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Opera 9.5 Kestrel alpha

Opera 9.5 Alpha 1 (code named Kestrel) has been released today.

For all web developers who haven't yet checked Kestrel, go ahead and do it. There are many improvements, and lots of new stuff.

I personally like the performance improvements - see some benchmarks done by NonTroppo.

One of the new features I am looking forward to use daily is history search. I had this in my wishlist for Opera 10. :)

Opera Mail has been improved very much, but lots of work is only under the hood - not many visible changes. Nonetheless, these are very interesting changes, since I use the Opera Mail client from Merlin. Anyone who uses Opera Mail long enough knows the famous freezes.

New features for web developers range from fixes to Web Forms 2 support, to new HTML 5-related work, new CSS 3 selectors and properties.

The completely revamped keyboard shortcuts will annoy many Opera users, but it's all for the better, in my opinion. New users who will try Kestrel, will like it more now, will find it more comfortable in general usage.

Check out the change logs, and backup your Opera profile - it's best you pick a separate installation folder.

Related to my site, the current Opera Kestrel build works quite well - dare I say better than Merlin. The Windows build has some issues with redrawing the menus, and with the generated content text color. Besides that, no access keys are recognized (try Shift-Esc).

I recommend you to try the site with Kestrel. You can play with the Web Forms 2 auto-complete in the search fields with no JavaScript enabled. Also, you'll see lots of fancy text shadows. If you have a slow computer, you'll notice Kestrel is much faster than Merlin when you use the search fields (with JavaScript enabled). The new ECMAScript engine is really faster. However, I still find hovering the menus slow on Kestrel. :(

Something less obvious to average users is the improved spatial navigation. There's something I am particularly impressed: try Shift+Arrow keys to navigate this web site. You'll immediately notice you can navigate the sub menus, which normally you cannot do (not in older Opera versions, nor in Firefox). Kestrel actually sends the mouse events to the elements, as if you use the mouse to hover the elements. This opens up a whole "new world" to those who use the keyboard very much. Say "bye bye" to the supposed inaccessibility of my site navigation (haha). :)

All in all, Kestrel is going to be a great release. I am looking forward to switch to the new version, when the stable one is released.