Opera released a new web browser today called Neon that’s meant to try out a bunch of untested design ideas. Neon isn’t close to being ready to replace your main web browser — it’s being called a “concept browser” — but it does have some neat ideas that are fun to try out and, in some cases, you can imagine becoming part of a major browser one day.
Neon’s homepage looks far different than any other browser’s. Though it still includes shortcuts to bookmarks and top websites, they’re displayed as floating bubbles that are overlaid on your desktop wallpaper. There’s no discrete address bar either; there’s just a line above all the floating balls asking you to type something in. Visually, it’s very cool.
The browser also does away with traditional tabs, replacing them with a series of circular icons on the righthand side of the browser, with one appearing for every page you have open. There are neat little animations as websites are pulled up and minimized back into their bubbles, but the animations are pretty sluggish right now in a way that hampers your ability to use the browser.
One of the smarter ideas in Neon is built-in support for split-screen browsing. Drag one website’s bubble (its tab) over top of an already open page, and Opera will offer to split your view in two. Their sizes are adjustable, though only one side of the split-screen will respond to other tabs you want to open up — the other side remains more or less fixed.
Floating bubbles are cool
On the lefthand side of the browser are a series of browser tools. One lets you snap screenshots of webpages, another is a gallery for viewing all those snapshots, and another is a collection of all your downloads. The most interesting button pulls out an overlay that Opera calls the Player, which collects the songs and videos available to play throughout all your tabs. It’s a dedicated pane where you can click to pause or play media without actually opening the tab back up. The idea seems right, but in practice, I wonder how many tabs of media any one person would actually need to manage this way.
Those are the highlights of Neon for now. It’s available on macOS and Windows, so you can try it out if you’re interested. The browser is still too sluggish and odd to actually become a main browser for most people, but Opera isn’t exactly trying for that — it’s really just hoping to experiment with new ideas.
My favorite part of this whole thing is just how unsure Opera is about whether Neon is any good. Neon, it writes, is a preview of “the way it could be” for Opera. Its promo video even asks, “What if this is the future of web browsing?” It’s probably not! But it’s nice to see Opera willing to throw some ideas out there to find out.