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Paul Gilster: Vivaldi an intriguing new entry into staid browser market

A new Web browser? The idea seems a throwback to that wild era when big players like Microsoft and Netscape were scrambling to out-do each other on the Web, and Apple was crafting its own Safari alternative. Chrome, Edge, Opera -- how many browsers do we need? But the new kid on the block, called Vivaldi, has an attractive story to tell.

I started playing around with Vivaldi just out of curiosity, but I’ve found myself growing attached to it because it reminds me of the era when user customization ran wide and deep. Rather than assuming we want a completely standardized browser and imposing a set of conventions on us, Vivaldi offers up customization across the board. Want to change the way it looks? The way its pages are designed? The way you use the keyboard and the mouse?

No problem. As a fresh download, Vivaldi looks simple and clean, with bold colors and an interface that works like any other Web browser. But if you’ve ever found yourself wanting to put your own spin on things, this is your chance. Take tabs. These show up in our browsers with the same appearance, and use, as manila folders. Click on a tab and you get the Web page it holds, so that you can have a series of tabs across the top of your browser opening to many sites.

Stacking tabs

If you use as many tabs as I do (I have seventeen open at the moment, and that’s not unusual), then Vivaldi’s ability to stack tabs is liberating. By dragging tabs on related content onto each other, you wind up with a single tab that actually contains a whole series. Hover your mouse over the tab stack to pick the tab of your choice within it. Or right-click on the tab to choose a tiling option that shows you a view of all the tabs in the stack in a single box.

Often I find myself returning to key websites every time I start work. Some of these relate to computers and technology, but most involve my work in aerospace. By saving two sets of open tabs as a “session,” I can name the stack and then reopen it with a single click from the File menu. Learning that most Chrome plugins would work in Vivaldi also kept my attention.

Let’s be clear about this: Some people don’t want to customize their Web experience. They’re not going to need Vivaldi. But those who do like to tweak and adjust settings will find this browser offers all the tools. Its preferences panel allows you to set up the basic interface with whatever features you choose, moving the address bar around or turning image loading on or off depending on the speed of the site you’re visiting (and the quality of your connection).

Note taking

I also like Vivaldi’s note-taking feature, a basic notebook built right into the browser. Your notes can contain screenshots and attachments, which means that people who are constantly taking notes, like myself, don’t have to keep calling up third-party note programs.

Am I now a Vivaldi user? Only partially. I don’t use a single program for the Web – I like to move between the options as new versions of each become available. That means that once I feel on top of Vivaldi, I’ll keep comparing it to Firefox, and to Chrome, and to Microsoft’s Edge browser. If you have that same restlessness about software, you’ll want to look at this new browser. If tweaking and polishing isn’t your thing, it will hold much less of an appeal.

Ah, the old days. Those first versions of Netscape turned what had been a primitive browser called Mosaic into a full-featured Web interface, and we’ve been off to the races ever since. The brainchild of Jon von Tetzchner, who once led the browser company that produced Opera, Vivaldi is built on the open source version of Chrome, called Chromium. It can’t reignite the passions of the early browser wars, but it’s an intriguing entry into a now staid market.

Paul A. Gilster is the author of several books on technology. Reach him at gilster@mindspring.com.

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