I’ve been experimenting with Opera for the past month.
The world, at least the Windows world, is divided into Internet Explorer and Firefox users. With a contingent of Google Chrome users and Safari users. I’ve never used Chrome — Google’s EULA was creepy as hell — and while I’ve given Apple’s Safari a try, I haven’t really liked it.
I’m different. I use Opera.
I started using it in college. I remember downloading Opera 3 and playing around with that. I didn’t like it. Around Opera 5 I started using it more. Around the time of Opera 7 it became, if not my primary browser, my more-often-than-not browser. With Opera 8 it finally became my primary browser.
Now I’m running the Opera 10 Alpha. It’s fast. It’s lightweight. It has everything I need in a single package that’s a small download (about 5 megabytes).
Opera is, I’ve decided, the George Harrison of browsers.
If IE and Firefox are the John and Paul of browsers (or Paul and John, depending on how you view them), Opera is the quiet browser in the background that just flies like a virtuoso guitar player, like George Harrison. It’s like a spiritual experience, in a way, using Opera. Much like listening to George Harrison.
One feature of Opera that I have never really used has been its e-mail client, M2 or, as its going by now, Opera Mail.
For the past month, it’s what I’ve been using (almost) exclusively for my e-mail needs.
I’ve used the Opera Mail interface for about three years now; it’s the same interface Opera uses for its RSS feed reader. It’s also the Usenet client, and I’ve used Opera for that as well. (Yes, I do occasionally use Usenet in this day and age.)
But for e-mail? No.
In the Opera 10 Alpha, the developers added HTML functionality to e-mail. Previously, Opera’s e-mail client had been limited to composing in plain text. It could display HTML-formatted e-mails though the browser’s rendering engine, but it couldn’t reply to an HTML e-mail in HTML format.
I should note that HTML was not a make-or-break design decision for me. I rarely compose rich text e-mails. If you write to me in rich text, I’ll reply to you in rich text. If you write me in plain text, I’ll reply to you in plain text.
Instead, it was the fact that I’m using an Alpha version. We’re talking pre-Beta here, people. We’re talking bleeding edge code here, people. An Alpha!
God, I sound like such a nerd. I’m not even a tech head.
I wanted to get the full experience out of the Alpha. And I realized that I’d never ever given Opera Mail a fair shake.
So I spent about half an hour configuring the e-mail client in Opera about a month ago. I worked out how to leave my e-mail messages on my server; I wanted to be able to also download them into The Bat, the e-mail client I’ve used since 2000, for back-up since I didn’t want to lose them if the Opera Alpha went unstable. I figured out how to delete e-mail messages in Opera and have them deleted on my server.
And then I started to play.
Opera Mail does some interesting things with e-mail.
I can designate someone a “Followed Contact” and I get a special folder where all my e-mail messages to and from that person are sorted. The one kicker is that if a person has multiple e-mail addresses that they use, I have to do multiple “Follow Contact” designations, one for each e-mail address. But one cool thing is that I can assign icons to my Followed Contacts; for instance, one person is a red petunia. Other icons are little headshots from Opera’s icon library that vaguely resemble the person in real life. Or they’re just generic, non-descript stylized heads and shoulders. Or in the case of Keith DeCandido, it’s the Frankenstein Monster, because there’s not a single icon I can choose from that resembles Keith at all.
E-mails from mailing lists are automatically sorted into folders. At least, they’re supposed to be. One list I subscribe to, HASTRO-L (devoted to discussion about the history of astronomy), doesn’t sort, and I’ve found no way to convince Opera that messages from HASTRO-L are from a mailing list to put them with my other mailing lists. But for that, I’ve created an actual filter.
Yes, Opera does filtering as well. A writing market newsletter gets filtered into its own folder. Comic invoices get filtered into their folder.
Then, I can assign labels to received e-mails. If it’s an important message, I can mark it as Important, and the message shows up in a special folder called “Important.”
Here’s what’s interesting about the way Opera Mail works.
All of these folders? They’re virtual folders. No message is actually moved anywhere. It’s how you use the e-mail that determines where Opera shows it to you.
What this means is that I’ve altered the way I deal with my e-mail.
When the e-mail is downloaded, Opera tells me which folders have messages. Now, there’s a folder called “Unread” that has every unread message, and there’s a folder called “Received” that has every single message, read and unread, that I’ve received. But I don’t start with those.
I start with my Followed Contacts. These are friends, and if they have e-mailed me, I look in the folders there first. I reply to them as necessary, I mark them as read, and then I move on to the mailing lists. I clean those out, deleting most of the messages. Once I’ve done both the Followed Contacts and the Mailing Lists — that’s the bulk of my daily e-mail — I look in the Unread folder to see what’s left. I delete the deleted messages off my mail server, then I’ll use The Bat to pull the remaining messages off the server to archive them.
Opera Mail is not perfect right now. It occasionally locks up the browser while I’m composing an e-mail reply. I’ve had some difficulty attaching files to e-mails.
Otherwise, I’m happy with it. I don’t know why I didn’t give it a fair shake earlier, in all the years that I’ve been using Opera.
Opera Mail isn’t a reason for anyone to give up their other e-mail clients if they’re happy with their browser. But if you are using Opera and you’re not using Opera Mail, give it a try and use it for a month.