Opera 10 Is Going to Piss Off Some Very Important People

On the spectrum of menacing devices, the lowly server falls somewhere between a toaster and... an evil toaster. Which is to say that most people don't think the "clouds" that store so much of their email and files as being either good or bad. But the folks at Opera, makers of an eponymous Web browser with approximately 2% marketshare, would like you to believe they're bad. At first blush, this makes them sound crazy. They are not.

They've just released a new browser called Opera 10, featuring something called Opera Unite. Here's what it does: it takes the files on your PC (music, documents, photos) and lets your computer serve them up just as a server would, so others can browse and download as you allow them. That cuts out the middle-men--Flickr, YouTube, drop.io, YouSendIt--and frees you from the horrific tyranny you didn't realize you were ever subject to.

Here's the source of the dissonance. This is a server:

IBM Server

It's basically a refrigerator, but for data. I've even made it say "roar," but I'm guessing you're still not intimidated. Now this is how Opera would like you to think of servers:

Seems silly, until you use Opera 10, and you realize that when you use someone else's cloud, you subjugate the way you can use your own files: you rely on their features, their speeds, their rules, and their space. Apple's MobileMe only gives me 20GB, for example, and a monthly transfer limit of 200GB. That's why I don't upload all my ripped DVDs to the account and send them to my friends: I don't have that kind of leeway with Apple.

But Opera Unite basically turns your PC into a personal Web server, from which it's easy to share files. Set up is minimal and bone-headedly simple, and you can use it to host all sorts of media; if your music library is on your home computer, you can use the Media Player service to access it all from any computer that's connected to the Internet. There's even a social networking element: people can post things to your "Fridge" (think Facebook wall), and you can allow or disallow people to visit, browse, and download. (The only real negative is that Opera is one of the ugliest browsers that has ever graced my screen. But I'll deal.)

Unite's services, which are free, like the browser itself, literally take two minutes to set up: the hardest part is getting your brain to process how many Web 2.0 services you no longer need, and the crazy sharing you can now do. Opera says the goal of Unite is to obviate the middleman and give you full power to share as many files as you want. This is a good thing. A scary good. I have two computers: laptop and desktop. With a simple URL (http://account.username.operaunite.com) I can view the hard drive contents of either from the browser of any PC, treating each of my computers like a Web server. There's also a specific Unite app for music, where I can access and play my music (or someone else's) through the browser. No syncing, no uploading, no terms of service. Whoa.

opera

Two downsides: you can't embed media (so no, you can't really replace Flickr). It's also a hell of a thing for peer-to-peer file sharing. At first blush, this is a good thing--you no longer need crappy P2P programs to hustle music and movies back and forth to your fellow pirates. But it also paints a huge target on Opera's back: the RIAA is going to hate this thing. Luckily for us, there's no practical way that any amount of lobbying could get personal file sharing illegalized or rebuffed in court. But that doesn't mean the copyright Nazis won't find another way to make Opera Software's life hell.

Still, make no mistake: this is a big deal. Before, setting up a personal server took a modicum of tech know-how. Now everyone can do it. And here's the killer implementation: going to your Opera Unite account shows you "others running this service." Should those strangers have public folders full of music and movies, you can dig in, connect directly to their PC, and download or play. Others can do the same with your PC, and you can check out the "transfers" tab in Opera to see who is downloading what. Congratulations. You are the original Napster.

Check it out for yourself at Opera's Unite Web site.

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8 Comments

  • Couille De Gnou

    @flap mek: Opera doesn't prevent data execution or randomize address space... its security risks may be less numerous, but they're all critical. They do issue patches for everything, but slower than open-source browsers... It's a mixed bag really. Still, I wouldn't recommend people who don't know what they're doing to use it.
    And Unite will certainly bring a lot of those to their usership; I guess I'm just skeptical, we'll need to have more than an announcement on paper to really judge. But they're not only looking at a hacker's paradise, they also risk their browser to be banned from workplaces and schools because it even offers file-sharing possibilities... an IT nightmare.

  • Mark Riffey

    Chris,

    Maybe it will tick someone off. So what? If it does, maybe they'll actually do something positive as a result.

    Security and related issues aside (not to minimize them), things like this wake up the status quo.

    Napster didnt wake up the music industry, it only stirred up their attorneys. It took iTunes to make them see that there was money there rather than just another threat - and they *still* dont seem to get it.

    Wikipedia and Brittannica, similar story.

    Sometimes you simply have to step on a few toes for society to progress. Im not saying that's what this is, but I see value in pissing off so-called very important people.

    Who is next?

  • Harold Cabezas

    Great post, Chris, it was informative-and I had already read other reports on Opera 10/Opera Unite. I think this is amazing. I am looking forward to using it.

  • Brian Walton

    Sounds like the old napster and limewire reincarnated - networks full ugly viruses to spread around

  • Dave McKnight

    "Luckily for us, there's no practical way that any amount of lobbying could get personal file sharing illegalized or rebuffed in court." Huh? I recall a couple of years ago when RIAA was making news by dragging college students into court for having non-purchased music stored on their personal computers. Has the law changed?
    I can also see a potential issue with your ISP. When I had a Roadrunner account the user agreement specifically stated that they could terminate your service if you hosted a website. If you can get around those issues, then yes, it sounds like a useful tool.

  • flap mek

    @Couille De Gnou

    Isn't Opera just about the most secure browser?

    And don't these services run in sandboxes?

  • Couille De Gnou

    I was about to raise a security concern, because Opera is not exactly acing in that category. Then I remembered that I used Internet Explorer until fairly recently, and still using Windows. But still, I hope they beefed up their browser real well to offer this feature.