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Touch-friendly browsers in Ubuntu: Opera Mobile 11; add-ons for Firefox, Chrome

Using Ubuntu on a tablet or netvertible isn’t the nicest of fits and that’s understandable: Ubuntu is not a tablet OS after all.

There are, however, plenty of things one can do to make the experience of using Ubuntu on a tablet/touchscreen that little bit more more enjoyable.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing a selection of tips, apps and ideas for doing just this. But first you’ll need something to read the posts in…

Install Opera Mobile 11

Opera Mobile 11 is the latest version of Opera Software’s mobile offering. More capable and touch-orientated than the more widely used ‘Opera Mini’, Opera Mobile has been around for a long time, having seen its first release over 10 years ago.

Originally catering for Windows Mobile and Symbian smartphones/PDA’s, and later the Maemo platform, it was in Late March of this year with the release of Opera Mobile 11 that builds for Android, MeeGo and Windows desktop were provided.

Opera Mobile 11 in Ubuntu 11.04

Features

Opera Mobile is Flash capable; comes with Opera Link – a bookmark/speed dial/notes synchronisation service - and Opera Turbo – a web page compression service using Opera servers that reduces bandwidth consumption by up to 80%.

Text-wrapping and ‘dynamically reformatted Web pages using Opera’s Small Screen Rendering (SSR) technology’ results in good looking and easily readable content.

Tab Switching in Opera Mobile 11

Tab Switching in Opera Mobile 11: Neat and tidy

Other features offered up in Opera Mobile 11 include

  • “Speed Dial”
  • Visual tabs
  • Tab switching
  • Password manager
  • Address auto-completion
  • Double-tap zooming (and pinch zooming where multi-touch is supported)
  • History
  • Bookmarks
  • Adapts to both portrait and landscape modes
Performance

This touch-orientated gem may usually be thought of as the preserve of smartphones but it performs impressively well on a touchscreen tablet running a “Desktop OS” such as Ubuntu. It’s snappy, responsive and highly catered to touch-screens.

One tip would be to ensure it is set to run fullscreen. This gives the best “tablet” like experience and, because Opera mobile lacks a menu bar, helps saves space in Ubuntu. Fullscreen can be enabled by clicking the ‘O’ icon, heading to settings and enabling ‘run fullscreen’.

Keyboard

For me it was Opera’s built in keyboard that sold me. Rather than having to call on then subsequently move floating 3rd party keyboards out of the way (such as KVKBD and Florence) Opera’s pops up automatically when clicking on an input/text fields and disappears when done.

Opera Mobile in Ubuntu: Searching with virtual keyboard

Download

Opera Mobile is available for MeeGo devices as an .rpm file (.rpm packages are like .deb files but for Redhat-based Linux distributions). This can be converted to a .deb for easy installation on Ubuntu 32bit using a package called ‘alien‘.

To save you the hassle I’ve uploaded the .deb I created when installing Opera Mobile 11 on my device.

What about Firefox and Chrome?

Both Firefox and Chrome are solid browsers for normal use but neither are particularly well suited for use on tablets out of the box.

Touch scrolling Chrome: Doesn't work

Touch scrolling in Chrome: Doesn't work by default

There are, however, a number of extensions that can be installed to add “touch” functionality to them.

Grab n’ Drag

“Enables Adobe Acrobat-style grab and drag scrolling, Flick gestures, and Momentum scrolling in Firefox.”

chromeTouch is a similar extension for Chrome/ium users, enabling “iPhone like touch scroll interface”.

Double-click to close tab

Trying to hit the tiny ‘x’ on a tab is rendered needless with this extension: just quickly double-tap anywhere on a web page/tab content to close it. Further options and settings are provided, including enabling close on ‘triple click’, double-click time, etc.

Available for Firefox and Chrome/ium