Opera 4 (beta)

Opera arrives in a minuscule 1.55MB download and takes up a Spartan 3MB of hard disk space. Yet it supports most major Web standards, and in my informal tests loaded pages at least as quickly as Communicator or IE.

Version 4's improvements on the last 3.x release include addition of an e-mail client to support multiple accounts (though juggling them can be a bit tricky) and a new full-screen view that lets you see Web pages without the browser interface (pressing to return to the usual window isn't intuitive, however).

Opera has long supported Multiple Document Interface (the ability to display multiple document windows within the main program window); in Opera 4, a Windows taskbar lookalike lets you switch between pages by clicking a button. Other new features: a print preview button and improved standards support that should help Opera work better with a wider array of Web pages and (going forward) even with handheld devices.

Opera is available on multiple "platforms besides Windows - Linux, Macintosh (still in development), BeOS, and EPOC, the operating system used by Psion handhelds, which come with Opera bundled.

The drawback is that Opera 4 supports, but doesn't ship with, Java. You can only add this via a free plug-in from Sun (java.sun.com/products/plugin). And Opera isn't free: after a 30-day evaluation period, you have to pay $US39 ($US15 if you're an upgrader) to keep it. Given that the competition is free, price may prove the most formidable barrier to widespread acceptance of Opera 4.

Opera 4 (beta)

Price: $US39 ($US15 for upgraders)

URL: www.opera.com