Opera has finally shed some light on how exactly it plans to “reinvent the web” following its mysterious press release last week. Today the Norwegian company announced its latest product, Opera Unite, which aims to make every computer a web server, allowing users to share content stored on their personal desktops with the world. While everyone wants to move content, applications even the entire OS to the cloud, Opera Unite is going the other way with a “power to the people” attitude.
Opera Unite can be used to share files, music, photos, videos but also host entire services like websites or chat rooms, all on users’ computers, and without installing any complicated third-party product or service. The platform will use open web standards and Opera is also offering a set of APIs to enable developers to build their own applications, called Opera Unite services. The technology is integrated with the company's latest version of its web browser, Opera 10, meaning there is no standalone application, making it a cross-platform solution available on Windows, Linux and Mac.
From a technological point of view uses for Opera Unite are arguable. Hosting your own files, your own chat client or any service that the web already offers will never be as reliable or fast as using dedicated products. Most of the ways we use the Internet today are about sharing content and information and there are some powerful services built to cater to those needs, like Flickr or Picasa for photos, YouTube for videos and so on. Online hosting has several key requirements that desktop computers and consumer Internet connections do not meet, like availability, bandwidth, computing power, etc.
Why then is Opera launching a system that it knows would be inferior in most cases? It actually has more to do with philosophy than technology. Today the web is not under our control; all of our content, all the information and services that we have very much come to rely on are in the hands of third parties, large companies that may not always have our best interest in mind. There is a very thorough analysis on the subject by Opera Product Analyst Lawrence Eng, who explains some of the reasons the company decided to launch Opera Unite.
“Currently, most of us contribute content to the Web (for example by putting our personal information on social networking sites, uploading photos to Flickr, or maybe publishing blog posts), but we don’t contribute to its fabric — the underlying infrastructure that defines the online landscape that we inhabit.” Lawrence Eng wrote in a lengthy post.
“Our computers are only dumb terminals connected to other computers (meaning servers) owned by other people — such as large corporations — who we depend upon to host our words, thoughts, and images. We depend on them to do it well and with our best interests at heart. We place our trust in these third parties, and we hope for the best, but as long as our own computers are not first class citizens on the Web, we are merely tenants, and hosting companies are the landlords of the Internet, ” he added.