Through its long history Opera had been traditionally reluctant to discuss possibility of third party extensions. Then widgets came and were largely underpowered and underappreciated. Opera Unite made a splash for about a week then got itself a tiny niche.
And then out of the blue it was announced that 11th major release will have full featured add-ons support.
What add-ons are
This time Opera went for straight and known formula – add-ons are just as what they are other browsers. They are third party extensions that enhance or extend browser’s functionality and can (among other things):
- interact with open web pages;
- integrate with browser interface;
- poll for and display information in background.
Extensions are distributed through Opera’s site to which they can be freely submitted. It is also easy to run your custom non-packaged extension in developer mode.
In-browser extensions got their own management page where they can be toggled, configured and uninstalled.
Widget themselves are small in size (so far) and are very fast to install/delete, without need to restart browser.
Altogether it works like neatly packaged cross between userscripts and bookmarklets. Little more tricky to develop, infinitely more easy to use.
Opera may have waited long for this, but their approach to add-ons seems impeccable:
- common web technologies make it easy to port and reuse code developed for other platforms;
- the classic approach means seamless experience for users that first encountered extensions in other browsers.
On the technical side there are many issues to be polished and improved. Interface integration seems a little primitive (especially for rich tradition of interface customization in Opera), handling of settings a little inconsistent (basically extensions do what they want) and so on. It is nothing critical or unsolvable, but it does remind that Opera barely started on the path that other browsers walk for a long time already.
More importantly it is critical how widely and deeply will Opera extensions be adopted. Opera made a lot of effort to ensure development entry barrier is low… But that can’t really help if there will be no interest. Over years there was a lot of cold attitude towards compatibility with Opera from large companies. Their interest to actively support their services in Opera format is questionable. And relying on minor third party developers to maintain critically important extensions for big league sites is very unfavorable situation.
At moment there are very few extensions developed by services natively and some of them are just lazyily done wrappers for existing scripts or bookmarklets. And with official release clock just started to tick if extensions gain real traction or drown in same niche pool as widgets and Unite.
I don’t think Opera is late to the party, but I do think it might be crashing the party where it’s not particularly wanted. The extensions are here, the potential is great. Now it all depends on adoption.
Do you think add-ons for Opera will have same kind of popularity and traction as for Firefox and Chrome? Or will they repeat downward spiral of widgets?