Opera used to be a fantastic web browser, with a custom high-performance Presto rendering engine and features like tabbed windows that didn't show up in competing browsers until years later. However, the modern Opera browser is a shadow of its former self, reliant on chasing trends and meme advertising to stay relevant. The company behind it has also created fintech services that break app store rules and has deflected criticism.
You should not, under any circumstances, use Opera Browser or any of its derivatives.
What happened to Opera
The first version of the Opera web browser was released in 1995, and even in its glory days, it was always a niche browser. Unlike the dominant browsers of the 1990s, Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, Opera was paid software with a limited trial. It switched to an ad-supported model with the release of Opera 5.0 in 2000, and then in 2005 it removed the ads and started relying on payments from Google as the default search engine.
Opera Software worked on more than just a desktop web browser, though. Opera Mini was one of the best mobile browsers in the 2000s, allowing flip phones to access much of the internet by offloading the processing to external servers. There were also more feature-packed versions for phones running Symbian and Windows Mobile. Opera helped develop the web browser for the Nintendo DS, DSi, and Wii, too.
The most significant shift for Opera came in 2016, when the Opera browser, brand, and related products were sold to a group of companies in China for $600 million. The remains of the original Opera Software rebranded to Otello Corporation in 2017, which is now just a holding company for some advertising companies. The new group is currently known as Opera Limited and has been publicly traded since mid-2018 under the ticker symbol OPRA.
The current Opera still has an office in Norway, and some executives from before the acquisition are still there—Jørgen Arnesen is listed as the EVP for mobile and has been at Opera since 2009, for example. Still, everything branded as "Opera" since 2016 has been built under a changed corporate structure.
The Hindenburg Report
Hindenburg Research released a detailed report about Opera in 2020 outlining alleged fraud and illegal activities. Hindenburg is an investment firm that researches publicly-traded companies and shorts their stocks if they find sufficient evidence of investor fraud before releasing its report. Since Hindenburg directly profits from the company's decline in stock, it's not an impartial source of information, but the company's other reports into companies like Nikola have held up to scrutiny.
Hindenburg alleged that when the Opera browser continued losing users (due to competition from Google and Apple), the company shifted gears to building mobile apps that provided predatory short-term loans. The interest rates on those loans ranged from 365-876% per year, and loan terms from 7-29 days. Opera also falsely advertised longer loan terms and lower interest rates in the app descriptions, because the Google Play Store had rules against predatory loan services.
The loan apps specifically targeted customers in Kenya, India, and Nigeria. Hindenburg also confirmed through user reports and a former employee that two of the apps, OKash and OPesa, asked for permission to the phone contacts during the setup process. The service would then start sending threatening messages to the user's contacts when a borrower was late on their payments. The issue was also covered by local media prior to Hindenburg's report.
The money from these loan apps amounted to 42.5% of Opera's revenue by mid-2019. Yes, almost half of Opera's revenue came from extracting money from people in developing countries with false advertising and direct harassment.
Opera quickly released a response, saying "the report contains numerous errors, unsubstantiated statements, and misleading conclusions and interpretations regarding the business of and events relating to the Company," without specifically saying what was wrong with the report. The company also published a blog post framing its microloan business as important for people in Kenya:
There are fundamental differences between markets around the world, which can give rise to misconceptions about the roles and function of microloans. Microlending apps have become a natural and beneficial part of the financial ecosystem in Kenya, providing solutions to the underbanked.
Opera provided four actual counterclaims in its Q4 2019 financial report, released in February 2020. Two of the statements dispute some of Hindenburg's information about the company's cash flow and acquisitions, which might be reasonable—I'm not an expert in corporate finances. The other two statements are pure whataboutism. Here's the first one:
Opera’s microlending products have been and continue to be well received by users in emerging markets, and the OKash app has an average rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars in the Google Play app store in Kenya with more than 71,000 reviews. Further, Opera lending products have been reviewed and continue to be approved by Google Play.
The financial apps having an average high review score doesn't prove that the report was wrong. It just means a lot of people didn't have issues, or Opera paid for positive reviews, or a mix of both. The last sentence is also hiding the fact that Opera quietly updated the loan terms after the report was made public, so the apps would pass Google's policies and not be pulled from the Play Store.
The second statement is just plain silly:
The short report states that Opera’s browser business has lost market share since the IPO, but fails to recognize the fact that Opera has grown significantly both in number of users and revenue since the IPO.
Hindenburg said the Opera browser has been losing users since 2018, which is easily verifiable with public data, and Opera's counterclaim is "but our total revenue and users has grown!" That doesn't have anything to do with the original claim.
You might think Opera's loan services don't really matter because they're not directly connected to the web browser. However, a web browser can contain so much data about you: passwords, credit card numbers, network access, enabled permissions on desktop and mobile devices, and so on. You should not trust a company like Opera with that data if the data harvested through its loan apps is any indication.
Opera was caught lying to customers, harassing them and their contacts when payments were late, and skirting Google Play Store rules on predatory loans. The company then told news outlets that the report was "unsubstantiated" and "misleading," while it quietly updated its loan apps to comply with Google's policies. Opera's CEO at the time, James Yahui Zhou, is still the CEO of Opera. Nothing has changed at Opera.
