Vivaldi browser’s latest features include “fast forward and rewind”

Ordinarily I wouldn’t be writing multiple stories about technical previews of a new browser, but Jon von Tetzchner’s new Vivaldi keeps coming up with surprises even before it hits the beta stage.

Vivaldi’s second technical preview, released Thursday, adds expected features such as bookmarks, but it also includes new ideas such as “fast forward and rewind”. The fast forward feature acts as a navigational aid for jumping to the most logical next page – the next search result or forum thread page, or the next photo in a gallery. Fast rewind takes you back to the first page you visited on the site you’re reading.

The Opera founder’s new power browser is also gaining features that could well endear it to various niches. For those on slow or costly connections, there’s control over whether pages should load images or not, or only show cached images. For those surfing without a mouse, there’s an experimental new spatial navigation feature for jumping around pages with minimal key presses.

Interestingly, even at this early stage Vivaldi seems to be gunning for those who want to browse using widely-overlooked languages, adding options for Galician, Armenian, Macedonian, Belarusian and (no surprise, given von Tezchner’s origins) Icelandic. The second technical preview also adds support for 64-bit Windows and 32-bit and 64-bit Linux (actually, the 32-bit Linux support appeared last month, but it wasn’t included in the first technical preview release as such).

The first technical preview had 400,000 downloads in a week; since then the rush slowed, as it had a total download tally around the 700,000 mark. But remember, this is still just a technical preview for testing purposes – it’s not even at the alpha stage yet, let alone beta. Von Tetzchner and his largely ex-Opera team are trying to differentiate Vivaldi from its stripped-down rivals as much as they can, and it’s interesting to observe how they’re doing so.

Technical preview of Vivaldi browser had 400K downloads in a week

The new Vivaldi browser, unveiled a week ago by Opera founder Jon von Tetzchner, is off to a roaring start. Its first technical preview – the thing isn’t even in beta yet – has already had 400,000 downloads. As von Tetzchner said in a Wednesday update to supporters, this is more people than live in his native Iceland. His Vivaldi team is trying to provide a feature-rich power browser for people who don’t like the current trend for pared-back browsers that disappear into the background, a group that these days includes Opera (von Tetzchner quit the company a few years back). He also said in the message that the team will deliver new builds of the browser on a weekly basis.

Opera founder unveils feature-rich Vivaldi power browser

Almost two years ago, the Norwegian browser firm Opera ripped out the guts of its product and adopted the more standard WebKit and Chromium technologies, essentially making it more like rivals Chrome and Safari. But it wasn’t just Opera’s innards that changed; the browser also became more streamlined and perhaps less… geeky.

Many Opera fans were deeply displeased at the loss of what they saw as key differentiating functionality. So now Jon von Tetzchner, the man who founded Opera and who would probably never have allowed those drastic feature changes, is back to serve this hard core with a new browser called Vivaldi.

Old meets new

Vivaldi doesn’t mark a return to Opera’s old internals – it uses Chromium as a base and has a user interface that is itself unusually built using web technologies – but it does bring back features such as tab stacking, an advanced bookmark manager, keyboard shortcuts and the ability to start with multiple session windows.

Opera used to be “more feature-rich, for a crowd of users that want more from their browser,” von Tetzchner told me:

After I quit [as CEO in 2010, then fully in 2011], Opera changed their philosophy. They made kind of a browser that’s more in line with most of the other browsers and doesn’t have a lot of features. The focus is in a way on making the browser disappear, and I think there’s a lot of people that want something different.

While these users could install Chrome with “30 extensions” to get all the functionality they want, von Tetzchner argued, now they can install Vivaldi and get everything in the main package.

Gigaom rendered on Vivaldi technical preview

Gigaom rendered on Vivaldi technical preview

Based on the quick play I’ve had with the first Vivaldi technical preview, publicly released on Tuesday, there’s more to it than just reviving the old Opera feel (though that’s a clear aim). For example, the HTML5-based UI allows the browser to rather neatly adopt the color scheme for the page being visited. The use of web technologies for the front end also makes it easier to launch cross-platform – the technical preview is available for Windows, OS X and Linux right from the start.

Future features

The “sister service” to the browser, the Vivaldi.net community suite, already launched quietly about a year back. This was in many ways a replacement for the old, ditched My Opera community, and it provides blogging and forum functionality.

“We believe it will be the natural playing ground for those that are using the browser, with a free mail service and a place you can put your photos,” von Tetzchner said, noting that the mail servers are based in Iceland. “It’s not really a commercial site; we haven’t spent a lot of time marketing it. But we will add more functionality and change it gradually.”

Von Tetzchner told me more new browser features will be revealed by the time Vivaldi reaches its first full version (WebRTC will likely be supported, for instance.) A mobile version is also in the works, though von Tetzchner wouldn’t say more on that subject than “We’re going for a browser that has more functionality than what you’re used to, but also has more different ways to do things – the principle of that will be the same on mobile as it is on desktop.”

The Vivaldi team numbers around 25, a “substantial part” of which is the technical team, and more than half of which are former Opera workers. Von Tetzchner is personally funding it all for now, but the browser’s business model will be the standard affiliate-deal affair.

Will Vivaldi be big? It’s hard to say – Opera itself hasn’t broke past a market share of a few percent for many years, apart from in the feature-phone market. But Vivaldi does seem to combine a fresh new look with an impressively old-school appeal to the power user, and it may well find its niche. Perhaps not everyone does want the browser to just disappear into the background after all.

