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.