Opera and Firefox are two of the oldest active web browsers and have both changed dramatically over their long lifespans. Throughout their existence, they have both occupied a niche corner of the browser market, compared to the more mainstream Google Chrome and Internet Explorer (read our Internet Explorer review) before it.
Today, it’s time to pit Opera vs. Firefox and find out which one comes out on top. Although Firefox has consistently been the more popular option, both it and Opera scored well in their individual reviews. If you want a more in-depth analysis of each, you can check out our Firefox review and Opera review.
Setting Up a Fight: Opera vs. Firefox
In order to determine which is the better browser, we’ll run the two contestants through five rounds, each focusing on a crucial aspect of web browsing. First up is features, followed by ease of use, performance, security and privacy. The winner of each round will receive one point, and the browser that reaches three or more points will be declared the overall winner.
As always, we’ll start off with features. The decisive factors in this round include major built-in features, like ad-blockers, extension libraries and cross-device syncing, as well as minor features, like screen capture tools and news readers.
While many browsers have shifted toward a minimalistic approach, opting for a clean layout and simple user experience instead of overwhelming the user with options and features, Opera has gone in the opposite direction.
Instead of relying on third-party extensions to provide the most advanced functionality, the browser comes with a large number of features from the get-go.
Opera includes support for the most popular messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, allowing you to easily use these platforms without keeping a tab open for them.
The browser easily syncs all browsing data between devices, and support for My Flow lets you send encrypted files, as well. There are some minor customization options, like themes and a dark mode, but nothing extraordinary.
There’s also an adblocker built into the browser, which is something most other major browsers don’t bother with at all, relying instead on popular third-party ones like Adblock Plus and uBlock Origin. The news reader is another great little feature, as it gives you quick access to your daily news, and the sources used are completely customizable.
Some other minor convenience features include a snapshot tool that provides a lot more flexibility when taking screenshots, as well as automatic conversion of units, like currency, date and time, and measurements.
All that said, Opera’s list of add-ons is nothing to scoff at, either, as once you combine its dedicated add-ons with the ones it can use by being based on Chromium, you end up with an extensive library.
Unlike Opera, Firefox is not packed with features, but the huge library of add-ons does a great job of making up for this shortcoming. What Firefox does do incredibly well, though, is customization, as users are left with a large degree of control over how the browser should look and feel, including repositioning pretty much every part of the interface.
Syncing your data between devices is a straightforward process, and Firefox also comes with several very useful minor features, like a capture tool similar to Opera’s, a reader view and several alternative search engines.
Round One Thoughts
Both browsers scored very high in this category in their reviews, but there is a clear gap in terms of features built into each browser. Firefox opts for a clean interface that doesn’t crowd the user with functionality, relying instead on its extensive library of add-ons to provide more advanced features.
That said, its customization options are second only to Vivaldi (read our Vivaldi review) and the reader view, capture tool and straightforward syncing are also big advantages.
However, now that Opera is based on Chromium (read our Chromium review), it can easily match Firefox for add-ons by combining the dedicated Opera extensions with the ones available to all Chromium-based browsers.
Furthermore, Opera comes with far more features built directly into the browser. The support for messaging apps, as well as the news reader, pre-installed adblocker, automatic conversion tool and My Flow gives it a clear edge in this category.
Ease of Use
With Opera grabbing the lead, it’s time to move on to each browser’s ease of use. This means looking at the user experience, layout, interface design and navigation.
Although Opera’s interface is a bit less traditional than other browsers, it’s still pretty easy to wrap your head around and get used to. The basics are similar to other Chromium browsers, but there are some clever additions to the UI like a quick access menu for customization options and a shortcut bar on the left-hand side of the screen.
There’s no horizontal scrolling for tabs, but you’re provided with a dropdown menu that lists all of the ones you have open, as well as recently closed ones. You can also search for specific words or phrases inside tabs, which makes it easy to find the one you’re looking for. Another handy feature is that you can click the active tab to return to the top of the page.
Opera also lets you detach videos streamed on sites like YouTube, which enables you to watch a video on part of the screen while using another tab, or even using a different piece of software entirely.
Unfortunately, Opera’s main mobile browser, Opera Touch, is quite clunky, with navigation controls hidden behind a button you need to press and hold to access, which quickly gets frustrating.
Firefox also has a great and simple interface that has been refined over the years. Tabs are scrollable, which makes managing them much easier. Unfortunately, as Chrome has come to dominate much of the internet, certain websites or apps may face issues on Firefox compared to browsers based on Chromium.
There’s also a useful dropdown menu under the address bar that gives you instant access to various alternative search engines and all your most recent search terms.
Round Two Thoughts
This category was another tight contest, as both browsers have clean interfaces and pleasant user experiences. Firefox’s tab scrolling is a great way to simplify tab management and is something we wish more browsers would imitate, but Opera’s solution of using a dropdown menu isn’t bad, either, and the ability to search tabs for words and phrases is great.
We also really like the detachable videos, as it makes following guides and multitasking much easier. When you put all this together, it hands Opera another victory despite the clunky Opera Touch on mobile.
