Sessions are a long-time, under-used, under-appreciated feature of Opera. Part of the reason may be that they’ve never really been marketed particularly strongly, so many people don’t know much about them. The other reason is that they’ve never really been developed to be really easily used.
What really made me realize this (the lack of both the marketing and the development) was the release of
Of course, OmniWeb is only available for Mac OS X. There’s a certain segment of the population out there using Windows and Linux and FreeBSD. Something like 96% of the population. So while Opera’s implementation may be flawed, it has an advantage in that it is available to a great many more people. And, of course, I hope Opera will improve in the future.
The idea behind sessions is fairly simple: they allow you to save a series of windows and pages.
Of course there is more to it. Otherwise you could just save a bunch of pages in a folder in bookmarks and just open them. Sessions retain not only the page information, but also the window size, scroll position, and the history of each page.
For example, when I first start my browser in the morning, I pull up
The first things I want to check are the forums and Google News, so I have those pages both set to display side-by-side. This is one way that Opera’s “pages” are not the same as “tabs” they are in fact much better. Both Google news and the my.opera.com site have extra information at the top that I don’t need to see, so I scrolled down a little so that it just shows the new information (skip the header junk). I also decreased the zoom on both pages to 90% (so I can see more text). I minimized both of the Opera Chat pages (because I’ll get to those after I see the others).
Whew, got all that? Now, here’s the thing… once I have it like I want it, I just go to File → Sessions → Save This Session…
I don’t check the box for “Show these pages every time I start Opera” because I tend to start/quit Opera several times during the day. If you keep Opera running all the time, this option may be for you.
So by taking a few minutes to think about what I do every day, I turn it into a Session and then can launch it by going to File → Sessions → Morning Check In (Opera8 automatically lists all the Sessions under File → Sessions so you don’t have to go to a separate Open panel).
I’m sure you sit down at your desk, start a task, work at it uninterrupted until you finish it, and then move on to the next thing. Right?
Well that’s not how I work. It’s how I’d like to work, but I’d also like to have a tidy desk and a 32” waist. In the real world, however, I have 3 stacks of paper, several unfinished tasks, and interruptions are more common than empty promises in an election year. I often start something and have to interrupt myself to go and do something else. I’m sure this never happens to you, but I’ve often been in the middle of something and had someone come in with some emergency that requires my attention.
If such a thing were to happen to you, what do you do?
Opera’s Sessions come in handy here. Why? Because when you save your open pages, you also save the full history of those pages. Meaning that if you started off with a Google search and then followed several links to a site that you really like, you could bookmark the site (and that’s a good idea) but a bookmark won’t tell you the path that you took to find it. And what about the site a few clicks back that looked interesting? Do you remember what site it was? Think you can find it again out of the 8,058,044,651 pages Google indexes (as of 2005-05-24)? Why bother? Save it as a Session.
With 3 clicks you can freeze time & space and resume it later. It’s like TiVo for the web (hrm, is that a new Opera slogan? Somebody call Marketing!)
And if 3 clicks is to much for you, consider making your own keyboard command. Go to Preferences → Shortcuts and double click on “Opera Standard”. Click “Application” and then click the “New” button (see screenshot below). Enter the keyboard command on the left side (I chose ctrl + alt + s because it was not used by any other command and is relatively easy to press) and on the right side type “Save Window Setup” (as you type, Opera will auto-complete it for you. You can either click it or type it all in, just watch out for typos).
This is how my entry now looks. The highlighted line is the new one. Type in the Quick Find area to check to see if your customize keyboard command is already in use.
Unexpected Browser Shutdown?
Ok, so I mentioned this thing called “unexpected browser shutdown” earlier. Some people call them crashes. Yes, Opera may crash on you. Every browser crashes. Yes, even Firefox. In extensive testing of Opera over several years, I have found it to be extremely stable. Of course it is more stable when run on MSWindows 2000 or MSWindows XP than MSWindows 98 for the same reasons that a house built on dirt is better than a house built on sand.
But life happens. Software crashes. I remember in a movie (Tucker, I think) they were making a car with all these revolutionary features, but some of their investors didn’t like the idea that the car came with seatbelts because it gave the impression that the car was unsafe.
Of course we look at that now and realize it is absurd to think that a car with seatbelts is less safe, in fact we would think such a feature made a car better. So the idea of a browser that is designed to gracefully recover from a crash should be welcomed news. Opera does just that. It will offer a startup panel offering to continue from last time, or to start with your home page or no pages (or a blank page).
Not only does this give you the chance to recover after a crash, but if one of the loaded pages causes Opera to crash again, you have the option of starting Opera with no pages.
Hopefully this is one feature you won’t need to use very often, but it’s nice to have when you need it.
Ron (below in the comments) made a good suggestion on how to improve Sessions. We need more of those. (I am responding here because I cannot add images in comments). One thing I didn’t really get into was how Opera could improve Sessions. OmniWeb gives “Workspaces” more prominence by putting them on a top-level menu and adding some simple extra features, as shown below:
The cloverleaf symbol (called the “Command” key) is the Mac equivalent to the Windows key, and the ^ represents the ctrl key. So cmd + ctrl + t would be the same as Opera’s “Save this session…”
One thing that Opera8 does better is that the saved Sessions are shown on the menu. When you save a Session, it is automatically added under File → Sessions. I believe that OmniWeb does offer automatic-crash recovery.
Opera may have “invented” the idea, but OmniWeb definitely took it to the next level and made it more prominent. There is still plenty of room for improvements. I’m just not sure what to suggest.