Opera Unite: Enabling a Decentralized Web?

Since last week, browser maker Opera has been teasing us with a placeholder site promising the launch of something that would “reinvent the web,” but while I was expecting them to announce that Opera 10 was out of beta already, I was wrong. Opera has instead lifted the covers off the alpha version of Opera Unite, a component of Opera 10 that effectively turns any computer into an easy-to-use web server through the use of “services” (applications built using HTML, CSS and JavaScript) running in your browser. Currently, the range of services is limited, but Opera has provided an API and documentation in the hopes that developers will add to the services ecosystem.

Why could this be useful? Well, it means that computers can be linked together directly, without the need to go through a third party. For common web worker tasks like collaboration on documents, you won’t need to use a web app — just have Opera up and running on your machine with the appropriate service installed. Everyone with Opera will effectively be able to host all of their own web apps. In theory, this could lead to a whole new generation of decentralized peer-to-peer collaboration and sharing applications running through the browser. Even with the limited range of services available now, Unite is useful — with it, sharing large files with friends, colleagues or clients just became incredibly easy.

Unite provides the possibility of an exciting new platform for applications, and could very well shake up the way we think about web apps. However, its success (and whether it actually reinvents the web) will ultimately depend upon how many useful or interesting services become available for it. Opera remains a niche browser — as a platform, will it be attractive for developers? Another problem for Opera is that if it looks like Unite will be useful, it’s highly likely that similar functionality will appear in the more widely-used browsers like Firefox; Opera has a long history of introducing innovative browser features that have been “borrowed” by the larger vendors.

Opera Unite is currently in alpha, and free to download for Windows, Mac and Linux (it will eventually be supported on mobile devices, too). There is plenty of documentation, introductory videos and more available at the Unite web site.

What do you think of Unite? Does it really “reinvent the web”?

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