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Opera Unite Struggles to Keep up With Its Ambitions

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[qi:004] It’s been a month since browser maker Opera (s OPERA) announced Opera Unite to much fanfare, and it’s about time for a reality check: Its users have been struggling to access the browser’s new server functions in recent days, with file-sharing services unavailable and personal web pages returning server errors. At fault is Unite’s proxy architecture, which was supposed to make networking your browser easier, but has been unreliable at best. Add to this the fact that personal Unite pages have been showing up on Google, and you start to wonder what Opera really meant when it claimed to “reinvent the web” with Unite — start from scratch with a shaky architecture and unresolved privacy issues, just like in the early ’90s?

Opera Unite offers users an easy way to share files and host web sites on their own PC through the Opera browser, and the platform can be extended with third-party services. Unite uses proxy servers to make these services available to the world, even if you’re behind a firewall, and the service offers its users permanent URLs that are resolved through Opera’s proxy servers. In other words: Your notebook running Opera with Unite will always be available at an address like, even if you drag it from the office to the coffee shop.


Problem is, these proxy servers haven’t been working. Unite users have been complaining about frequent disconnects for at least two weeks, and the situation seems to have gone downhill from there. Not only was I not able to keep a persistent connection to Unite on multiple test machines for more than a few minutes in recent days, I also couldn’t find a single Unite service on other users’ machines up and running. Even the suggested links to other users within Unite resulted in error messages.

Opera finally admitted to these issues in a blog post yesterday, stating that “this has been largely due to our Unite proxy acting funny.” However, the post doesn’t say anything about how long it will take to resolve these problems, and Opera didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Connection problems aren’t the only issues that have come up in the month since Unite’s launch. Transforming your browser into a publicly available server also has huge privacy implications, one of them being that Google indexes these pages just as if they were any other web site. So far, around 1,300 Unite pages show up in Google’s index. Some of them are password-protected, but Google’s robots were able to access password-protected shared media pages in at least a handful of cases. One also has to wonder whether users really understand that making their home PC’s photos available without a password means those snapshots will be part of the Google Images index as well.

A third-party developer has come up with a Unite extension that utilizes a simple robots.txt file to block Google and others from indexing pages. It may be a good idea to make this a default feature of Unite, but Opera may be hesitant to do so because it would hurt the product’s visibility.

To be fair, Opera Unite is still in alpha, and one can’t expect everything to work 100 percent from day one. However, the proxy issues hint at more substantial architectural challenges: Opera is reinventing the web with its own servers as a single point of failure, and the fact that it can’t keep up with a small number of early adopters makes you wonder whether Unite will ever be ready for mass adoption.

Image from the Opera Unite developer’s primer.

32 Responses to “Opera Unite Struggles to Keep up With Its Ambitions”

  1. Hector Macias Ayala

    It may not work at all at the end, and Opera could give up on Unite, but Opera is so much more than Unite, I started using Opera for all the other cool features and will still using it as my main browser, only if I cant see a particular website then Ill try safari, then firesucks, then chrome and at the end IE.

    I dont create room for it, I have to make room for all the others, since my family uses firesucks and IE.

    • westwald

      Couldn’t agree more.
      Also have IE, Chrome, and have tried Safari, however….guess where I always end up again and again….and again. I just can’t help it…Opera is a great browser.

  2. Slippery Slappery

    OH MY GOD!




    Seriously, when someone starts writing loooooooong articles about a technology preview having problems, you know there’s a lack of real news out there.

    And the insinuation that Opera somehow tried to cover it up? LOL. Yeah, they tried to cover it up by responding in all those forum threads where people were having problems!


    • Slippery Slappery, there is a slight difference between “isn’t working 100%” and a service being completely unavailable for days at a time.

      And, just for the record, we weren’t the ones that publicized this alpha release as “one of (Opera’s) most significant innovations yet, because it changes forever the fundamental fabric of the Web.” Nor did we say that it was “(t)oday, (Opera is) opening the full potential of the Web for everyone.” No, that was Opera’s CEO.

      In fact, the press release didn’t even mention the fact that Unite was still alpha, and instead opted to call it a “a special version.”

      Opera could have easily avoided these mishaps by releasing the software as a closed alpha. Instead, they opted to go for maximum publicity. That’s fine by me, but it’s also an invitation for public scrutiny.

      • mikeeinstein

        thank you janko for saving me from having to respond to this comment, i appreciate it soooooo much. i couldn’t have done it better.

        i got on board with unite the day before these problems started and excitedly emailed my friends and family that they could now view pictures of my kids directly from my computer. oops.

        i recognize this is a free service and it is still in alpha but if it doesn’t work at all, the company should be proactive in informing people of the situation and resolution. they have my email address.

      • Uh, Unite was released as an OPERA LABS version. You know what they do in labs? EXPERIMENTS.

        Closed alpha? Nonsense. There’s no need to keep it closed because that would reduce the amount of testing and feedback.

  3. Dapxin

    thanks for the clarification antonio,

    You know its okay to sound as though something is not good, on its merits. Its another to pass as a bit ignorant.

    Those who know dont talk…

  4. António Afonso

    “Opera is reinventing the web with its own servers as a single point of failure”
    This is inaccurate, please get your facts straight:

    “A third-party developer has come up with a Unite extension that utilizes a simple robots.txt file to block Google and others from indexing pages”
    Chaals, the “third-party developer” is actually an Opera employee, again, please, get your facts straight.

  5. Dapxin

    Those who use Opera, know it, and find it efficient will always create a room to keep using it. They willl need it.

    I am not a software developer, but the term Alpha seems to always mean “it may not work”.

    That’s it.

    • Have you used OPERA on PC ? or Opera mini or Opera Mobile on phones ?
      FYI, some of the cool features of SAFARI were actually copied form OPERA.

    • Slippery Slappery

      Apparently there is room for Opera since it has 40-50 million desktop users and something like 30 million users of Opera Mini. And that number is only for people who got it from Opera directly, and not one of Opera’s many customers and partners.

    • westwald

      please don’t mention IE in the same sentence as opera. When I started using Opera many years ago it was like moving light years ahead. Opera still leads the charge today in my humble opinion.

    • Very funny. 40 millions people use Opera, including me. Without Opera Browser, there’s only a room for obsolete browsers : sessions, zoom, spatial navigation, speed dial and so many, so many things were created by Opera. It’s simple, using Opera is like keeping an eye on the future. You know that every new functionality of Opera will end up in other browsers, sooner or later.

  6. Amateur Hour for Opera. Really now, Google crawling private area pages!

    I worked for an app server company a while back, and they used their own system with some code to do bug tracking. Well, they had their reporting pages of bugs being crawled by Google. The admin had no clue how the robot got behind the firewall.

    • Slippery Slappery


      It’s a damn technology preview. Later builds disable the indexing by default.

      The only amateurs here are the people who whine about something that has actually been fixed.

      • It’s too bad that only hardcore nerds are able to set up that Apache stuff. And that’s just for the server itself. Not even going to get into what it would take to set up something you can actually use.

        Unite does it in a few clicks.

        Actually, you can’t even compare Apache and Unite. They are totally different approaches. Apache is good for normal sites. Unite lets your computer accept requests instead of just being a passive on-looker.