The final version of Opera 9 web browser is now available at opera.com. This version is a sleek, minimalist, and fun browser. It has a very polished Macesque look. Unfortunately it may still be inaccessible to some users.
At first glance Opera looks very simple and straight forward. Basic navigational buttons, an address field, a search field, and a few other buttons are initially the only visible controls. However, poke around for a few minutes and you will discover that you can expose a very diverse work space with many buttons, frames, and floating widgets, offering a variety tools from email to “to do” lists to games. This scalability makes Opera a very powerful one-stop tool.
Opera has made much progress with standards compliance. Opera 9 passes the Acid2 CSS test, the first Windows-based browser to do so. This relieves pressure on developers in addressing Opera’s past implementation problems when developing standards-based web sites. Now they are free to concentrate efforts elsewhere. This is a huge step and shows that Opera cares about standards.
In the realm of accessibility Opera has in some ways led the pack. Opera offers zoom and user style sheet features which enable users to easily personalize their browsing experience. However, Opera 9 still does not expose browser content to the most commonly used screen readers (Jaws and Window Eyes). Opera does claim to have screen reader support but they do not specify which screen readers receive that support. Accessibility is one of the few areas where Opera has been both way ahead and far behind.
A page titled “Accessibility in Opera” on Opera’s site is the first result when Googling “opera accessibility”. Here Opera states:
“At Opera we strive to offer a better Internet experience for all, regardless of device, platform, or visual or mobile impairment. As a result, the Opera browser is the most accessible browser on the market today.”
Whoa! This is a very bold claim. Many people (including me) will see screen reader access a minimal requirement for claiming basic accessibility, let alone stating you are the MOST accessible. For now Opera is only partially accessible.
Of course screen reader use is only one aspect of accessibility. Many other users interact with browsers through the keyboard. Opera uses a different technique of keyboard navigation than most other browsers. IE and Firefox, for example, use the “Tab” key to navigate from link to link and through form elements. Opera uses the “Tab” key to navigate form elements, but uses the “Q” and “A” keys to navigate through links. This causes problems in some cases. For example, while reading about menus in Opera’s help files I got stuck on a page that contained only one form field. All I could do is type “Q” and “A” in the form field; “Tab” took me nowhere. I had a similar problem in one of the widgets.
Despite these accessibility issues, Opera 9 is a very good browser. Overall I was pleasantly surprised. Opera 9 deserves a lot of praise. However, the “most accessible browser” claim is inaccurate. Opera should correct the statement, for the time being, and work on making it a reality. Perhaps now that Opera is again a real contender in the browser war, full accessibility will become a higher priority.
Also see: CNET editors’ review