Opera 8.5 Tutorial


I am regularly asked by a friend or fellow-student, who know that I'm an Opera user, the important question: Why do you use Opera? In reality, the person is asking: Please explain why I should be using Opera!.

So I set off explaining the cool stuff which makes Opera unique; obviously including the higher security, the speed, the pop-up blocker and Opera's unique MDI. However, in order not to swamp the person with information, I try to work from their perspective: I take on a certain role to show Opera would be helpful to that type of person. The kind of roles I played have included variations on and combinations of the below:

how Opera helps me do my online research
how Opera just speeds up my surfing due to all the neat tricks
how I can do everything within one program: browse, mail, chat
how I have total control over my UI

Yet, after that explanation people would often look at me with a weird sort of gaze on their face. It was too much for them. They had gotten so much info why Opera was so much superior to their browser, that they couldn't keep up with it. So my solution was often to sit down in front of their computer and show them how I browse with Opera. That way they learned a lot more, simply by me giving a demonstration.

After having done that several times, I was wondering whether there wasn't a simpler solution: a good introductory tutorial to Opera. There are plenty of feature comparison pages, or user pages entitled "Why I use Opera" and we should not forget the excellent "30 Days to becoming an Opera8 Lover" series. However, none of those pages really met my demands of a page which functioned both as tutorial and as a feature list: in my eyes a golden combination.

Hence this page, where I take a shot at it. In this tutorial I will approach Opera from the point of view of someone exploring the web in search of information. In a step-by-step manner I will describe how many of Opera's powerful tools come in handy. I will try to work from user scenarios and explain the features along the way.

My Opera setup should closely resemble the default Opera 8.5 installation (if you don't have it, download it here); I made a small number of tweaks, including the fact that I enabled MDI instead of the tabbed interface (aka I disabled 'Show close button on each tab').

Exploring the web

Albert EinsteinMany people will use the internet as a tool for retrieving information; it is a vast information resource at your immediate disposal. Of course, you would like to find the required information as quickly and efficiently as possible, and because not everyone is equally well-ordered, we can use all the help Opera can give us.

This section will show what can Opera do for you, by going through the search process in a step-by-step manner. Of course, this is not a "How to find information on the internet"-guide, but it is a general method I personally use when looking for information on the web.

Starting your search

First thing to do is to actually start your search, with an appropriate search-engine. In all my examples I will be using Google but the procedure will work for others as well.

When you start your search, the first thing you do is open a new Page (click the 'New Page' button on the pagebar or press Ctrl+N). Because Opera can open many pages at the same time, you can do various searches at the same time.

Empty Opera workspace

Now there are two easy ways to start your search:

  1. type the search term directly in the searchfield, which says 'Google search'
  2. use a search keyword in the addressbar. For instance, for searching on Google you would type g searchterm in the addressbar and hit enter.
Search keyword in addressbar

There is a variety of standard search keywords, which can be found under Tools -> Preferences -> Advanced -> Search

Search preferences dialog

It is also possible to customize the searches in Opera, as well as add as many custom search engines as you like. By far the easiest way to do this, is to download the Opera Search.ini Editor. This is an excellent freeware tool with a lot of default search engines you can choose from.

Results page

So after you pressed enter Opera sends the search term to the search engine and you are presented with the results page. What now?

First search result page

In other browsers you read the search summaries and click on one that interest you. However in Opera you can do things smarter! You just click on all the links that interest you, but you keep the Ctrl+Shift keys pressed, or middle-click with your mouse. What this does, is open the links in the background. You can also right-click on the link and select the 'Open in background page' option.

Search results opening in the background

So, what did we do? Oh yes, we opened the pages in the background by Ctrl+Shift-clicking on the links. This means that the search results are simply loading in the background while you are still reading the search summaries. That is a big time-saver. So how do you know when a page has finished loading in the background? That is easy, just look at the tabs. When the page has finished loading, it will be highlighted.

The next step is to easily switch between the various tabs. Some often used ways are:

Note: Linux users with KDE will not be able to use Ctrl+Tab because it is reserved for switching between virtual desktops.

