opera-logo-1

Norway based browser maker Opera had promised that, today, they were going to reinvent the Web. The fruition of that promise was it debuting its latest browser, Opera Unite.

However, Opera Unite is not simply another better/faster/smarter browser, it is also a server that turns your browser into a two-way communication tool.

In short, Opera Unite, a preview of which is currently available for download for Windows, Mac and Linux, hopes to blur the lines between browsers and servers and change the way the Web works.

However, there are serious problems and questions about how Opera Unite would fit into the new Web and whether it really is an improvement on existing services. Still, it is an interesting new idea that is worthwhile for all heavy Internet users, including bloggers, to take a look at and see if it can fit with your needs.

How Opera Unite Works

opera-unite-sample

When you first install Opera Unite and open it, it looks and feels much like any other browser, In fact, if you use the Opera browser regularly, there will be hardly any noticeable difference.

However, once you enable Opera Unite, either via the menu or the button in the status bar, the changes become almost immediately clear.

First, you are given the option of signing up for an account or using an existing My Opera account if you have one. That in turn creates a new sub-domain on their site. You then select which computer you are using and you are given a URL for that particular machine, which looks something like: https://computer.username.operaunite.com

Once that is done, you’re given the option of enabling various services. Currently, there are six available including the following:

  • File Sharing: Shares a folder of files.
  • Fridge: Allows others to put “sticky notes” on your computer.
  • Media Player: Streams MP3 files from your computer.
  • Photo Sharing: Share images from your computer.
  • The Lounge: A simple chat system.
  • Web Server: A very basic Web server that lets you host HTML files.

Each application can have its own privacy setting including “Private”, meaning only you can access that application, “Limited”, which password protects the application (this is the default setting) and “Public”, which operates the service just like a regular Web server.

It is important to remember that, in each of these applications, the files/content are being served directly from the user’s computer, not from a third party Web server. Even the URL that Opera Unite creates points directly to the computer, eliminating the use of middlemen.

The question is whether we actually have a need for this service and if it is any better than the current alternatives.

The Big Problems

Though what Opera Unite is attempting to do is indeed a very grand gesture. It has one major problem, it is trying to make servers out of computers and connections that were never intended to be used in that fashion.

Consider the following issues:

  1. Reliability: Very few home/office users leave their PCs on 24/7 and even fewer keep their browser up too. Without both those things, these features do not work. Also, home connections tend to be less reliable than ones to datacenters, which are redundant typically, causing additional availability issues.
  2. Connections are Inadequate: Not only are home connections slower than those seen at datacenters, which usually use multiple T1 lines, home connections have intentionally limited upload speed. You don’t notice this when viewing Web pages because you upload very little, but when you try to use your computer as a server it becomes more clear.
  3. Security: If there is a security flaw in your Flickr account, someone gains access to your images. If there’s a flaw in your “Photo Sharing” application, someone can have access to your whole machine.

All of this combines to make Opera Unite fairly useless for truly public sharing. Though it could have a great deal of use for an individual to share items between two computers or even a small office that is working at the same time, for sharing on the broader Web, there seems to be too many problems.

For example, if you send your grandmother photos using your Photo Sharing application or, even worse, use it to host images on your site. If anyone tries to access those images after you’ve shut down your browser or turned off the computer, they’re going to get a “file not found” error. Also, even if your CPU is turned on, the files are going to load relatively slowly when compared to a regular server, which is designed for upstream bandwidth.

To make matters worse, for every service, there are other, viable services on the Web. For example. I could use the file sharing service to swap files between my home and work computers, but I already have Dropbox, which is free, has additional features and doesn’t require me to keep both computers running.

Likewise, you can use a variety of services that can host MP3 and other files for streaming. You can also get free Web hosting which is significantly more powerful (all Opera Unite does is display regular HTML pages, not suitable for blogging yet) and, of course, there are also countless chat systems.

Though the burden of uploading the files to these cloud services is annoying, it is a one-time expense, the reward for which is access to the file, 24/7 whether or not the machine is on or off and never having to upload or stream it again.

In short, Opera Unite, in its current form may be useful for certain niche needs, but for every problem that they hope to solve, there are better, more reliable solutions already written for most people.

Bottom Line

The real potential in Opera Unite, that I see, is in the developer platform. The very basic applications available now are simply self-hosted versions of other services. Developers may come up with something truly powerful and compelling that really doe stake advantage of Opera Unite’s structure, in the meantime, it’s a poor answer to a question almost no one asked.

Opera Unite is not going to be a good host for your blog, it isn’t even capable of that kind of advanced hosting at this time, nor will it likely be your image host or your media host. It’s just not ready to replace Flickr, Imageshack, Rapidshare and other services to the like.

But even if Opera Unite’s new features fail to overwhelm, the browser itself is pretty good. I’ve used it to do this post and found it speedy and reliable. I don’t know if it will replace Safari on my Mac as my main browser, but it certainly feels better than previous versions, including the earlier betas of Opera 10.

In the end, it is unclear if Opera has actually reinvented the Web. It hasn’t done so at this time but, if it is able to attract developer attention, that could change.

it could be that this is just the first shot in the beginning of a new revolution.