Chasing the trends
Opera switched to a Chromium software base in 2013, so the interface and features on top are the only significant differences between it and Chrome, Vivaldi, Microsoft Edge, and other Chromium-based browsers. Opera doesn't have the financial backing of a big tech company, so some features that mainly exist to generate revenue aren't necessarily unreasonable. There's a news feed called Opera News that has ads, for example, and Opera Mini has an integrated crypto wallet.
However, Opera's development for the past few years has mostly been chasing trends and splitting resources across multiple web browsers. The first experiment after the company's purchase was Opera Neon, which was introduced in 2017 as a concept for new browser design. It was seemingly updated for a few months and then quietly dropped.
There's still a page for Opera Neon where you can download the latest version (update: not anymore), and the Mac application I downloaded reports a build date of March 28, 2017. There are at least dozens of significant security vulnerabilities in that version now, since security flaws are discovered in Chromium on a regular basis, and the last version is reportedly based on Chrome 53 from 2016. I found at least one person who was still using it in the past year, unaware that it was discontinued and an active security risk.
Opera's next big experiment was "Web3" and cryptocurrency because that was trendy at the time. The company added a cryptocurrency wallet to its desktop and Android web browsers in 2018, along with support for Ethereum Dapps. Those features are not useful for most people, but it was a great way to generate hype from cryptocurrency fans and investors, so it went in the browser. Hindenburg's report also pointed out that Opera invested $30 million in the crypto startup ICST that same year, and the startup's CEO was arrested four days later for financial crimes.
The focus on cryptocurrency and blockchain features continued ramping up at Opera. A separate Opera Crypto Browser was released for desktop platforms and Android in 2022, with such innovative features as a calendar for upcoming NFT releases.
When the market for NFTs and most blockchain projects collapsed in 2022, so did Opera's interest. The company's blog hasn't announced any new crypto features since May 2023, and the download page for Opera Crypto Browser was quietly pulled from Opera's site sometime between August and December 2023. Opera seemingly hasn't migrated the Crypto users to the regular Opera browser yet or told them what's going on, but it's still sending security updates to the Crypto Browser, so at least it's not a security risk like Neon.
In June 2023, Opera changed the name of its primary web browser to Opera One and added a new "Aria" in-browser AI solution. It's partially based on OpenAI's GPT language model, like most other AI products right now, but Opera says there are some additional integrations that set it apart from other implementations.
Opera introduced yet another version of its web browser in 2019, called Opera GX, aimed specifically at gamers. As of July 2023, Opera says it has 18.2 million users on desktop and 3.4 million users on mobile devices. It has a different theme than the regular browser, integration with services like Twitch, and a "GX Corner" that tries to organize game news and deals.
The most interesting feature of Opera GX, and probably why it became popular in the first place, is the ability to set limits on the browser's CPU, RAM, and network usage. This is mainly helpful when you have the browser open in the background while playing a game, and you want to conserve system resources for the game. It's a cool idea, but the competition has caught up since the browser's introduction: Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and other web browsers now automatically put tabs to sleep when they're not needed.
Opera has employed more edgy marketing for Opera GX. The Twitter/X account for the browser now has over one million followers, mostly by posting memes and commenting on gaming news and events. There's also an official VTuber for Opera GX, named GX Aura, who streams on Twitch and has branded merch. Finally, a plush of a virtual character version of a web browser for gamers.
The first livestream from GX Aura passed over 75,000 active viewers, which was made possible by Opera embedding the stream in the GX Corner feature, so everyone who opened that page counted as a viewer. Opera representatives disputed claims that the company was artificially inflating views with the prominent placement in the web browser, saying Twitch only counted logged-in users as viewers, but Twitch's own documentation says otherwise.
One more dumb controversy: Opera hired comedian Eric André for an advertising campaign where he smashed computers with "boring" web browsers and promoted Opera GX. A short video of Eric André yelling "Opera GX!" with audio was briefly added to the startup animation for Opera GX.
Opera GX users complained about the change on Reddit and other platforms. One user said, "You don't often see browsers actively go out of their way to try and get their users to uninstall." Another person said, "this terrified me, i have ptsd. cutting noises and screaming are NOT VERY NICE every time I open my browser." When another person complained on Twitter/X, the official Opera GX account told them, "Chill brah it's only for one day."
You should not use anything from Opera. The company is chasing trends and extracting the most money possible from its userbase. Its most successful ventures in recent history have been ripping off poor people in developing countries and marketing to gamers with a meme social media account. The company's failed experiments have been abandoned without directly informing users, leaving them at increased risk of security problems.
There are almost no features available in Opera's web browsers that aren't also in competing web browsers. Firefox, Safari, and Vivaldi are all better alternatives, and Vivaldi is built by some former Opera employees, including former Opera Software CEO Jon von Tetzchner. Don't use Brave Browser, either.
Update on Jan. 25, 2024: This article previously implied the Opera Crypto Web Browser was abandoned and not receiving security updates, but Opera is in fact still patching it at the same time as its main web browser. The article has been corrected.
Update on Feb. 13, 2024: Opera quietly removed the download link for Opera Neon on Jan. 27, 2024, according to the Internet Archive (the same page from Jan. 26 has the download link), three days after the publication of this article. The page is still live on Opera's site, but it now downloads the regular Opera browser. It is unclear if existing users of the Neon browser will be prompted to upgrade to regular Opera.