Opera Unite Seeks to Decentralize the Web

Opera UniteOpera Software has just released the latest beta of Opera 10, along with a micro site showcasing the new (alpha) Opera Unite technology that seeks to enable peer-to-peer networking for browser-based applications. In a detailed blog post regarding the release, Opera Software product analyst Lawrence Eng explains how Opera 10 can turn any computer or device into a server, enabling applications running on the platform to communicate directly with another web user (presumably also running Opera 10).

With Opera Unite, developers will create applications — or Opera Unite Services — which run in the end-user’s browser, connect directly to other computers, and share data. Sample scenarios outlined by Eng include media sharing, instant communication, and anything in a “class of social software on the web.” The end goal suggested in Eng’s announcement includes restoring power to end-users to communicate with each other, using their own infrastructure (personal computers, residential internet connections etc.).

In an article on Dev.Opera, Chris Mills explains how to get up and running with the latest Opera Unite build. Mills offers a fairly concise description for Opera Unite — “a collaborative technology that uses a compact server inside [Opera] to share data and services.”

As Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft seek to create centralized platforms and capture mindshare, Opera Unite aims to steer the web away from a centrally-managed architecture run by “computers with more power than the rest” (servers). Opera believes that a new set of opportunities exists where servers are not required and applications can communicate directly with peer systems. Should Opera succeed, this would strike at the heart of user-driven content sites, many of which rely on users sharing media with a select group of friends for traffic. Interestingly, Opera Unite seems to make no attempt to challenge fundamentally centralised systems, such as search engines, nor does it attempt to replace online communities that thrive on sharing content to a general audience (YouTube, anyone?).

A quick run through of Opera Unite is promising — a wizard in the Opera 10 beta (available under the Tools menu) takes the user through the process of creating an account, and helpfully offers to attempt to configure UPnP (no port forwarding instructions in sight — the system is clearly optimized for as little configuration as possible). Once set up, the Opera Unite sidebar appears, and a list of default services is available.

Enabling the file sharing application, for example, adds a File Sharing entry to a list of available services on a public URL (generally http://(computer name).(Opera username).operaunite.com). This public URL represents a landing page of sorts for the user, and Opera suggests this is served from the end-user’s machine, although the hostname of the public URL resolves to an Opera server. Additionally, while any browser can be used to browse available content, it appears that Opera Unite is required to actually access content, e.g. download shared files.

The initial release feels extremely stable, although Opera emphasizes that the Unite technology is still in alpha, and there will undoubtedly be challenges with complex networking environments (NAT, no UPnP etc.) for which the technology is yet to be battle-tested. Builds are available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

Download Opera Unite and let us know what you think.

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  • Barry Carlyon

    Surely the web is already decentralized.

    I mean in terms of third party services and API’s no one thing is tied down to a single server.

    The one big problem with Opera doing this is that it’s not gonna work well for people with limited upstream bandwidth, how many people do you know who have a symmetric connection?

  • http://www.sitepoint.com/ Kevin Yank

    The more technical discussion of Opera Unite provided on the Opera Developer Community reveals some interesting details, like the fact that requests to your private Unite server pass through Opera’s servers in order to guarantee they will penetrate even the most draconian firewall setups.

    An interesting competitor with which to compare Opera Unite is Tonido. Launched in beta earlier this year, Tonido is essentially the same thing as Opera Unite, except that it isn’t tied to a particular web browser (a positive), and applications are written in C++ instead of using web technologies (a drawback, depending on who you ask).

  • http://www.magain.com/ Matthew Magain

    And to all those naysayers who say there is a conspiracy to ignore Opera on SitePoint … booyah!

  • http://www.lowter.com charmedlover

    Matthew Magain, I am very glad to see Opera news mentioned on SitePoint. It is a very refreshing change for once. :)

  • dawgbone

    Nice to see Opera doing something constructive in between their pointless suing of Microsoft.

  • Anonymous

    I say let the conspiracy breed! :) Not exactly sure why I would want to use this though. Sounds like they are trying to build an operating system for the web with social content at it’s heart. Going to be hard to break the habits of people used to email, IM, torrent, regular browsering, etc. One tool to unite them all perhaps? Still, I chose the tools I use for good reason. Going to take more than hype to make me switch.

  • Squig

    This is great … except that it only works in the one browser that hardly anyone uses :-)

    If Opera are doing this to try to make people switch from IE, FF or Chrome then I think they’re missing something.

  • http://www.studio-gecko.com/ XLCowBoy

    Great idea.

    Now all we have to do is wait for Internet Explorer and Firefox to copy it, and it will be “the next big thing.”

  • Radek

    In my opinion, Opera Unite is doomed to fail. Do you remember AllPeers project (Firefox extension for P2P file sharing) which debuted about 3 years ago? It is gone by now. Dead. R.I.P.

    And there is only one reason for that – it tried to solve a problem which did not exist. Market for this extension was non-existant. And today, Opera Unite is trying to resuscitate this dead horse again, by offering file sharing functionality in their browser. But this time, not even with P2P functionality, but with an integrated web-server on your desktop!

    More here:
    http://hulan.info/item/opera-unite-tries-to-solve-a-problem-that-does-not-exist