Over at subtitles you can find aninteresting article on "bloat" with a focus on Opera and feature clutter. I've read through it a few times now, and while I'm still not completely clear on the intent of the entry (maybe a bit too much "clutter" in the post ;-) I think that the author is praising Opera's move and encouraging further moves toward simplicity.
What I don't quite get is whether Louis thinks this is just about appearances and marketing or whether he is supporting actual improvements.
I remember Opera before it became a "suite of applications" (for those of you who don't know, I was a regular Opera user before I got involved in the open source Mozilla project - I still think that 3.6 was the peak of Opera usability) and back then Opera fans, myself included, praised it's speed and simplicity.
Several years later, we brought m/b-Phoenix-Firebird-Firefox to life, and with it's speed and simplicity it was an instant hit. This new drive for ease of use for the largest possible audience really started to take off just as Opera was feature creeping further into geekland with it's betas of Opera 7 - the Opera "suite".
With the release of Opera 7, the new message I started to hear from Opera fans was "no real internet user would settle for anything less than Opera's powerful suite of applications," obviously a major change from several years earlier when speed and simplicity was all the rage among Opera fans and bundled email and chat was scorned.
As Firefox was being cleaned up, leaned down, and made more usable, Opera was adding features like there was no tomorrow, cluttering the menus and other UI so fully that even Mozilla's suite was starting to look pretty simple and organized. many Opera fans spent all of 2003 and most of 2004 praising this new direction and dismissing our approach with Firefox.
Now, with Firefox making a significant dent in the IE's market share, Opera, with the release of Opera 8, is finally starting to push the rest of their suite behind the curtain and are cleaning up the browser's interface to be a lot closer to Firefox's.
OK, enough with the history and back to Louis' blog post. I think that the overall message there is that Opera's move to simplify is a good thing. However, I disagree with a few of the assumptions and claims along the way and I'm not sure whether or not he's excusing real problems as simply marketing issues.
First, Louis says that the "paradox of features is also that you always want to make things better, to add more - and yet the more you add the more complicated a think can get - and the more you can contribute to an impression of clutter." Well, I don't think that adding features _must_ complicate things. A good feature can "just work" without adding a lot of clutter or complication. See Firefox's find as you type feature, for example. Also, I'd take issue with his phrasing "an impression of clutter." Clutter is real. It's not about impressions, it's about usability and those of us directly involved with the course of browser development should't discount this.
Second, and only a minor nit, Louis is just wrong when he says "Opera's download is *tiny*, well under 4MB, about half that of Firefox." I'm not the best at math, but somewhere along the way I learned enough to say that 3.6MB is not "about half" of 4.7MB. He is right, though, in noting that this difference is probably of quickly fading value as broadband takes off.
Finally, I think that while Louis is on the right track suggesting Opera focus on simplicity and seek a much larger audience, his repeated use of phrasings like "apperance of" and "unfair impression of" bloat and clutter does something to muddy the real point and to take the heat off of Opera for their actual, not appearance of, clutter and bloat. This isn't about successful marketing or creating a certain appearance of simplicity. It's about actual simplicity and real usability.
"[Mozilla's] mewling puking sibling, Phoenix," as the author of this Opera article once described my favorite browser ;-) seems to be leading the way on real simplicity and usability with Opera following about a year or two behind. But, as long as we're all moving toward an improved web experience for more browser users, I'm happy.