New Firefox gets social, brings beta Marketplace to desktop

Mozilla has released Firefox 35, which brings with it the enhancements to the Firefox Hello video-calling feature that I wrote about when they were in beta.

Firefox 35 also introduces a social sharing feature, making it easy to post a link to a webpage to a service such as [company]Facebook[/company] or [company]Twitter[/company], or to email it to a contact. This is similar to what Opera has been doing recently, and it’s interesting to see how the big Chrome rivals (let’s leave Internet Explorer out of it for now) are adding more features in a way that doesn’t necessarily make them look bloated in comparison to [company]Google[/company]’s streamlined browser.

Here’s how the right side of my Firefox toolbar looks now – there’s a good deal of functionality in there (the 1Password icon is the only third-party one) but it’s still tasteful and unobtrusive, at least to my eyes:

Firefox toolbar

To quickly recap the new Firefox Hello features, it’s now easier to set up an ad-hoc, anonymous call and to create a URL for such a call that can be repeatedly revisited by the participants – making it a bit like a virtual meeting room.

In a Tuesday blog post, Mozilla also said that it and its telco partner, Telefonica, aim to add new features to the WebRTC-based Firefox Hello such as screen-sharing and online collaboration – all from within the browser.

A more general blog post about Firefox 35 also noted that the Firefox Marketplace is now available for beta testing on the desktop. Firefox already has an add-on search facility, of course, but this is more like the Chrome Web Store, featuring a range of web apps.

The Firefox Marketplace is already available on mobile, and indeed it is effectively the app store for those with Firefox OS phones – the apps are all HTML5. So, by bringing it to the desktop, Mozilla is bringing its mobile and desktop efforts closer together.

Beyond IE: Microsoft reportedly building new “Spartan” browser

Back in September, ZDNet Microsoft-watcher Mary-Jo Foley reported that the next version of Internet Explorer was being developed under the codename “Spartan”. On Monday, though, she quoted anonymous sources as saying Spartan would be a whole new browser, rather than IE 12. Building on other reports, Foley said the new lightweight browser will support extensions and hopefully be more streamlined than IE has become over its two decades of existence. Nonetheless, for the sake of backwards compatibility, the upcoming Windows 10 will ship with both Spartan (or whatever its final name is) and IE 11, she said.

Opera’s Coast browser gets Turbo feature, discovery and more

The Norwegian browser firm Opera has released version 4 of its Coast browser for iOS, adding the data-compressing Turbo feature that’s already in its other browsers. The feature saves money on data use and makes for faster browsing.

Coast is a sort of experimental browser for Apple devices that eschews tabs and such things in favor of a more content-centric approach. To that end, the new version also includes [company]Opera[/company]’s Discover feature, which makes it easier to find new content from across the web without needing to use a search engine as such.

“We want to take our commitment to content a step further in the latest edition of Opera Coast,” product manager Huib Kleinhout said in a statement. “Browsers of the future need to treat the web like a candy store, and re-imagine the best way to help users find, access, enjoy and share their favorite content. There’s more to the web than the sites you visit every day and the first page of search results.”

Apart from Discover and Turbo, the new version also makes it easier to share links with social networks and email contacts using “styled images” — again, reminiscent of what Opera is doing with its other browsers — and makes it possible to use [company]Apple[/company]’s new Handoff feature to switch a continuous surfing session between devices.

The iPhone version also now supports landscape modes in its home and search screens, and allows users to open a link in Coast from the Safari browser.

Here’s a video:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiC6e9jvdn0&w=420&h=315]

Firefox’s built-in Skype rival begins to evolve

Firefox Hello, the WebRTC-based video-calling feature that Mozilla and partner Telefónica revealed as a beta feature in October, hit the mainstream — sort of — with the full release of Firefox 34 earlier this week.

It’s still very much under development though, being currently tucked away under the “customize” section in the browser’s settings menu. And, as of Thursday, those who download the beta of Firefox 35 can test out a few improvements.

The big changes are in the account-less call mode, which is moving towards a [company]Google[/company] Hangouts-style room model. When you initiate a call – something that’s done by sending a link to the person you want to talk to – Firefox Hello will now show you your own camera feed before your partner joins the call. The call begins as soon as the person you’ve called joins the conversation, whereas before they would have had to initiate a callback which you would have had to answer.

Users will also now be able to create and name multiple conversations for people they regularly want to talk to, again without needing to create an account or sign in. Not only is this URL-based approach anonymous (theoretically at least), but it also makes it easy to set up chats with users of other WebRTC-toting browsers, such as Chrome and Opera.

Those who do set up Firefox Hello accounts can of course make more traditional direct calls, which don’t involve passing on URLs as a setup mechanism.

Mozilla and Telefónica are very much looking for feedback on all this, so if you try it out, be sure to give them your opinion on the changes they’re making.

Opera users can now easily share collections of bookmarks

The Opera browser now includes a bookmark-sharing feature, the Norwegian firm said on Wednesday. Instead of having to paste multiple URLs into an email or instant message, as of version 26 of the desktop browser, users can save their “findings” into a collection, with each page represented by a thumbnail. They can then share the URL for that collection via email or social media or whatever. Opera for Android has also gained a similar feature, with sharing also made possible via Bluetooth or Android Beam. In related news, Opera 26 marks the full return of Opera to Linux after the browser’s major internal revamp in 2013, with that version rejoining the stable stream. Version 24 snuck into the developer stream in June.