Opera is launching the first official beta of the next version of its desktop browser today. As usual, the Opera 12 beta includes a number of new features and enhancements, but this release also marks the end of some of the company’s more ambitious projects. With Opera 12, the company is ending support for Unite, the browser’s built-in personal cloud/streaming media platform that made its debut in 2009, and Opera Widgets. Opera is also phasing out support for its built-in speech recognition, text-to-speech and VoiceXML technologies.
This release isn’t just about removing features, though. Far from it. Among the new features is a new engine for writing and displaying browser themes (Opera previously called these ‘skins’). In addition, this version now runs plugins individually, similar to what most of its competitors are doing already. Thanks to this, a crashing plugin can’t take the whole browser down anymore.
Other new features include support for HTML5 drag and drop, support for the Do Not Track header and opt-in hardware acceleration and WebGL.
Opera is also making some low-level changes to improve the browser’s load times and launching 64-bit versions for Windows and Mac.
Among Opera’s more ambitious recent projects is definitely Opera Reader, which aims to create a new reading experience for the Web and make it look more like traditional books. With this release, Opera is opening this project up for standardization as CSS3 Generated Content for Paged Media.
For developers, this version adds improved support for CSS3 animations and transitions and cross-origin resource sharing. This new version now also supports getUserMedia to access the browser’s camera.