Opera 8: the "almost soup" release

For my non-tech friends: Opera is a web browser, and it runs under Windows, Mac and Linux, and some other stuff, I think. It’s a pretty good browser — certainly better than internet exploder. Some time ago they added a mail client that really rocks, but I tend to really want more out of it than most people, so I’m overly critical — hence this blog post. Opera 8 was just released this week, and I, of course, had to have it. I have it up and running, and the browser is as fast and solid as ever. It’s all the other stuff I have issues with….

First, let’s talk about the mail client. Their concept of the mail interface rocks. It does a lot of things for you that you’d otherwise never do because it would be too time consuming. For example, it has a folder called “attachments” that automatically sorts mail according to the type of attachment it holds. So if someone sent you a funny movie in an email and you can’t find it, you just look in Attachments –> Video, and it’ll list all of the emails from all of your other folders that contain a video attachment. Well, I’m sorry, but that just rules.

A feature they’ve added to tease (but not quite lure) more hardcore users is the Mailing Lists folder. If you’re an IMAP user like me who has 50 mail folders and a huge procmail recipe to filter your incoming mail into the proper folders, you can bag all of that, and just let opera sift through all your mail and find the ones that are from/to a mailing list, and sort the mail by list. I say “not quite lure” because this means you have to use the same mail client everywhere you go — namely, Opera. If you use, say, Pine, none of this sorting will be apparent to you, because Opera doesn’t touch your actual mail store; it copies stuff to its own location, does what it needs to do, and then presents your mail how it sees fit. Using the old “procmail and lots of folders” method means that your mail looks exactly the same no matter what you use to check your mail — gui or not.

The only real problem I still have with Opera’s mail client (it’s called M2, I believe), is that it’s really rough to get going, initially — at least for IMAPS connections that don’t use a default path to the mail folder. I now have M2 looking and acting the way I want it to, but it was a long and arduous process that involved changing the port number it uses to connect to the server (993:SSL, not 143:TLS), giving it a path to my folders, restarting, letting it find the folders again, deleting the old folders it found before and prepended the path to, and restarting again. ’nuff said.

Now about contacts: this is the 8th release of a browser that has a chat client, mail client, contacts database, history, links, bookmarks…. and not a lick of support for pre-existing contact databases, most notably LDAP. This will keep me from using Opera as my primary “webworld” interface. Until LDAP support is there, it’s not much more than a playtoy.

LDAP rocks for exactly this application. Instead of adding all of your contacts, one by one, you tell Opera “go look here for my contacts”, and it just does the right thing. You can’t tell me that manually adding them is better. It just isn’t.

Without support for LDAP, it means I’m typing in the entire email address of all of my coworkers, and I’m opening another application if I want to find their phone number, which defeats the purpose of an “all-in-one” interface. It’s truly senseless. The really annoying part is that I know what kind of coding is involved in adding LDAP support. It’s pretty trivial stuff, especially since they already have all of the presentation code in place! All they need is a plugin to get the data from elsewhere! C’mon already! WTF!?!?

Well, that’s all I have to say about that. Opera is, overall, a fairly pleasant experience. I recommend it to 99.99% of the users who don’t have the demands I have of an email client/browser/contact manager. Enjoy it on Mac, Windows or Linux today! (I’ve not been paid for this, in case anyone is wondering. Would you pay for it?)

/brian.