This article was originally written before the death of Opera, and was then called "The decline of the Opera Web browser". Now that its final demise is in the past, I have rewritten it to reflect that.
I used the Norwegian Opera Web browser as my main/general browser for well over a decade. It felt radically different in responsiveness and usability compared to the sluggish, feature-poor browsers available at the time (early 2000s), and managed to keep this feeling of an "instant" user interface until its death. It had tabs (actually real, internal windows) and various little useful things long before the others copied them. It did many things in a clever, unique way and was obviously made to be a powerful, rich tool for doing more than just browsing Web pages. Ironically, it would eventually turn into the exact opposite.
For years, it cost money. They later gave you the choice to run it for "free" by being subjected to advertisements. Even so, I felt that it was superior to the rest in enough ways to use it. Even with the highly questionable default user interface setups and looks (that kept changing all the time), it was still the browser I preferred over the others. It was anything but perfect, but the miserable competition made it shine like a star. At least this is how I and quite a few others perceived it.
For years, every single minor release felt like a little Christmas to me, in the same way that any software you use heavily and really like gets you excited about new versions. Because this was really the case back then: each update actually felt as if it made it better. Just as it should be.
At some point, I guess they got sick of having such an extremely small (relatively) market share and changed their business model yet again. They stopped giving you the choice to pay for a license, removed the direct advertisements and instead started making special deals with various search engines, essentially adding a little "referrer" parameter to any search query you made through the special search feature(s), which would give Opera a share of the ad profits later. As I understand it, they had already for many years received money for their trashy default bookmarks. That'd be OK if it weren't for the fact that, unless my memory is playing tricks on me, it would sometimes add back the garbage bookmarks when you upgraded, mixed in with your existing bookmarks. Very annoying and an ominous sign of what to come.
This (perceived) change in their mindset from producing a solid, unique, high-quality product toward making something attractive and shiny and ever "new" to the drooling masses is what pushed Opera into transforming their product into the abomination it was to become, even before the huge revelation which resulted in its actual death.
I'm not saying that it became worse at rendering pages or noticeably slower than before, or that there weren't any welcome additions and improvements in its last years (because there certainly were) — it was just gradually made more and more obnoxious in a very disturbing manner. Refusing to upgrade was never an option; running an old version of any Internet-facing software would be completely insane and futile for security and compatibility reasons. I can't believe some people use that "argument" at all.
Release after release, they added many superficial, unnecessary, pointless "features", such as "widgets", the crappy BitTorrent client (which actually wouldn't have been a horrible idea if it had just been done well), or "Opera Unite", while ignoring sensible things such as actually updating the grossly neglected chat/mail parts or generally polishing the interface and deciding on things once and for all. They kept changing the user interface around at random, adding really stupid crap such as the "Google this" context menu item, replacing the "Copy text" item, causing me to make about 500 searches by mistake before muscle memory kicked in and taught my hand to not pick the first item. In other words: a bunch of nasty, diabolic, user-hostile nonsense, clearly intended to generate money for them rather than benefiting the user.
After years of using the (sensible) argument that Opera provides rich tools by default, built in, they switched to having "extensions", just like Firefox & Co., where you are forced to trust random third parties to get the features you need. I never liked this, although both ways do have their pros and cons in the real world.
There really is no point in listing everything they did wrong. You get the picture. Toward the end, I really starting to dread each update of Opera instead of looking forward to them. Each little version seemed to do its best to hammer another nail into the o-shaped coffin. Mercilessly. Almost as if they had gone mad and derived some sort of sick pleasure from ruining their product and screwing the users over.
Opera as we knew it does no longer exist. Opera 12.x was the last "classic" Opera. Everything beyond this point is simply a Chrome skin.
As you can probably guess, this sounded like a joke to me (and to many other old-timers, as evident from the thousands of upset comments on their blog) at first. Some of us went through the classic "denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance" phases until we moved on and forced ourselves to shoehorn Firefox with its many extensions into our workflow, and simply try to repress the glorious times of classic Opera, now rotting away as increasingly legacy software.
If something valuable came from this, it's that I've realized just how pathetic the competition still is. Just something as "simple" as getting RSS properly set up with Firefox requires a third-party client, which inescapably results in an obnoxious workflow. However, with enough preferences changed and extensions added, my Firefox largely mimics what Opera used to do, although not quite. In some ways, it's better. In some ways, it's still far more unresponsive, lacking and generally annoying. Being able to get used to something doesn't make it good. You could probably get used to eating live bugs for dinner every day as well, but would that be a life worth living? If I only had the time and energy, I would attempt my own browser project.
I don't know the exact details of who were/are behind Opera. However, I heard that some main guy(s) left at some point, and it seriously feels as if Opera was in the hands of inexperienced morons toward the end (as well as the new "Opera", obviously). Either that or they have completely forgotten/given up on what used to make them unique and great. Opera, I don't want you to look and behave like every other dumbed-down piece of shit browser out there. I picked you, and stuck with you for so long, because you were unique, fast and had useful features not found anywhere else. It could have been so great.
It seems clear that they were constantly struggling to make money from this product which they wouldn't charge for, and had to resort to real asshole methods to keep that stream of cash flowing. I have barely used their new "Opera", because I was so disgusted by what I saw when I tested it, but it appears to exist solely as a means for them and their master (Google) to extract every last bit of privacy from you, treating you like a dumb consumer sheep. Again, the new "Opera" is the exact opposite of the classic, real Opera; yet another piece of software designed for those who are only expected to passively consume and don't use their brains, who have no need or will to be a "poweruser", who have absolutely no sense of privacy or security, and who have absolutely no reason to use the new "Opera" over its identical clone: Chrome.
Why "make" yet another browser like that? No user wants that. Not the dumb users. Not the powerusers. The whole point of Opera was always that it was an alternative — the only alternative!
"Nothing is sexier (to us, anyway) than knowing your personal information is safe and secure." Is that why you implemented the keylogger which sent private data to the most evil multinational corporation on the planet, even back in real, classic Opera? Is that why even if you turned that crap off, it's back again in the next version, resetting itself and ignoring your active choice? Is that why "your" new browser is now completely dependent on the very same evil corporation?
There was something magical about Opera. It had something special. It could have evolved into something amazingly great. It had many things going for it, but was constantly being pulled in the wrong direction. The last version of real Opera is therefore not that great (unless you compare it to the new "Opera") if you consider what it could have been at that point had there been sane people in charge. It doesn't matter much if it's so powerful and great if the defaults are insane and you keep adding random crap to it, making it very confusing and incoherent. It was simply "all over the place" rather than focusing on being great, polished and solid. And I don't even mean the constant crashes (which plagued the browser for basically the entire time I was using it). It's almost a miracle that the people who made such awful decisions also came up with such good ideas. Or maybe the good developers left and/or had little or no say. Whatever the case may have been, it's just so damn sad.
Fuck you, Opera. There is nothing you can do at this point to win back my trust, ever, short of the original founder coming out saying it was all a big joke, and that they've been secretly working behind the scenes on the best version of Opera ever, written entirely from scratch, keeping all the good features, perfected and with sane defaults, while removing the junk. Then, maybe. But that's clearly not going to happen.
Opera is dead and buried. Don't be fooled by the name and logo of this new abomination. It has nothing to do with the real Opera. Rest in peace.