Opera Software ASA has released an alpha version of Opera 9.5 based on the codenamed Kestrel back-end.
My initial use suggests some mild performance improvements on a few of the heavier pages I visit. There are quite a few rendering glitches but that's to be expected this early in the development cycle (I assume.) For example, I'm seeing all kinds of problems repainting satellite views at Google Maps and my Yahoo mail is just plain busted.
And, as has been the case for far too long, there are just too many sites that still block Opera completely. Not being able to use Google office apps and other top 1000 sites is just a deal-breaker for so many people. Even more frustrating, I think, are those sites like Microsoft's Live Image and Maps Search which only sort of work but not nearly as well as in Firefox or IE.
This situation isn't likely to change much until Opera breaks out of sub-1% global market share, or until Opera manages to become web developers' favorite program. The combination of increased market share and growing popularity among web developers was a real boon for Firefox's website compatibility and without strong compatibility, mass adoption is a fantasy.
Still, Opera's come a long way in cleaning up and simplifying the interface. I know that doesn't sit well with some of Opera's longtime users, but it's definitely the right approach if Opera Software wants to break out of the geek audience and start converting IE users. Opera today looks and feels a lot more like Firefox and IE than it did just a couple of years ago and their dev team deserves praise for those moves.
Still missing, though, and without which Opera simply doesn't deserve more users, is an automated security update mechanism that ensures Opera users are all up to date. Fixing security bugs doesn't mean a whole lot if you can't update all of your users. I'm really shocked that Opera has put as much effort as it has in updating features like the Opera email program, while failing to provide this most basic security feature available from all of the mainstream browsers.