Opera is already at the cusp of victory two rounds in. It’s not over yet, though, as these battles can turn quickly, as we saw in our Firefox vs. Google Chrome matchup. With that said, we turn our attention to performance, where we’ll examine the resource consumption, speed and data usage of each browser.
Opera is a fast browser, especially on desktop, where it’s only a little bit slower than some the fastest browsers on the market, like Chrome (read our Chrome review). On mobile, it’s more of a mixed bag, as Opera Touch scores very well, but Opera Mini does abysmally, scoring lower than anything else, save Microsoft Edge (read our Edge review).
On the resource side of things, Opera doesn’t do great. Its RAM consumption is comparable to Chrome, which is one of the worst browsers on the market on this issue. One of Opera’s mobile browsers, Opera Mini, is designed around minimizing data use but, as mentioned, this version of the browser can be painfully slow.
Firefox is one of the fastest browsers available, with only Google Chrome and Vivaldi clocking in higher speeds on desktop. It also does well in this respect on mobile, where it’s the fastest browsing option, though not by a lot.
While RAM consumption is initially high when you only have a few tabs open, the way the browser’s architecture is designed allows it to leave a significantly smaller footprint than other browsers the more tabs you have open, which is the main cause of RAM trouble when browsing.
Round Three Thoughts
Speed is without a doubt the most important factor in this round, and while both browsers are very fast, Firefox outpaces Opera both on mobile and desktop. Firefox also does much better than Opera when it comes to resource consumption, using significantly less RAM when you have a lot of different tabs open.
Despite Opera’s focus on mobile data saving with Opera Mini, which is a great feature for those with limited bandwidth or data packages, Firefox finally snatches a point due to its superior speed and lower rate of RAM use.
With a win in performance, Firefox manages to keep the battle interesting and deny Opera an early win. However, now it’s time for our fourth round, covering security, to see if Firefox can keep this up.
Crucial security features — like safe-browsing databases, unsecure connection warnings and update frequency — will play a large role here, as well as adblockers and pop-up blockers.
Security is something Opera struggles with, compared to other major browsers. Instead of using Google Safe Browsing to protect users from malware and phishing schemes, the browser makes use of two other databases, called Yandex and PhishTank, both of which are significantly less effective than Google’s more popular alternative.
Users are given a warning when connecting over an unsecure HTTP connection, and the warning is clear and easy to see, as it includes the words “not secure” in plaintext rather than just a symbol.
Update frequency is another weakness in Opera’s security, as the browser receives a new update every four to six weeks, which is about half as often as the base Chromium. This is a problem because it gives cybercriminals a head start on finding and exploiting security loopholes in the base code.
It’s not all bad, though, as Opera comes with a pre-installed adblocker and pop-up blocker. Ads and pop-ups are among the most common vectors for malware, so this is a huge deal, especially for less-advanced users who might not wish to install third-party add-ons that do this crucial work.
Unlike Opera, Firefox uses Google Safe Browsing to protect users from malware and phishing, and as mentioned, this is a great choice for security. Although the browser includes a pre-installed pop-up blocker, there is no built-in adblocker.
However, finding an adblocker among the numerous Firefox add-ons is a simple task. You can start with our list of the best pop-up blockers, which also block ads.
Firefox also warns users when they’re connecting to a website over an unsecure HTTP connection, but the warning is hard to notice, as it’s only an exclamation mark and includes no text.
Update frequency is excellent, though, and security holes are usually patched within a day of discovery. Additionally, regular updates happen frequently, as we covered in our write-up on which web browser is the most secure.
Your stored passwords can be protected with a master password, but this must be manually enabled. If you don’t set up a master password, there is nothing protecting your login details from being stolen by anyone with physical access to your device. For this reason, consider downloading one of our best password managers if you use Firefox.
Round Four Thoughts
Although Opera has better security for stored passwords, a clearer HTTP warning and a built-in adblocker, update frequency and reliable protection against malicious websites are much more important factors. On these fronts, Firefox is excellent, which earns it the victory in this round despite other minor flaws, evening the score to 2-2.
With the score even, the final round on privacy will be the tiebreaker. In this round, we’ll look at how much data each browser collects, how trustworthy the companies involved are and, of course, what privacy features the browsers come with.
Opera used to do much better on privacy back in the day, but Chinese investors bought the company in 2016. Given the Chinese government’s track record, this is a worrying development for the browser.
Firefox, on the other hand, excels when it comes to privacy. Mozilla, the company that develops the browser, is a non-profit that doesn’t base its revenue around advertising or selling user information.
Furthermore, the browser comes with great tracking controls that allow you to manage exactly what kind of trackers and cookies you want to block in detail. Although using Firefox is a great first step to protecting your privacy, you should read our anonymous browsing guide, regardless, to learn what other steps you can take.
Round Five Thoughts
This was a hard-fought battle between two elder statesmen of the browser world. It was looking very good for Opera at the start, winning in both features and ease of use, but Firefox snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by performing strongly in the remaining three categories.
What do you think of Opera and Firefox? Do you agree with our assessment that Firefox is the stronger option, or do you prefer Opera’s better features and ease of use over performance, security and privacy? Let us know in the comments below. Thank you for reading.
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