Opera myths

As alternatives to Internet Explorer have gathered attention, there has been a lot of discussion regarding the pros and cons of the various web browsers. Somewhere in the midst of it all, some misconceptions about Opera, one of the three most popular browsers on Windows, have popped up here and there. This article will address some false claims and hot topics found in the public and media regarding the Opera web browser.

Some claims below are partially true, partially false. In these cases, this article will attempt to put the situation into better perspective.

This page does not mean to give the illusion that all hype or criticism about Opera is false. Depending on the individual, there may be very good reasons to use Opera or there may be very good reasons to use something else, and not all reasons either way are touched upon in this article.

See also: Internet Explorer myths and Firefox myths.

Table of Contents

  1. Features
    1. Opera is fully standards compliant
    2. Opera often displays webpages incorrectly
    3. Microsoft sets the standards (or should)
    4. Opera was the first browser with tabs
  2. Security
    1. Opera is completely secure
  3. Performance
    1. Opera is the fastest web browser
  4. Miscellaneous
    1. Opera's market share is underreported because it identifies as Internet Explorer
    2. Opera was written in assembly language
  5. Full disclosure



Opera is fully standards compliant


Claim sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

No web browser is 100% standards compliant. The web technology standards are very extensive and it often takes many years to implement all of the features of a standard, plus additional time to fix the bugs. In addition, the standards are always evolving and becoming more and more robust. Opera — along with Firefox, Safari, and Konqueror — is certainly a leader in the field of standards support and is quickly adopting new emerging technologies, but it, like the others, does not yet have complete support for the current CSS, DOM, or even HTML standards.

Below is a brief summary of how well Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Opera support some of the most significant standards and emerging technologies. A “Y” indicates perfect support, while a “100%” is the result of rounding. More information is available in the Web browser standards support resource.

Although CSS 2.1 and CSS 3 are not technically web standards yet because they haven't reached the Recommendation status, the detailed sections have at some point reached Candidate Recommendation status, which is the stage during which web browsers are supposed to begin implementing support. No browser has full support for CSS 2 either, and several sections of CSS 2 have been removed in CSS 2.1 for this reason.

Standards support
Technology IE 6 IE 7 Firefox 2 Firefox 3 Opera 9
HTML / XHTML 73% 73% 90% 90% 85%
CSS 2.1 51% 57% 92% 93% 94%
CSS 3 changes 10% 13% 24% 27% 19%
DOM 50% 51% 79% ? 84%
ECMAScript 99% 99% Y Y Y

Some people are under the impression that Opera is fully standards compliant because it passes the Acid2 test. As with any test of its size, Acid2 only tests a relatively small set of features in the relevant web standards. The test was designed to illustrate some known bugs in each of the major browsers, especially Internet Explorer, but was not designed to show all bugs or even most of them. Even though Opera 9 passes the Acid2 test, there are still many known bugs in CSS support and other areas.

Opera often displays webpages incorrectly


Claim sources: 1, 2

People usually make this claim when they see a webpage that looks different in Opera than it does in Internet Explorer, and they assume that Internet Explorer is the one displaying it “correctly” because it looks how the author intended it.

Webpage layouts are designed by specifying sets of rules for how things should appear. The rules are primarily written in a language called CSS, which is defined and developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. It is up to the individual browsers to implement these sets of rules and handle them how they are defined. Internet Explorer is far behind the competition in implementing this support, as you can see in this standards support summary. Many CSS features are not implemented, and many are implemented incorrectly.

Since Internet Explorer usage has been so high for so long, web developers have had to make sure that their pages work as intended in Internet Explorer, or else risk losing a majority of their potential visitors. For some time, many web developers even felt safe developing only for Internet Explorer, paying no attention to the other browsers. Therefore, if they ran into an Internet Explorer display bug, they would simply adjust their CSS to compensate. This compensation, if not done correctly, could actually cause display problems in browsers that don't have that particular bug. It would also cause display problems in future versions of Internet Explorer that have the bug fixed.

In the vast majority of webpages that don't work as intended in Opera, the problem is due to relying on an Internet Explorer bug, relying on non-standard Internet Explorer features that could easily be replaced with standardized cross-browser alternatives, or relying specifically on Internet Explorer's ActiveX technology, which other browsers deliberately do not support by default due to an extensive history of security problems with ActiveX, and which will no longer be enabled by default in future versions of Internet Explorer for this reason.

As explained above, no browser has perfect standards compliance, and there are a few parts of some web standards that Internet Explorer supports and Opera does not, so it is theoretically possible for a standards-compliant webpage to be rendered more correctly in Internet Explorer than Opera, but this is extremely rare in practice.

Microsoft sets the standards (or should)


Claim sources: 1, 2

Some people believe that, due to Internet Explorer's current domination in the market, Microsoft should be the one who defines the standards and other browsers like Opera should follow Microsoft rather than the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This claim is often presented as if Microsoft and the W3C each think that its respective sets of rules are correct and the other's are wrong, which isn't the case. Microsoft is a member of the W3C and has played a role in the development of their standards. The Internet Explorer development team admittedly strives to support W3C standards, but has simply fallen far behind due to the five-year development halt and some lack of direction beforehand. Internet Explorer Group Program Manager Chris Wilson stated in an official blog post, “I want to be clear that our intent is to build a platform that fully complies with the appropriate web standards, in particular CSS 2 ( 2.1, once it's been Recommended).”. They have lately been working closely with the Web Standards Project (WaSP) to direct Internet Explorer development to support the most demanded web standards in upcoming versions.

