Updated: August 24, 2009
Alongside Firefox, Chrome and possibly Safari, Opera is one of the leading non-IE browsers you can choose to run on your operating system. What makes Opera attractive is that it has quite a few features built in without a need for external modding, like mail, RSS reader and BitTorrent client, it is fast, it is secure, and it can even be run as a portable application.
Version 10 of the browser is currently in the beta (3) stage. The new release promises to bring a handful of improvements and exciting new features, including 100% pass grade on the Acid3 test, which means it fully complies with W3C standards, and a rather revolutionary invention called Unite service.
Opera Unite is an attempt to create a user-managed, user-governed sharing and collaboration service akin to Peer-to-Peer (P2P) sharing, run from within the browser itself. Instead of building dedicated web sites or using third-party services, users will be able to communicate with their friends across the world without leaving their browser.
Opera Unite can be used for fun stuff, like chatting or sharing of music and video, but it can also help people work together on projects regardless of physical distance. It will also significantly improve flexibility and mobility, as users will be able to access their data anywhere in the world. Advanced users will be able to create their own services, further enhancing the power of their browser.
This is definitely a novel idea, especially since it allows ordinary people without Web skills to enjoy near-website experience, for free. In a way, it's P2P with a very friendly UI plus Google Docs plus social networking all in one. On top of which, you still retain a very good browser. Sounds like a win-win situation.
I decided to test this marvelous concept and see for myself what Opera Unite offers. Do note that the service is still in a beta stage, so somethings may change.
Your first step will be to download Opera 10 Beta, which contains the service. If you install Opera on Windows, you'll see a splash screen that emphasizes the Acid3 results:
The installation is simple and straightforward. When it comes to core functionality, Opera 10 is quite similar to the current official version, with a few small visual changes that make it even more appealing.
You can access the Opera Unite service by either clicking on the sort of pause/play button left of the main tab area or by going the classic way via Tools > Opera Unite Server.
Setting up the account is rather simple:
Still, less skilled users may encounter some issues, mainly regarding the configuration of the service itself. If you click on Advanced Settings, you'll see what I mean.
The first tricky setting is the Use UPnP port forwarding from my router. Less experienced users may not even know what the router is or how to configure it to use port forwarding. What more, if the UPnP is disabled in the router panel, as it should be, automatic port forwarding won't work, crippling the service.
The second issue is with the Default port and Upload Speed. The port may be in use, which could cause additional issues for less experienced users. A much higher port would be preferable. Upload Speed is set to Unlimited at first, which means that the service will suck up entire bandwidth when working.
Visibility options may or may not have security implications, depending what the user wants to achieve. The boxes are checked by default, which is definitely favorable for anyone who wants to use the service, but if you wish to make your account visible only to a small number of friends, you may want to consider unchecking these options.
Once configured, Opera Unite will launch. Please note that this is a service. This means that it expects to receive incoming connections. Therefore, it opens a port on the local machine running Opera Unite. Nothing to worry about, but you should definitely remember this. Likewise, if you have any software firewalls in use, make sure you allow Opera Unite to listen on its selected port.
Once you're done with configurations, Opera Unite will open - your new homepage. For all practical purposes, this is a web site. You can now start editing the look and feel, but more importantly, you can start adding services.
The beauty of Opera Unite is that is allows you to achieve quite a bit of functionality in just a few quick mouse clicks. To expand the Opera Unite menu, click on its icon left of the tab bar.
It's time to activate some of the services and start enjoying yourself. For example, Opera Messenger, an IM-like service. Just double-click on the Opera Messenger icon.
You'll be asked to confirm the addition of the service:
And you're up and running:
Alas, I have no friends ... You can also share images:
The last thing to pay attention to is the security of each service. Scroll down in the opened service pages and you'll be able to configure the access control to your content.
Opera Unite is a unique, interesting project. It's a refreshing, innovative idea that should appeal to the modern, Web-conscious user. If you're a security and privacy freak, you may disregard Opera Unite as a dangerous publicity/data-harvesting stunt. However, if you have one or more social networking accounts where you actively participate and exchange information with your friends and would-be friends, if you share data online using P2P software, if you want to have a website or a personal portal but do not really know how to do it, Opera Unite seems like the perfect solution for you.
Whether Opera Unites becomes massively used will depend on many factors, including long-term security of the service itself, which is something the Opera developers will have to consider very seriously. The potential for abuse and exploits is simply staggering.
On the other hand, if Opera weathers the rite of passage and manages to provide steady, robust and safe experience to its customers, I believe it should blend well into the modern age of online computing. With cloud computing being the new .com rage and the fervent talks of Google's Chrome OS, Opera Unite is the logical extension of this world.
Opera Unite seems like a very bright concept. I think you should give it a try.