Some time late last year, without most of us really noticing, the Vivaldi browser became genuinely, startingly useful.
I’d met the Opera Software founder Jon von Tetzchner two years ago when he unveiled Vivaldi's technical preview. Jon has always one of the more thoughtful and engaging founders you meet. But what was he doing with this Quixotic new venture?
Given that some of us spend more time on the web than sleeping, every new browser is welcome. But just as in bed design, innovation doesn’t match its importance. The opportunity for something new was certainly there, as the company von Tetzchner had founded (then left) had abandoned the old browser code base, and along with it, the bravura innovation that characterised its browsers. But Vivaldi seemed like an attempt to recreate past glories. Vivaldi was going to have an IMAP email client based on a database, just like Opera. It had a Notes sidebar, just like Opera. Even the name seemed chosen to remind you of … operas.
I tried Vivaldi and as a keyboard shortcut junkie and power user, could see the promise. But it didn’t seem to have the reliability I needed. So I made a mental note to revisit it every few months. I try lots of software.
Then I discovered that of the 1.5 Builds that stayed installed, and almost surreptitiously, had become my default browser. This Vivaldi didn’t crash any more. And the tools it gave a power user!
It was full of features that I never use, but that’s OK if it has the one or two you find hugely useful, that others don’t. So I don't need a Notes sidebar, but I do appreciate the many tweaks on offer. Like Vivaldi “command line” with autocomplete (F2 on Windows an Linux, Apple-E on Mac), with which you could navigate and manage your browsing. That’s overkill for people who only browse with three or four tabs (or windows), but after a while, you turn off the menus as it becomes the primary interface.
The only irritation I’ve encountered isn’t Vivaldi’s fault – it’s a curse visited upon every third-party browser in Windows 10. Microsoft’s Edge browser keeps stealing the default browser setting, even in the Professional version. Opening a link from Windows 10’s mail client or a Store app will randomly invoke the Edge browser, which must then be put away. Rightly, Vivaldi has complained. It’s hard to believe that so many legal battles were fought over IE and Windows default settings, for so many years, only for Microsoft to revert to this behaviour so soon after its antitrust consent decrees expired.
A new version of Vivaldi is out today, 1.7, and shows no let-up in the pace of innovation. I’ve been using the betas without really noticing they’re betas, and also brings some small and useful improvements.
Vivaldi 1.5 and 1.6 were mostly about tab management, which is now very rich. And fixing bugs. 1.7 introduces screenshots and a sharing function. (The browser’s Notes facility has been able to store notes containing images such as screengrabs for some time.) The release also introduces Notifications on the Mac version and better sound management. Few things are more annoying than sites that autoplay videos – and you can’t work out where it’s coming from.
Vivaldi still isn’t perfect – it takes forever to load a new window even on modern (2016) i7 hardware. But using anything else is now painful.
The attraction of Opera was that it could do so much out of the box, you didn't need to lumber it with Extensions, as you must with Google's Chrome or Firefox. Vivaldi now looks like it's achieving the same trick. You can find out more here. ®