Many of the rendering aspects of Internet Explorer that some claim to be Microsoft standards are actually bugs and incomplete implementations of W3C standards, and many of these oddities are being fixed in future versions. This means that websites that rely on Internet Explorer's current behavior may fall apart in future versions just as they do today in more standards-compliant web browsers. This is a fact of which Microsoft has warned web developers, and before Internet Explorer 7 was released, they called for web developers to fix their pages for the new version.

Opera was the first browser with tabs


Claim sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Despite common belief, Opera was not the first web browser to support tabbed pages. The first known web browser with tab support was InternetWorks, back in 1994. Opera's first public release with tab support was a preview release in 1996, and their first full release with tab support was in 2000.

See the Wikipedia article on Tabbed Document Interfaces for more information.



Opera is completely secure


Claim sources: 1, 2

Word-of-mouth advocacy among the general public tends to oversimplify relatively complex ideas. An example is security, and the occasional misconception that a piece of software can make your system perfectly secure. Something as complex as a web browser will almost certainly have security vulnerabilities crop up from time to time. No major web browser or operating system has a perfect security record.

There are some fundamental differences between the architecture of Opera compared to Internet Explorer with regard to security, and Opera has shown a much better record than Microsoft at fixing its browser's vulnerabilities. Opera even caught up with its public vulnerabilities in June 2005 and has fairly consistently stayed on top of them ever since, which Firefox hasn't quite managed to do. However, there is never any guarantee that Opera is perfectly safe. Although you may be significantly less prone to attacks, it is still important to use reasonable caution when manually downloading files and plugins from untrusted websites, and make sure you are running an up-to-date version.

The following is a brief summary of the vulnerability levels in the three most popular web browsers. The information was collected from Secunia, a leading computer software security monitoring company. This information was last updated February 10, 2009. For more charts and figures, see the Web browser security summary resource.

Security vulnerabilities
Aspect Internet Explorer Firefox Safari Opera
Highest values at one time
Vulnerability reports 39 9 2 4
Vulnerability issues 41 13 3 8
Relative danger 204 44 20 27
Present values
Vulnerability reports 38 5 2 1
Vulnerability issues 40 6 3 1
Relative danger 161 19 8 1



Opera is the fastest web browser


Claim sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

It is quite obvious that text-only browsers are generally faster than Opera, but I will address the claim that Opera is the fastest web browser in its class.

The Opera developers consistently claim that Opera is “The Fastest Browser on Earth”, and it often is the fastest browser in its class in many respects. However, the blanket statement is not always true. Relative speed results depend on many factors, including hardware-related.

Although Opera tends to have the fastest startup speed on Windows, it is known to take an unusually long time to launch under certain not uncommon Linux/Unix configurations. In these conditions, it has been observed as notably slower than Firefox, Konqueror, and Internet Explorer in Wine.

In regard to webpage rendering, Opera is most often faster than Internet Explorer and often faster than Firefox as well, depending on the page layout and performance aspect. But different browsers use different algorithms to determine and display the page layout, and Internet Explorer and Firefox are sometimes known to be faster under certain conditions.

A self-admitted Opera fan who was later hired as a technical writer for Opera ASA developed a series of browser speed tests that is often cited in browser comparison discussions. I have personally attempted to reproduce those tests, but my results have shown a somewhat different order from his. Different hardware and software configurations can significantly affect relative browser performance, and it is important to recognize that before accepting results from a single computer and only 1 to 3 trials per aspect tested. Although his tests might not have included bias per se, his use of so few trials raises doubts over the accuracy of the results.



Opera's market share is underreported because it identifies as Internet Explorer


Claim sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Opera used to identify as Internet Explorer by default. That is, the user agent identifier it sent to websites deliberately made it look like Internet Explorer. However, when Opera did this, it was still trivial to detect that it was really Opera. Here is what the websites saw when Opera identified as Internet Explorer:

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.0; en) Opera 8.54

As you can see, the word “Opera” and the version number were still clearly provided for websites that knew to look for it. So while websites that only knew about Internet Explorer may have been tricked into thinking the person was using Internet Explorer, websites that knew about Opera could also detect it accurately.

Modern web analytics software is aware of Opera and correctly recognizes the difference between Internet Explorer and Opera under this false identification method.

Opera used to identify as Internet Explorer by default, but in Opera 8.5 the default was changed to identify only as Opera. Major analytics companies did not report any noticeable market share jump following this change, which suggests that Opera was not in fact being mistaken for Internet Explorer.

It is possible for a user of almost any web browser to force the browser into identifying exactly as Internet Explorer (sending an exact copy of Internet Explorer's typical user agent identifier with nothing added). Opera 9 provides this option as “Mask as Internet Explorer”, tucked away in the advanced site-specific options and disabled by default. In practice, masking the identifier in this way is very rarely done and its results on the overall browser usage statistics is likely negligible.

Opera was written in assembly language


Claim sources: 1, 2

According to the company, Opera is primarily written in C++. (Source)

There may be some aspects of the browser that were written in assembly, but I haven't found any statement from the developers claiming so.

Full disclosure


I personally use Mozilla Firefox for casual web browsing and regularly promote the use of modern browsers such as Firefox, Opera, and, currently to a lesser extent, Safari. I do not promote the use of Internet Explorer mostly due to its relatively poor standards support and security record, as well as its history of abandoning development efforts. My intention for this page is not to promote my personal views, but to address some recurring false claims either in favor of, against, or neutral toward Opera and to present the truth in a balanced manner. The information on this page is based on my own research and may contain errors. If you believe something on this page is inaccurate or unbalanced, please e-mail me or visit the discussion forum. I believe this page currently has more depreciatory debunkings than appreciatory ones, and I would like suggestions for more negative false claims to balance it out.