Opera Software on Thursday made available the first beta of version 9.0 of its popular free Web browser, which has been in testing since last October. The release adds a number of major new features, including widgets and support for BitTorrent downloads.
Widgets are small mini-applications that typically run inside another program. Konfabulator, now known as Yahoo! Widget Engine, popularized the technology, and Apple included widgets as part of the Dashboard feature in Mac OS X 10.4. Stardock's DesktopX has long offered supports for widgets as well.
Opera notes that its widget support -- activated by pressing F6 -- can be used for multimedia, news feeds, games and more.
"We're proud to release this Beta of Opera 9 to Web users around the world," said Opera CEO Jon S. von Tetzchner. "Opera 9 brings powerful new features to enhance the Web browsing experience and empower Web 2.0 developers. Opera 9 unlocks new levels of productivity for the Internet ecosystem."
BitTorrent support, meanwhile, will help Opera target those savvy P2P users who don't want to bother with an external application for their downloads. Users are able to search for files on the BitTorrent network through integrated search functionality, which then would use Opera's Transfer Manager software to handle the download.
The move could anger intellectual property holders, however, who see BitTorrent as a boon to piracy. The technology is currently used almost exclusively for the illegal distribution of copyrighted material by end users, even thought it is simply a communication protocol that facilitates efficient distribution of very large files.
Other new features in Opera 9.0 include a content blocker for removing ads and images from a Web site, improved rich text editing and site-specific preferences. Opera has even taken a feature from AOL's Explorer browser: 9.0 pops up thumbnail previews of a Web site when the mouse hovers over a tab.