Are We Ready for Opera Unite?

This weeks exciting new technology is Opera Unite, which is basically a Web server on the Web browser.

Opera Unite allows you to easily share your data: photos, music, notes and other files. You can even run chat rooms and host entire Web sites with Opera Unite. It puts the power of a Web server in your browser, giving you greater privacy and flexibility than other online services.

What if you use Opera at home, and a different Web browser at work? Opera Unite services can be accessed from any modern browser, including mobile browsers! At home, just select what you want to share, and you can view it later using your work Web browser without any problems.

Potentially this could mark a significant change in the way we use Web services. Brian Kelly, in his post Who Needs Social Networks? I’ve Got Opera Unite, suggests that despite many IT service teams having reservations Opera Unite may be a move away from reliance on commercial companies such as Google and Facebook. Most of the comments on his post seem fairly positive, apart from those who have observed the need to keep your PC on all day!

The big question is how well will it work for those of us working from home? In the past home broadband and the use of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), which have meant a possible lack of bandwidth, have stopped people from locally hosting Web sites.

As Mashable explains when talking about challenges to of locally hosting a web site “a popular web site can suck a lot of bandwidth, and most home connections simply couldn’t deal with it.” Also upload speed is fairly limited – basically it’s a lot slower going up than it is going down! Mashable goes on to say “this web server also needs to be secure from intrusions and hacker attacks, it should have backup; in short, it should be a lot of things that the average user’s computer is not.

Mashable concludes that “Opera doesn’t really try to change all that, but they do count on the fact that internet connections offer way more bandwidth than they used to“.

Is this really the case? Despite the promise of super fast broadband roll out made in the Digital Britain report recent observations on the low quality of broadband may mean that for many of us running a Opera Unite effectively is still a pipe dream.

I have yet to try it out but would be interested in hearing about people’s experiences.

8 thoughts on “Are We Ready for Opera Unite?

  1. Pingback: Posts about Mashable as of June 19, 2009 » The Daily Parr

  2. As recently twittered, some observations:

    (1) the Plain Old Webserver plugin for Firefox has allowed the basic function of a peer-to-peer web server from a home machine for a considerable length of time. I have not yet been able to find out if one requires a domain name. A rather better packaged version for the ordinary user (compared to POW) is available at http://tonido.com, which does give you a URL and doesn’t require special knowledge to set up.
    (2) While it appears that POW and Tonido allow some or all of PHP, Perl and Ruby, only static pages can presently be served with Unite.
    (3) There are plenty of ways to do filesharing that are used by many ordinary users (often but not always illegally), if that is the purpose.
    (4) Why would one want to keep a browser open for this to work, irrespective of whether the machine must be left running? Surely it would be better to have a stand-alone desktop/background installation called by a browser plugin? That way it would work with Firefox, Chrome and IE if suitable simple plugins were developed to call the server program. Clearly the aim is to tie it in with Opera, and the real aim is to promote the browser. This smacks of the walled garden approach of Microsoft, to make services that require their software. Compare the very impressive open source development of Google, inviting developers and even allowing Wave to be used by their direct competitors.

    However, to be fair, it is impressive to run, and is an unusually approachable tool for ordinary users. The main difference between it and Tonido is that everyone has heard of Opera’s brand.

    There are always security concerns with a new piece of server software, of course, so one should be extremely careful about what one exposes using Unite. Why is it not explicitly based on a bundled version of Apache, which is proven? The chatroom security is poor because the operator cannot prevent the password being mailed between friends of the original invitee and separate ones can’t be given to individuals. I can’t see how it will replace social networks, as billed, although there is the possibility of building services on it. Anyway, unlike in Facebook, people will have to get used to regular downtime, which means you can’t always leave a message unless the person has left their machine on.

    Overall, this has rather mixed potential, I feel. It definitely needs considerable work, and needs to be available outside the Opera browser. It has inherent some architectural limitations that severely limit its chance of replacing existing services.

  3. Flock did all this ages ago.

    Actually I think most people aren’t interested in doing this type of stuff anyway. Take a look at Chris Messina’s blog. He says:

    “But I think they’re missing the big picture here — or intentionally obscuring it — which is that, while the idea of owning your own data may be attractive to neo-libertarians and open source geeks — most people really don’t care and are happy to outsource storage of their data to someone else who can be responsible for backing up their data and fending off hackers. 200 million Facebook users can’t be wrong, right?”

    http://factoryjoe.com/blog/2009/06/16/thoughts-on-opera-unite/

    And it isn’t even open source.

    Big no no!

  4. After writing, I notice that some of my points have been made by experienced developers in response to Brian’s piece. On a positive note, I should make it explicit that Opera+Unite installs as quickly as any browser and can be up and running in seconds. It’s clear lack of green credentials is pretty obvious to anybody, though😦 Actually, I wonder how long it would take for any bunch of developers to knock up something from existing tools and create an installable package… Despite the odd concern in the responses to Brian’s post, Google Wave really *does* look potentially world-changing (as a natural extension to email and social web tools) in a way this honestly doesn’t.

    I may use Unite as an occasional or emergency tool. Case study: wanted to send my mother-in-law a video of my dog hunting an olive (!) but it was too big to send as an attachment (though possibly I could have tweaked Thunderbird somehow). Problem of course is that she’s on Pacific Time and might take days to get the email telling her where to find it, while my computer works its way through my electricity bill in the dead of night. I could have used Unite but in fact put it on a web server elsewhere. Several Web 2.0 services would have done the job even more easily.

  5. David, unless you refer to a plugin for Flock, I see a lot of potentially admirable functionality but no obvious web server… I admit that I’ve only used it a couple of times and could have missed something. Couldn’t agree more otherwise. Of course you are right in that Flock allows you to do all this with Web 2.0 tools instead – so why would you want to do it with a web server in your browser? (Paranoia about privacy is the only reason that I can think of, but you’d also need strong encryption and there must be a dozen better ways than Unite for the technically savvy…)

  6. Hi Talat and David,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m not particularly technical so tend to view technologies from a user perspective. If I wanted to share a file (and chose not to stick it on an externally hosted service) I’d probably temporarily stick in on my personal space on out work server. Obviously not everyone has the option to do this.

    I see the issue with externally hosted services to be not so much privacy but more control of data. I don’t necessarily want Facebook or Flickr to ‘own’ all my photos.

    So these are two reasons why Opera Unite might be a option…but by the sounds of it there are other more sensible ways that the technically savvy would chose to do this. As I said in my original post for me the energy use and bandwidth issues are key to all this.

    Anyway it sounds like Opera Unite may just be one possible in the discussion, rather than the revolution itself. Now Google Wave, I can see that as being both the revolution and the new government!

    Marieke

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