Use ctrl-tab to select page tab

There is one more thing to discuss here before we move on, and that is related to the Search result page. Do you notice that big NEXT link at the bottom? Often you want to see more search results, so you click there.

Next link for more search results

Tired of waiting? FastForward!

However, Opera can save you that trouble. Did you notice that the Double Arrow ( ) on the addressbar has become active? That is the FastForward-button and by pressing it you automatically go to the next page. It is also very handy on multi-page articles, which also often have a NEXT-link

There are keyboard shortcuts for this as well of course, as well as mouse gestures. I will first tell you the keyboard shortcut, before explaining what those mouse gestures are. If you want to activate FastForward you press Shift+X. Normally X is Forward, but the addition of Shift makes it special.

Instant addiction - mouse gestures

These mouse gestures are worth their weight in gold and really speed up your browsing. And they are addictive, so be warned: once you get used to them, you will be trying to use them in other programs as well. Often in vain!

So what are they? Mouse gestures allow you to quickly perform certain routine browsing tasks, with just a flick of the mouse. This avoids the hassle of finding the appropriate button or menu item, thus speeding up your browsing. Go here for a good explanation and listing of mouse gestures in Opera.

In this case, for FastForward: hold right mouse button, move right then up:

In the heat of the battle, uh, search

This section discusses some situations that you often encounter while searching for something on the web. And for a lot of those things, Opera has a trick up its sleeve to make it easier for you.

The trail runs cold - Rewind!

Searching often involves clicking links and going from page to page, but often the trail runs cold and you run into a dead end. So what next? Of course you can simply go back in history with the Back button ( ) on the addressbar, or quicker by pressing Z or the mouse gesture for BACK.

Going back in history is lightening-fast in Opera compared to other browsers because it keeps a copy of the page in memory. This allows you to quickly go back in history without having to wait before the page has reloaded. Another huge time-saver!

However, Opera has something smarter for you! It is the opposite of FastForward: Rewind ( )! What it does, it jumps back in history to the first page of the site you entered. So for example if you were browsing on www.opera.com and you have clicked on dozens of links, but you simply want to return to start: just click Rewind and you're back where you started.

Multiple leads - divide and conquer!

It often happens that you have multiple searches going on at the same time and two or three of them have become fruitful. However, now you have 15 open pages and it becomes hard to keep track of which page belongs to which search.

Opera helps a bit by showing small site icons on the page tabs, the favicons, so you can easily distinguish between for instance Google pages and other sites. Still, it becomes hard to manage. No worries, in tight spots like this, Opera's window management comes and saves the day!

In cases like this, the first thing you do is open the windows panel (if it is not in your panel selector, right-click on the panel selector, select customize and check the appropriate panels). In the Windows panel you can see a list of all open Windows and Pages. In Opera parlance, a Window is a new Opera instance that sits in your taskbar and a Page fits inside a window.

Windows panel

With the Windows panel you can rearrange your open pages: you can drag and drop them between various windows. So for instance if you have two searches going on, you can create a new Window for each and drag the corresponding pages to the respective windows. This way you can keep track of which page belongs to which search.

Open a new Opera Window

You can also perform basic window management tasks in the panel, such as reloading and closing. It has to be noted that rearranging windows can be a bit 'jumpy' as focus tends to shift from window to window. It is therefore not something you do often, but only when needed.

Manage your windows in the panel

Oops - where did that page go?

When searching you often discard pages that are not interesting, by closing them. There is a huge variety of ways to close a page: use whatever suits your taste.

When it is this easy to close pages, it occasionally happens you close the wrong page by accident when cleaning up your pagebar. No worries, Opera keeps track of your closed pages and lets you reopen them in a flash! You can find the closed pages in the little trashcan on the page bar and by clicking on the desired page you reopen it. You can also find this list under Window -> Closed.

Reopen your closed pages

A quicker way to reopen a closed page is of course with the keyboard. You can reopen your closed page with Ctrl+(Alt)+Z. It's as simple as that.

Where is the search result?

