Updated: December 14, 2015
If you don't get the reference in the title, then you need to find a rusty metal ruler and start furiously spanking yourself with it. Cuz Vivaldi, that's why. Anyhow, Vivaldi also happens to be a new browser, designed by some former Opera guys, and based on Chromium. In its young heart, it blends open and closed source components, and it's aimed at power rangers, I mean users.
I decided to see if this new browser can offer a fresh new take on the Web, especially since Firefox has been misbehaving lately - but there's hope yet! - and we are in a dire need of a true hero. But alternatives aren't really available, which makes this experiment all the more interesting. Let us commence then, Technical Preview 4, tested on CentOS. Before you stab me, yes I know, old versions, beta, whatnot. When I tested, this was the latest edition, and this is what this review features with all the necessary disclaimers. Now, finally, follow me.
Vivaldi combines the elements of the Opera design with that of Chrome. Oversimplified on one end, and then too cluttered on the other. Moreover, the speed dial is a bit in your face, and while you can clear up the presentation layer, it's never completely quiet. Personally, I take offense when I see those Idiocracy tiles, the same way Mozilla tried to change their own browser. There's really no reason for the oversized colorfest, and it is possible to browse in a sensible manner without hyping the touch revolution where it does not belong. It's as if people aren't capable of finding Twitter or Facebook on their own. And if they aren't, then they are not the intended POWER USERS audience for this project, are they?
The square, flat look makes sense for later editions of Windows, not so much anywhere else, and the choice of colors is decent but not always adequate. The gray spectrum is accentuated with red and orange, changing almost frivolously. Not bad, but then, it feels too much like Edge, which feels like an IQ 75 toy.
One of the big problems that the browser currently has: it uses a low-contrast theme that can be extremely tiring for the eye. Take a look at the image below. The Privacy window is not an inset in a web page, it's actually a proper, separate window with borders and whatnot, except they are impossible to tell apart from the background. Then, the all too gray motifs are also tricky, and it's hard to spot items and navigate the interface.
As you may have noticed from screenshots above, the big differentiating factor of this browser is the little vertical panel set on the left side, by default, which gives you access to a range of SeaMonkey-like applications, all included inside the browser. Opera was also well known for doing this. It made a lot of sense in the age of slow, costly dialup, and the advantages are less obvious now. Still, let us gaze ever so up closely.
Yes, this is very much Opera. However, for some reason, the functionality is not available in the tech preview. Which is fine. Besides, mail isn't something to be excited about anymore. This was rad in 2002, not so today.
Another interesting functionality is the ability to take notes. I say interesting, but the truth is, this isn't really that practical. In a way, it reminds me of Zotero, but then it's not quite as smooth and efficient. For example, the current page isn't automatically marked when you access the notes, so you have to manually copy & paste. This is a waste of muscular energy.
You can add comments, files and images to your notes, making them into work documents. Alas, again, the way this functionality is presented on the official page makes it sound like it's designed for people who struggle with bookmarks. Not the power user message I'd expect.
Downloads also live in the left pane. Well, I'm not sure what else is there to say about this particular subject. Just the standard stuff, except it is featured in a different place. That's all.
Vivaldi is Chromium-based, and as such, it should be able to run Chrome extensions without any problems. Indeed, you can just hop over to the Chrome Web Store and grab your favorites. They will install fine and without any complaints. In my case, I chose to configure Adblock Plus and ScriptSafe, the last being sort of an equivalent to Firefox's Noscript and NotScript. Simple enough, don't you think.
However, while both these showed up in the extensions menu, there were no buttons available anywhere. There should be, but then, this could be a problem with Linux only, or this particular distro, or who knows what. ScriptSafe was working, but I had no way to actually toggle scripts on/off. Adblock Plus wasn't doing anything.
The bottom panel of the browser lets you do all sorts of manipulations with your Web pages, AKA Page Actions. For instance, you can block elements, apply filters to pages - WHY - and a few other weird and rather unnecessary things. This is definitely an Opera thing, where you had a small toolbox of less obvious tricks and functions scattered all over and around the user interface.
What's the purpose of filters?
One of the least intuitive parts of Vivaldi is the little trash can positioned ever so wrongly near the three window buttons in the top right corner. Not only is the visual offset totally annoying, the purpose of the trash icon is weird. As it turns out, this is your undo-close tab button. Yup. You can use it to reopen closed tabs. Implemented in a horrible way.
Then, you also get all these default bookmarks, many of which have a very commercial nature. This used to happen a lot in Internet Explorer, and I do not like the fact the browser comes tainted with, well, ads. Basically, that's it.
You can tweak the browser, but not as much as you'd hope. This is still Chromium, after all, and that means you're heavily restricted in what you can achieve. The settings are simple to access, read and figure out, it's just you don't really have that many options.
I know it can be really difficult differentiating your product, making it special, unique, outstanding, visible, desirable, all of those, and then some. And so companies try all sorts of methods and tricks. Vivaldi goes down the route of being a nerdy product, but it does not deliver the expected goods. If anything, it feels all too noob-friendly.
There are many issues in how the core idea is implemented. The extras do add charm, but they are essentially unnecessary, which means all you get is a Chromium with a new skin with a badly contrasted interface, a commercial spin, and extensions that do not work. That's not good enough to make it big. Once upon a time, IE6 was such a bad browser that there was real room for improvement, and that's how the modern alternatives were created and born. But now, finding extra value is very hard. Like wearables. They don't really have a purpose. Tabs, extensions, a few extras, every single browser does it.
Vivaldi could be a nice browser, but it does not offer any grand value over Chrome or Chromium, and if you thought Firefox was sucky, then at the very least, it's still not as heavily contaminated with ads and aggressive marketing like the rest. The problem with extensions is a big one. There are no speed benefits, and in the end, it comes down to taste and peculiarities, the same set of things that defines Opera. So why not use Opera, then? Almost like distro forking.
All in all, I don't have many bad things to say. But worse yet, I don't have any great things to say. Vivaldi is a browser, just like Konqueror, rekonq, Midori, QupZilla, and some others, and none of them have really managed to make a significant breakthrough, simply because they don't have any special advantage over the ruling trio. That's the current state of things, I'm afraid. I will keep an eye on Vivaldi, but as far as seasons go, it's only the winter for now.