With the release of the beta of Internet Explorer 9 today, it might be best to remember that over 50 percent of the Windows community will not be able to try it, let alone decide to use it, as Microsoft has seen fit to lock them out of the choice.

On the other hand, there is a browser that is fast, free, and works on your Windows version all the way back to Windows 98. It also happens to work on many other platforms, such as Unix. Linux, Mac, and even OS/2 (though like OS/2, it has not been updated for that platform for a while).

The browser is fast, has lots of features, and was built from the start with security in mind. When you check with the hackers that are trying to break things on any platform, yet keep themselves and their equipment safe, you’ll find they use Opera as their browser.

Opera has just come out with an update that is a non-beta, revision level 10.62, which has loads of features, and will work well on your Windows 7 machine, or your Windows 98 machine. The interface is adaptive, which means it does not look out of place on either of those operating systems.

Opera also includes a mailer, a bit torrent client, a download manager, and a manager for the widgets that the Opera community has come up with to extend the useful behavior of the browser – unlike other browsers, the Opera Widgets can stand alone, if you so desire, meaning they will run after you’ve closed the last browser window.

Then there is Unite, but I’ll save that feature for later.

Download Opera – A faster and more secure Web browser.

There is also Opera Mini, which will approximate the experience on your desk, on your smartphone, or other small device (iPad, etc.).

Download Opera Mini – The world’s most popular mobile Web browser.

While the fanboys may be downloading the beta of something you may never get to use, you could be downloading the beta of Opera 10.70, yet another level of increased speed and features, that is well on its way to completion, yet usable enough today to try for almost anyone.

From the current release of that beta build

Here’s another snapshot with mostly Core/Presto updates. Bumping the Presto version number to 2.6.35. In addition to various fixes, it adds support for the updated Big5-HKSCS standard, and there is a known issue you may want to watch out for, where the progress bar does not disappear until you hover the user interface (DSK-313018).

There is also some good news from the desktop team. We’re happy to let you know that the desktop engineering team has grown by nine people in one go, by recruiting experienced engineers from other parts of the company! This comes in addition to the existing additions to the team, and really shows how important the desktop browser is to Opera Software.

Opera is in the browser business, not the “we have to have a browser just because business.”

Also, with Opera, you know where you stand. There is no obfuscation of bugs. When they appear, the team admits it, and gets immediately to work on the fix. (Unlike the team from Redmond, that usually only admits a mistake after it has been fixed, or worse yet, has had its nose publicly rubbed in it.)

So, while the naysayers will point to the numbers of Internet Explorer users, and say that is why you should use it, remember how lemmings go right off the cliff, and that some things will never be popular in that sense, but they are great nonetheless (Lamborghini Miura, for example).

Give Opera a try, 10.62, or 10.70beta, you won’t be sorry. I have never had anyone who took the time to try it (say, about a week of daily use) not become at least a part time Opera user.

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Remember a couple of things – there is so much to Opera, if you aren’t careful, you might miss some stuff (as in features), and if you don’t like the default look (I don’t), there are literally hundreds of different ways (themes) to make it yours…

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