Often you end up on a page and you wonder why the page turned up on the search results at all, because you can't find the search word on the page. So what you do is search for the keyword on the page. The traditional way is to use the Search dialog which you envoke with Ctrl+F. Just enter your search term and hit enter.

Traditional search dialog

There is a smarter way to do this: inline find. What that does is it matches the search results while you type. So if you want search for the word 'Opera' on a page, the inline find will already find it when you have typed 'Op'. That is yet another huge time-saver.

So how do you activate it? There are several ways:

Note: on certain language-specific keyboards, the shortcuts for the inline find might be different.

Inline find popup

Too high up?

Often a search result will bring you to a page deep in the structure of a website. For instance, you end up at a personal homepage of a researcher, but you would like to know what kind of research group he is part of. The homepage of the group is usually one directory higher than where you currently are.

For instance you are on http://www.university.edu/mechanics/bob/ but you want to go to the page of the Mechanics group. You could do that by going to the addressfield, and removing the /bob/ bit, but you could also do it smarter: Ctrl+Backspace will automatically take you back one directory! You can also use a mouse gesture for this: up, left.

Unknown word or a new lead for searching?

Being a non-native speaker myself I often encounter an unknown word while I'm browsing. Especially more so when searching for technical information. To facilitate in these kind of situations, Opera has its Hotclick feature which offers a shortcut to a dictionary to look up the troublesome word.

Click, double-click, Hotclick

Hotclick is the name for the dialog that appears when you select text and right-click on the selected text. It offers a variety of useful options, such as copying the text, saving it as a note (we will come to that later), searching for the selection or looking it up in the dictionary. If you wish to look up the word in a new page (in the background) you can press Ctrl(+Shift) when clicking on one of the Hotclick options.

Hotclick menu

As mentioned, the hotclick menu can be accessed by right-clicking on selected text. There is an easier method though:

The ability to quickly select a word and search for it via the Hotclick menu is also very important when searching on the web. Often you find new interesting search terms while you are browsing and this way you can quickly change the direction of your search.

Often when looking through a list of references of a scientific paper, the webaddresses (URLs) are not a clickable: they do not work as links. This is where another noteworthy feature in the Hotclick menu comes in handy: the 'Go to URL' option. It simply uses the selected word as URL in the addressfield.

A very related feature is Opera's paste-and-go. It is astonishingly simple, but astonishingly useful. When you copy a URL from for instance a PDF or Word document, you would normally open a page in Opera, paste the URL in the addressfield and press enter. However, that can be much easier with paste-and-go: just press Ctrl+d and Opera uses the text in the clipboard as URL. And of course, if you add Shift to the mix, it opens in the background. You can also access paste-and-go by right-clicking in the addressfield.

Paste-and-go in addressfield

Saving and annotating

Very often when you are searching for information you want to quickly write something down, or make a note of your search results. In the past I would have Notepad opened on the side to copy-paste information into. However, since Opera introduced its Notes feature I could do everything within Opera!

Post-its? All you need is Notes

How do Notes work? As already briefly mentioned in the Hotclick section it is possible to copy text to a note. You can also select text and press Ctrl+Shift+C to achieve the same effect.

So where is the text copied to? There are two ways to access the Notes editor: the Notes panel or under Tools -> Notes. The latter will give you a new entry on the pagebar and the Notes editor functions like a regular window. You can also expand the Notes panel into a page by clicking on the double-arrows in the top right hand corner of the panel.

Notes panel

When you look at the notes in the panel, you will notice there are two different icons in front of them. The one with the small globe ( )indicates that it was copied from a website. Which website? Hover over the Note to see the address in the tooltip, or double-click on the Note to go to the original page. You can also send it by e-mail, via the button on the panel.

What more can you do with the Notes? They can be inserted in text fields throughout the interface, so you can have certain standard replies to e-mails or for forums.

Saving files without hassle - QuickDownload

A lot of information nowadays is published as PDFs. You can open them directly and the Acrobat Reader plugin is launched, but you can also save them and open them later. It is in the saving of files that Opera has some nice features. The normal way of saving a file is by right-clicking on a link and selecting 'Save target as' which gives you a dialog where you can pick the directory where you wish to save it.

