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Opera Releases Neon 'Concept Browser'

Opera released a new "concept browser" called Neon to showcase its vision for the future of the web.

Browsers used to be dull. People chose their favorite--Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer--and bothered with a different browser only if a website didn't support their preferred app. Many of those browsers are similar, however, in design, if not in performance. Tabs are lined up on top of the window, a toolbar lets people interact with various web pages, and a text field allows people to enter URLs or search the web for anything their hearts desire.

Neon is Opera's attempt to shake things up a bit. Tabs are represented by spheres on the right side of the page that automatically rise or fall based on how often they're used. Media--videos, photos, and downloads--is collected on the opposite side of the window. And the browser allows people to view two web pages at once, which can be useful if someone's researching a paper or messaging someone on Facebook, instead of switching between tabs.

Those features, combined with a transparent background that shows the underlying desktop wallpaper, built-in screenshots, and pop-out videos, make it seem like Opera wants to compete more with Chrome OS than the Chrome browser. It's easier to imagine spending all day in a browser when it more closely resembles a desktop experience, which is exactly what Neon offers, than it is to use more traditional browsers and their stodgy interfaces.

All of which makes Neon seem like the browser a company would create in 2017. It's not perfect--for example, I noticed that its background isn't really transparent so much as it takes a snapshot of a desktop wallpaper after it's launched--and in some ways it's jarring. Seeing a bunch of tabs and buttons floating around a web page is weird, and so is looking for everything along the sides of a website instead of on top of it, neatly stuffed into a familiar toolbar.

Opera said in its announcement that Neon is also missing some features. "While Opera Neon has lots of new features–and many of the Opera browser features you know and love–there are some key features we have not included, such as our native ad-blocker, VPN and the ability to add extensions," executive vice president Krystian Kolondra said. "The reason for this is simply that Opera Neon is a concept browser, built for experimentation and play."

Still, Neon is a peek into the future, at least for Opera. The company said it plans to start including Neon features in its main app starting in spring 2017.