Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Opera: Sweeter With Wine

I'm using Kubuntu 8.04 on two computers, and the equivalent version of Linux Mint on another. I like Kubuntu better, sort of, (maybe naively) because it seems to give me more options.

I'm a newb. Deal with it.

I see more menus in Kubuntu and better ways to get to the controls that I want to get to. I'm sure that Ubuntu or Linux Mint has the same facilities available, somewhere, but for my taste, at this stage, Kubuntu is easier to deal with.

I'd say that Linux Mint seems a lot more like Windows. I used Windows 2000 Professional for several years, then finally upgraded to Windows XP Professional. I bought two copies, one to upgrade from my Win 2000 installation, and the other to upgrade from a factory-installed XP Home version.

The process wasn't nice. I was totally surprised that it was not possible to upgrade from Win 2000 to Win XP. Stupid. Unforgivable. But I had no choice.

I don't remember all the details of the other upgrade, but I think it was an upgrade. Nevertheless, each computer was set up a little differently, also unforgivable.

I got by.

Fear of Windows Vista prompted me to re-examine Linux. For about a year and a half in the middle 1990s I had struggled with Linux before giving up in exhaustion. Problems that should have taken minutes took weeks to resolve. The last straw was upgrading a Gnome desktop. Each dependency had another one, and after searching for a couple of weeks for one package, I just wiped it all off and went to Windows 95, or was it 98? Was there a Windows 98? Windows default whatever.

Doesn't matter.

Anyway, things are different today. I've been about 98 per cent Linux since the July fourth weekend and haven't had any real problems. I get frequent system upgrades. All I have to do is click once, enter my administrative password, and the system updates itself.

One computer is dual-boot between Win XP and Linux Mint. My scanner and color printer are connected there. I'm about ready to try them under Linux Mint. Goes well, then goodbye Windows.

Back to the story...

I've been using OpenOffice since it was StarOffice -- long time. I used Scribus on Windows as well. Firefox was well known to me since long before my second try with Linux. As is Emacs, which I picked up over 10 years ago (and every week or two I learn a new trick -- at this rate I'll be an Emacs expert in about 75 years).

One piece of software that is profoundly important to me is my web browser. I use Opera, first, last and forever. It suits me.

Make type bigger? Hit the 0 key. Smaller? Hit the 9 key. Remove styling? Shift+G. Save a page? Use the ".mht" format and have one file, with the original URL embedded in it. Want to save in the HTML plus directory-full-of-supporting-files? OK too, and it also captures the original URL. This is damn handy later when you need to get back to that place. No need to save the URL separately.

Then there's Speed Dial, which I didn't use for about the first year. Open a new tab and you get nine little squares. You can format each one to link to a frequently-used web site. No looking up URLs, no scanning through a list of bookmarks. Just click and go. (Firefox now has a plugin for this.)

Aye, laddie, and the bookmarks too. So easy.

Access them one at a time or choose the "Manage Bookmarks" option. If so, then highlight several using Ctrl+click and open a bunch at once. One thing I hate about Firefox is having to return to a list of bookmarks over and over to open each one separately. (Sure Firefox lets me open all at once, but usually I want only two or three or four from one sub-list, not all.)

Yeah, so I'm happy as a frog in a bag of flies then? Not quite.

Kubuntu suits me better overall, and Linux Mint is great, though not quite so great, for me, but Kubuntu really sucks at one thing. It doesn't run Opera well. Hardly at all.

I open Opera, enter a URL and wait. Then I wait some more. Two or three or four or five or six minutes later I'm still waiting. Then I close Opera and try Firefox. Boom. There. Done.

Opera works on some sites pretty well, almost all the time. Other sites don't work well. Slashdot loads about one quarter of the way and then hangs, at about 30 seconds. After three minutes it's at the same stage.

Linux Today is the same. Usually the sites with the most going on behind the scenes, all the JavaScript and pop-ups, and links to doubleclick this and google-analytics that and so on seem to pull Opera right to the ground and hold it there. Plain and simple sites work most of the time.

Except sometimes.

Sometimes Opera works like a charm. There have been days when I thought that maybe the last batch system upgrade from Canonical has done it, or the latest version of Opera. Once I thought it was the "--nomail" addition to the "opera %u --nomail" start up command. Seemed to work like magic.

Nope. All temporary. I would have a good day now and then, and next time around Opera would dog out again.

Temporarily clearing all iptable settings didn't do it. Uninstalling Opera and redoing it? No. Installing the static version of Opera? Still no. Disabling JavaScript and Java and image animation and so on? No.

Search the web for clues? Hey, talk about asking the clueless for clues. Miscellaneous problems all over, all of which seem to be specific to one setup on one person's desktop was all I found. No systemic problem susceptible to a cure. I was yet another random individual with random individual problems. But these were the same problems on two different computers.

But what the heck. Opera on Linux Mint is stellar. Equal to Opera on Windows. In other words, perfect. Makes me crazy with delight. But on Kubuntu Opera does not work well enough to use.

One last try. I had Wine installed so I could use "Picture Window", my photo editor. I downloaded Opera for Win XP and installed it under Wine.


Works like a charm.

Speed dial doesn't work, and every now and then switching between tabs slows down, but I can fire up half a dozen tabs at once, each accessing a different web site, and it's much faster than Firefox. I'm pretty happy now. I have my Opera back.

Over the years I've gotten used to Opera not working tremendously well with Flash-based sites, and I've tended to use Firefox for transactions like credit card orders. Firefox also seems to handle the odd site that confuses Opera. I think this is because Firefox more gracefully handles sites stupidly designed only for Microsoft Internet Explorer. That's OK.

I use Opera for about 99 per cent of my browsing, and Firefox for the rest: buying things, checking web mail, accessing squirrelly sites. No tool is perfect, but Opera is so much easier for me to use that I want to stay with it, and simply use another tool when I have to.

Real Soon Now I expect that I'll figure out why Kubuntu has a problem with Opera, and be able to run it natively. Until then, I'm OK.

Really. Life is good again.


Opera Watch, an Opera browser blog by Daniel Goldman


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