Save target as dialog

Howevever, there is another option in that menu, titled 'QuickDownload'. What this does is save the file directly to a predetermined folder, without bothering you with a download dialog. You can set that directory under Tools -> Preferences -> Advanced -> Downloads.

An advantage especially for people on slow connections, is that the download already takes place while you are selecting the directory where you wish to save the file.

Occasionally you run into a situation where you have to download many files from the same page. An example students might run into is downloading conference proceedings, or chapters of an online book, or presentation files of the course. A great method to do this is to use the Links panel. It is also possible to use the Links page, by pressing Ctrl+J or going to Tools -> Links.

Links page

The Links page shows the list of links on a certain page. The icons in front of the links indicate the type of link, for instance documents, or media files. You can select multiple files and apply 'Save target as' or 'QuickDownload'.

Pause, Stop and Continue

Often you can't go on searching for hours on end until you find what you were looking for. You will need time to get a cup of coffee, eat lunch, go home, get some sleep, etc. So ideally you will want to be able to save your progress and just start from where you stopped the next time you work on the project. That is possible, with Opera's Sessions and Bookmarks.

Resume where you left off - Sessions

Sessions are a powerful tool that allow you to make a snapshot of your current work: all windows, pages, scroll positions etc. are stored in a file. By reopening the session, you simply start again where you left off last time.

Saving and restoring sessions

In the File -> Sessions menu you can Open and Save sessions. The list at the bottom shows the available sessions. It is also possible to select which sessions to load at startup in the startup dialog.

Startup dialog

As you can see, you can select various saved sessions at startup, or continue where you left off last time.

All the essentials: bookmarked!

Bookmarks are essential when doing research on the web, to be able to keep track of specialized portal/news sites, or to store the homepage of interesting research groups. Opera's bookmark system is very powerful, yet simple to use. Adding a bookmark is really easy and can be done by pressing Ctrl+T or by selecting 'Bookmark page' in the Bookmarks menu.

Add bookmarkdialog

The dialog is very clean and straightforward. Some things are special in Opera however, such as the Nickname and Description field. The latter is automatically prefilled by Opera, using data found on the page you are bookmarking.

The Nickname field however is very interesting: Opera allows you to do is give a keyword (nickname) to your bookmark. So if you type that nickname in the addressfield, you automatically go to that bookmark. What is even better: nicknames can also be applied to bookmark folders, so you can open a huge list of bookmarks with a single keyword. Another nice touch is the Shift+F2 dialog. It works similar to inline find, because you only have to type a bookmark nickname until the first match is found and the bookmark is immediately opened.

Manage bookmarks page

Managing your bookmarks can be done with the Bookmarks panel or with the Manage Bookmarks page (Ctrl+Alt+B). It has to be noted that if you wish to add separators to the bookmarks, you have to set the sort order to 'sort by my order' under the View-button. Also take note of the 'Quick find' field at the top: there you can type a search word for your bookmarks and Opera will shows the matching bookmarks.

Finish and present - Opera Show

When you have finished your research you often have to present your results as well. Again Opera can be used, because of the unique Opera Show feature.

Opera Show is a feature in Opera that allows you to use simple HTML pages as presentations, using W3C webstandards. You can create the presentation manually with the help of this tutorial or you can use the online Opera Show Generator to quickly make a presentation.

When you have made your presentation, you just press F11 to start presenting! With PageUp/PageDown you can navigate between the slides.

Opera wherever you go - USB stick

A clever way to use Opera Show, is by installing a copy of Opera on your USB stick. So when it is your turn to present, you can casually walk over to the presentation computer, you plug in the USB stick, launch Opera and hey presto!

A description of how to install Opera on a USB stick is written by Stefan Huber.


This is definitely not the complete list of Opera's features, but I hope to have shown you by means of an example case study, what Opera is capable of and how it can help you speed up your browsing. Enjoy browsing with Opera!

© 2005, Mark Schenk. Last version: 10 November 2005.