Perhaps the greatest surprise in the announcement Thursday of version 9.5 of the Opera Web browser and the Tuesday launch of Firefox 3 is that neither is a snoozer. Both are new products with stuff that'll excite dedicated Web surfers, which is just about all of us, it seems.
Opera, http://www.opera.com, is a longtime favorite of this reviewer. It's compact, fast and has neat touches such as a "speed dial" page where you can preprogram Web addresses and call them up with a single click. Yes, there are bookmarks, too, but the speed dial listing is faster, graphical and it seems to me a tad more intuitive.
A new feature called Opera Link will synchronize your Web settings, bookmarks, speed dial listings and perhaps your 401(k) account balance online with any other Opera 9.5 browser that you're using. The effect is an ability to take "your" Internet desktop with you almost anywhere. Time didn't allow for extensive testing of this, but it seems like a neat idea.
One reason for my time pressure is that there are still some rough edges to the software. It doesn't like Adobe Corp.'s Flash software, at least when I tried to use both Adobe's Buzzword online word processor as well as read (or even download) The Washington Times' e-edition. This strikes as a major flaw that may be corrected even by the time these words hit print, but one worth noting.
Apart from this, Opera has tons of features, including a built-in e-mail client, that make it worthwhile for evaluating and perhaps using regularly once the kinks are straightened out.
As with Firefox, you can't beat Opera's price tag, which is zero. A free download is available for Windows, Mac, Linux and many mobile phone users, as well as possibly those still using the character-based CP/M operating system. Well, maybe not that.
Firefox 3 will attempt to make history Tuesday when they attempt to set a Guinness World Record for largest number of software downloads in a single day, as noted online at http://www.spreadfirefox.com.
A final "release candidate" was put out the other day, and it's essentially the software you'll download on Tuesday if you choose to do so. It's faster and more capable than Firefox 2; pages load more quickly, and password data can be stored easily.
Bookmarking a page is now a one-click task, look for the "star" in the address bar. For Mac users, the Firefox interface looks more like that of Safari, which is nice. And, yes, it supports both Adobe Buzzwords and The Times' e-edition Web sites.
Firefox is fast becoming the browser of choice for more and more users on both Windows and Mac systems. It's more stable, in my view, more secure than many other browsers, and a delightful user experience. It's well worth trying and using.
Whichever browser you use, if you drive a car, check out RepairPal.com, a brand-new Web site, launched Thursday, which offers a glimpse behind the curtain of auto repairs. The firm has licensed pricing data for auto parts, has mechanics who estimate repair fees, adjusts labor for geographic locations, and spells it all out in plain language.
I tested the system for three vehicles and found spot-on answers that were detailed and accurate. The explanations and estimates make sense, and help you determine whether a repair is worth it or if the car needs to be traded in.
The service is free; the firm behind it hopes to make money via advertising and other means of "monetization." I can't say enough good things about it, however: If you drive a car, you absolutely need to investigate the site and learn from it. Ignore RepairPal.com at your own risk.