It seems like someone in the Opera usability or user experience group started listening to users. I've just downloaded the Opera 7.6 Preview and I'm very impressed with the direction they're headed with the default interface.
This is a preliminary review and I've only been playing around with the app for a couple of hours so Opera users please don't go crazy on me if I've missed something or mis-represented something. Thanks ;-)
First, the install and first launch was pretty good. I didn't care for the first panel of the installer. I'm of the opinion that the installer isn't the place to introduce your users to the app's featureset. That's just an opinion, though. I was also a bit confused by the advertising selection dialog. It was odd that picking different ad types, google or normal, gave a different toolbar set. I also think that users shouldn't be making this decision. The text ads are clearly a better user experience. Opera should just drop the banners and streamline this experience.
The default browser window setup is so much better than 7.5 that I almost can't believe it's the same app. The menubar is clean and simple and browser-focused, like it should be -- without all of the mail and chat and other crap. The navigation and address/search bar is basically the same as what's offered in Firefox (excellent ;-) The last vestige of MDI, the max/restore/min icon, is finally gone and it feels like a real tabbed browser. Rather than spend a lot of time praising the new layout, I'll just note that almost all of my complaints about stock layout have been remedied.
That's not to say that everything was great. I'm sure that some of my early problems were simply bugs that will be fixed in the final release so I'm withholding final judgement until we get a final release :-)
First, I had a very difficult time with this odd "start" bar that pops up from the addressbar when you try to type in an address. I'm really not sure what value that toolbar ads and it's suffers from several bugs -- the worst of which are that it doesn't seem to go away and that it doesn't play well with the history auto-complete pop-up.
Second, I think the choice to use tooltips as the primary link location indicator is a bad choice. Tooltips are on a delay that's appropriate for tooltips, not for a quick check to see where the link is going to take you.
The "View" eye icon is really distracting and kinda creepy :)
It looks to me like many favicons/site icons are getting cropped or mis-scaled. Not sure if that's a bug or intentional.
Next, the pop-up blocked slideup notification widget seemed jerky and distracting with no obvious way to turn off. Also, the trash can in the there is a bit confusing. I liked that I could retrieve closed tabs but it was unclear why that was combined with pop-ups or how it relates to the bookmark trashcan. Maybe the icons need more differentiation or something.
Also, in my brief use, I experienced a couple of crashes which is a bit concerning. I've very seldom crashed Opera so I hope that they can get back to the stability I'm used to by the time they ship this update.
Finally, not getting the proper i-beam selection cursor when hovering over text was really annoying. I sure hope this is a bug and not as designed.
With a switch to the native Windows style and little customizing (which was much easier in this version than the last one I tested) and a $39 registration, I got a browser that was quite usable.
Opera still has a ways to go but little touches like putting the Preferences menu item on the correct menu and setting a start page that doesn't trigger 3 pop-ups, signals that the Opera browser team is moving in the right direction. In a couple more versions, they might be caught up to where Firefox has been for the last year ;-)