browsers with one that put an X on every tab, so the Firefox/Opera way irked me when I first used it. I liked being able to close background tabs. I have since gotten used to the Firefox way, though the current stable Opera way always makes me feel like the X is too far away. Also, I imagine the key combo for closing the current tab still works, so you could just transition to using that.

    Meredith: The way to remove the ads is to pay for the software. The ads can now be configured to be text-only googleads, so they’re not as obtrusive as they used to be.

    Comment by Levi on February 1, 2005 @ 12:01 pm
  5. Well, I know that Safari has an ‘x’ on every tab. I agree with Levi, as I’m coming from Safari as a tabbed browser, not having a quick & obvious way to close background tabs bothers me in Firefox.

    Comment by Will on February 1, 2005 @ 12:05 pm
  6. Johan: Wow! I didn’t expect to get a response at all, and you not only responded, but did so in an impressively short amount of time. Thank you for your response and explanation. I never would have guessed that ‘Advanced Opera workspace’ would change the way to close tabs, so I’ve done that and I’m a happy camper. It would be nice to make that a little clearer. From the other comments that have been posted, it looks like I’m in the minority in wanting to have one location to close tabs.

    Meredith: Yes, there are still ads, but I paid to register Opera a year or two ago (I think it was $39 for both Windows and Linux) so I never have to see them.

    Levi: Maybe it’s just that I’m used to the Opera and Firefox way, but I like how they both work.

    Will: I can kind of see the need to close a background tab, but when I have 15-20 tabs open, I prefer to go to the tab and close it so I know what I’m closing.

    Comment by dan on February 1, 2005 @ 1:02 pm
  7. Dan, I didn’t really understand parts of entry after reading it 2-3 times but here goes:

    If you were referring to how to close tabs in Opera quickly, I use the middle button of the mouse. I use hold the mouse over tab, and press middle click button. It is a very fast way to close tabs in Opera (and Firefox but I just seem to go back to Opera all the time)

    Btw, I believe Opera is taking their offices to US. Said so in one recent Wired news article

    Comment by Teja on February 1, 2005 @ 4:58 pm
  8. Teja: That wasn’t what I was referring to, but thanks for the tip.

    Comment by dan on February 1, 2005 @ 5:31 pm
  9. how does one shrink the address box to the dimensions that it was in version 7.54? this expansion of width in the address box wastes so much horizontal space, that to increase the visual size of a page, another toolbar pops up under the address bar when one click on the zoom button. In 7.54 there was enough space on the right hand side of the address bar, so that did not happen. 7.54 also used that extra space to the right of the zoom button for additonal buttons.

    Comment by lou on March 8, 2005 @ 10:16 am
  10. Lou: You can remove items on the address bar by right-clicking and selecting the ‘Customize’ option. That may solve the problem for you.

    Comment by dan on March 8, 2005 @ 1:13 pm
  11. thanks, that solved my problem.

    Comment by lou on March 8, 2005 @ 5:22 pm
  12. In Opera 8 you can disable this “feature” in the preferences dialog (the ‘General’ tab must be active). There is a checkbox with a label,
    “Show close button on each tab”; uncheck it to get rid of those in my opinion silly buttons.

    Comment by Hastr on April 20, 2005 @ 4:12 am
  13. Hastr: Thanks, I was wondering where that option was.

    Comment by dan on April 20, 2005 @ 5:38 am
  14. If you do accidentally close a tab in Opera, don’t forget that you can re-open (undo closing) that tab using Ctrl-Z. This doesn’t just bring back the window, but your browsing progress; you’ll still be able to browse backward as though you’d never even closed it.

    Opera to the rescue once again!

    Comment by Beno on April 20, 2005 @ 1:33 pm
  15. Beno: Indeed, that is a nice feature, but I prefer to avoid closing a tab by accident in the first place.

    Comment by dan on April 20, 2005 @ 1:35 pm
  16. What happened to the min,max,close buttons on the right
    on a new page in opera 8? Since I don’t use/show the pagebar for space considerations I just use these in opera 7.54 to close pages instead
    of the tabs. Any way to get this back in opera 8?

    Comment by mac on June 25, 2005 @ 11:16 pm
  17. They’ll appear if you turn off the close buttons on each tab. You can do that by going to Preferences and unchecking the checkbox that says “Show close buttons on each tab” (It’s under the General section).

    Comment by dan on June 26, 2005 @ 3:01 pm
  18. OK – thanks. I’ll give it a shot
    when I reinstall v8. :)

    Comment by mac on June 27, 2005 @ 1:49 am
  19. I just installed 8.02. I like that I can again do my online banking in Opera (they recently made changes so that I could only view it in IE). However, I’d really like to be able to open windows in less than max-size. The only way I’ve found to shrink them is to use Cascade-All. Also, anytime I click on a link in another app, it opens a new browser instead of a window in my current browser. How can I change those behaviours?


    Comment by RA on September 2, 2005 @ 7:21 pm
  20. You can change the setting in Preferences to open pages in tabs instead of a new browser window. As for opening a new window less than max size, I’m not sure why you’d want to do that, but I don’t know of a way.

    Comment by dan on September 2, 2005 @ 8:22 pm
  21. Ah, checking the “open pages in tabs” option cured a lot of my problems. But once I do that, some of the keyboard shortcuts change. For example, opening a new page with the option checked is Ctrl-N and without it checked is Ctrl-Shift-N, which I find strange, but I guess it binds Ctrl-N to your preference.

    Comment by RA on September 3, 2005 @ 8:58 am
  22. I think you’re right. Ctrl-N opens a new page, whether that page be a new window or a new tab within the current window.

    Comment by dan on September 3, 2005 @ 9:21 am

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