Opera Unite: Has Opera Reinvented The Web?

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Opera Labs has introduced the service they were claiming will “re-invent the web”.  It’s called Unite, and I’m not so sure this is going to be the great step forward they think it is.

Essentially, Unite puts a web server in the web browser. When you’re running Opera, you not only have a client at your fingertips, but also a server capable of sharing your files with other Opera users (and presumably other browsers).

Right out of the gate, I’m a little confused. Was sharing files with friends/family an issue people were having problems with? Free blogs, Flickr, YouTube, etc. all make it easy to share data with people. And this doesn’t even get into services like Google Docs or Facebook. Who the heck is not sharing because they can’t do it via their own “server”? And don’t the current services handle things like storage and backup for you, tasks you might not want to take on yourself? In others words, has Opera just solved a problem that no one is having?

The Opera introduction reads like a manifesto at times:

Social networking is important, but who owns it — the online real estate and all the content we share on it? How much control over our words, photos, and identities are we giving up by using someone else’s site for our personal information? How dependent have we become?

I’m not sure if they think we want to manage our own servers just to share files, or if they’re trying to scare us into thinking Flickr, for example, is a black hole into which our precious photos may be lost forever. I don’t deny privacy, reliability, etc. are big concerns with any social network, but they’d be no less so if you took on the tasks yourself.

Ultimately, Opera Unite is a platform for which they need developers to build out tools and services beyond the simple items Opera provides:

The first few services we’ve released for Opera Unite are fairly simple and offer functionality that you’ve likely seen elsewhere, perhaps on desktop applications or 3rd party web sites. These first few demos are meant to illustrate how Opera Unite services are put together and the basics behind the new technology.

If you’re a developer why would you go there? Mobile is the hot market right now. Not just the iPhone, but Palm’s WebOS and Google’s Android are likely to provide a relatively better return on your investment.

From a browser perspective, Webkit’s the hot engine, fueling Safari and Chrome with support for HTML 5, which is pushed heavily by Google and Apple. Why dabble with Opera?

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Heck, Opera is not even open source. There’d be nothing wrong with this except that their marketing pitch appears built around freeing yourself from the big guys. For all their “free the little guy” spiel, your self-hosted data has to run through Opera’s proxy servers. Seems like this would help Opera become a big guy, wouldn’t it? But presumably that’s OK; it’s the other big guys you have to worry about.

In short, color me sceptical. There are probably many details yet to come, and at this early stage there may be some misunderstanding in this blog and elsewhere. But as it stands I don’t see an audience crying out for the kind of web Opera says they reinvented; nor do I see a successful Unite freeing us from relying on someone else’s control, it would simply change that “someone else” to Opera.

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