MWC09: What is Opera Turbo?

Opera Logo

Yesterday Opera Software announced Opera Turbo which they describe as:

"...a cross-platform solution, available for desktop computers, mobile phones, and other Internet-enabled devices. By compressing network traffic by up to 80%, Opera Turbo helps to enable the sustainability and scalability of networks in order to meet traffic demands and ensure a superior browsing experience."

The announcement is short on technical details but it is clear that Turbo is a proxy server that sits between the browser and web sites and compress traffic on the fly to reduce bandwidth.  Opera mentions that it is based on the company's experience with Opera Mini, works only with Opera Mobile, desktop Opera and the Opera SDK and that the average compression rate is between 70% and 80%.  Those facts suggest to me that the Turbo proxy is converting pages into Opera Binary Markup Language (OBML), the proprietary compressed binary format that Opera Mini uses or something similar. If that is true, it means that the Opera direct browsers are or will be able to parse OBML in addition to HTML, JavaScript and CSS.

The Opera Turbo announcement talks of the product being used by network operators and OEMs to reduce bandwidth and speed up browsing.  It doesn't sound like Opera plans to host public Opera Turbo servers that would let any Opera browser user enjoy the benefits of Opera Turbo.

Turbo sounds promising, as a former AT&T customer, I'm very familiar with network congestion and the resulting slowness and outright failure of data connections. Anything that reduces bandwidth and speeds up browsing is a good thing. I use Opera Mini as my main browser and am always amazed at the performance it provides even on a slow GPRS connection.  It would be great to be able to combine this performance with the tabbed browsing, password manager, copy and paste and other features of Opera Mobile.

However, I do have one reservation about Turbo, the user needs to be able to easily switch between a proxied Turbo connection and a direct one. This is necessary for two reasons; to provide end-to-end encryption of HTTPS sessions and to allow access to sites that the proxy can't handle or where the content provider denies access to the proxied connection.  The security issue should be obvious, a proxy has to decrypt  HTTPS packets in order to compress the content.  I'm sure Opera makes a serious effort to protect confidential data,  but I want all the security I can get when I'm entering my credit card number or bank account credentials.  The other reason users need to be able to disable the  proxy is that on a small number of sites it may not work as well as a direct connect.   For example, there is currently a server side problem that prevents Opera Mini from opening some pages on Ebay. I also find that with a WiFi or good 3G connection, pages under 20 KB, like mobile websites, actually load faster in my N95's built-in browser than in Mini.  The ideal solution would be if Turbo recognized mobile sites, HTTPS and sites where proxy errors have been occurring and provided a direct connection in those cases.

4 thoughts on “MWC09: What is Opera Turbo?

  1. In the press release it says: "Opera Turbo is able to reduce the size of the transferred page without transcoding the page." And further: "Opera Turbo offers full support for dynamic Web technologies such as Ajax and Flash - these are not compressed by Opera Turbo."

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