Opera has long been an underdog in the so-called browser wars (on the desktop at least), despite the fact that many of the features we take for granted in Firefox, IE and Safari often make their debut in the Norwegian web browser first. Hoping to get the recognition it deserves, though, the company has just introduced the first alpha version of Opera 10 touting it as the fastest and most standards compliant browser yet.

The release will offer a taste of Opera's new rendering engine, Opera Presto 2.2, which is supposed to be 30 percent faster than its predecessor driving Opera 9.5 and will be the basis for future versions of its mobile and desktop browsers. In addition to performance improvements, Opera says it has fine-tuned its standards support, achieving a score of 100 out of 100 on the Acid3 testing website – by comparison Firefox 3.0.4 earns 71/100, Google Chrome 0.4 gets 79/100, and Internet Explorer 7 struggles at 14.

Other new features include on-the-fly spell checking for text fields, support for HTML formatting in Opera Mail, and an auto-update feature to force browser updates. We don't recommend setting Opera 10 in its current alpha state as your default browser just yet, but the preview release seems stable enough for Opera fans to give it a try.