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Opera Unite Gives the Power Back to the People

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Opera Software, which promised to revolutionize the Internet, has just released the latest version of their browser, Opera 10 Beta 1, incorporating a server technology called Opera Unite allowing users to directly connect to each other to share data and communicate without an intermediary running the necessary services for them.

Opera Unite is built on the premises that the Internet should be free and not controlled by anybody. Right now, most Internet activities go through various servers running specific services like email, chat, photo sharing, social networking, etc. Opera wants to change all that by building server technology inside the browser allowing users to keep all the data on their computers and sharing it from there. Lawrence Eng, a product analyst for Opera Software, explains the motivation behind Opera Unite:

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 imagine that many of us would lose most of our personal contacts if our favorite Web mail services shut down without warning. Also, many of us maintain extensive friend networks on sites like MySpace and Facebook, and are, therefore, subject to their corporate decisions via “Terms of Service” and click-through agreements. Furthermore, what does it mean anyway to be connected to hundreds of our “closest” friends? What about our real social networks, the people we want to interact with on a regular basis (like once a week, or even every day)? Why are online solutions to help us with our real-world social needs so few and far between?

To enable the server inside, the browser has Opera Unite Services, a special kind of Widgets. A number of services come as default:

  • Opera Unite page: An overview page that lists your services with activity feeds and also shows the services others are running.
  • File Sharing: A simple and safe way to share files directly from your computer.
  • Fridge: A fun place for people to leave notes on your computer.
  • Photo Sharing: Share your personal photos with friends around the world without the need to upload them.
  • Media Player: Access your complete home music library from wherever you are.
  • Web Server: Host your Web sites running from your own computer.
  • The Lounge: Invite your friends to a chat in The Lounge hosted on your computer.

Developers can build other services using JavaScript and upload them to Opera’s web site to share them with the world, or simply keep them for themselves. When running such a service, other users can connect to it by simply entering the corresponding URL in any web browser. There is no need for both parties to run the service.

Opera Unite is not 100% free of intermediaries. The software opens a firewall port (#8840) and services connect to Opera’s proxy servers. That’s how users reach the services with a simple URL without making any special firewall configurations. So, the services still rely on third party servers, which recently were reported as overwhelmed due to increased demand.

Currently, the Opera browser has less than 1% market share according to Net Applications.

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