Opera Unite: Should Hosts Be Worried?

A look at the Opera Unite interface. The newest version of the browser includes a web server.

A look at the Opera Unite interface. The newest update includes a web server.

Has Opera reinvented the Internet? Or just come up with an interesting niche project for enthusiasts? Opera Unite transforms the web browser into a server, allowing users to share files and photos or even run a web site from within their browser (so long as the web site doesn’t require PHP).

Opera is clearly targeting the web hosting and data center industry, hoping to build a business platform atop browser-based sites and services previously hosted by service providers. And it’s using loaded terminology, with an introductory video attacking “servers belonging to strangers” and asserting that web sites are “at the mercy of middlemen who control the servers of the world.”

“Our computers are only dumb terminals connected to other computers (meaning servers) owned by other people — such as large corporations — who we depend upon to host our words, thoughts, and images,” writes Lawrence Eng, a product analyst for Opera, in a blog post introducing Unite. “We depend on them to do it well and with our best interests at heart. We place our trust in these third parties, and we hope for the best, but as long as our own computers are not first class citizens on the Web, we are merely tenants, and hosting companies are the landlords of the Internet.”

Should the landlord be worried? Here’s some reaction from around the web:

  • CNet’s coverage picks up the obvious downside: the security risks associated with running a server on your desktop or notebook. It notes that Unite doesn’t incorporate SSL, and quotes Andy Buss, a senior analyst at Canalys, calling security based on the distribution of passwords was “an avenue to disaster.”
  • Larry Dignan from ZDNet thinks the concept of browser-based hosting may catch on: “This browser as a Web server concept is an innovation I see being picked up by other browsers. Can you imagine this approach bundled with Chrome, Gmail and other Google services? Wouldn’t Unite be great bundled as a Firefox add-on? Opera Unite will have a big impact, but the vision may be realized by browsers with more market share.
  • Zoli Erdos at Cloud Avenue sees significant downside to the idea: “Do you really want to contribute to the underlying infrastructure of the Net?  Opera says this is about taking our freedom back, but to me freedom means not having to worry about infrastructure at all. … Oh, and there is the small issue of bandwidth.”
  • At InternetNews.com, Sean Michael Keener also wonders about bandwidth consumption. “I see no mention of it as a distributed or P2P type service in any of Opera’s developer specs , which means that whatever it is you’re hosting is hosted locally and using local bandwidth. For small items, that’s fine but in the new era of metered bandwidth, I think users with large media/photo collections would be wise to think twice before hosting content on their own.” 
  • Mashable says the issues extend beyond the bandwidth: “With Opera Unite, you should – ideally – be dependent only on your internet connection. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that, because a lot of the features cannot function without Opera’s servers, which somewhat undermines the point of the entire service.” 

My two cents? This might be interesting for the enthusiast crowd, but has significant limitations for any sites that have meaningful audiences. I doubt Opera Unite would ever be taken seriously as a business hosting platform, although it may create some interesting opportunities for developing social networking applications.

What do you think? Is browser-based hosting a threat to the hosting and data center industry? Have you say in the comments.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. B James

    Great new reason for ISPs to block more types of inbound traffic to consumer internet connections, bandwidth metering, and we will not even touch on the subject of security... Fun times ahead...

  2. null

    Errr... nope. This is only useful to the casual user, never expected to replace proper server technology. A clear example of the potential uses for this is facebook or similar services. For certain you will use facebook or similar to store and share most of your albums, but I'm pretty sure that no one uploads ALL his/her pictures to facebook, for obvious privacy concerns. Yet if the average user want to share some of those, it has to rely in e-mail, or some kind of half assed service embedded in a IM client or similar. In practice, no real control of your data and not the best tool for the job. With something like Unite you setup a photo sharing session for a half hour and send the link for the people you want to receive the pics and thats it. Pretty much hassle free About the ISP issues, there is nothing in Unite that you can't do with existing technologies. If a user abuses of the ISP by indiscriminately sharing stuff and providing services that it shouldn't is more likely he or she is doing that already with a system service based product like apache or IIS. If sharing services in unite are limited to oneself and a small circle of friends\family that should falls into fair use policy, but I might be wrong.

  3. nate

    null is right on. i think you missed the point. this is meant to target the social networking sites, in my opinion. now you can have your little facebook page, only your content is easier to manage on your end, and no worries about being censored for illegal or 'inappropriate' content.

  4. Opera Unite has proven to hold it's greatest potential. I have been using Unite to host my photos, music, and website. It works very well and I do not have to pay these hosting companies to hold my files nor my website. Having my desktop running 2 TB hard drive holding my site works very well. I host my own blog network and some vacation videos. It is hard to believe that hosting companies are not concerned a little bit about users having the ability to host their own site. As long as they know people are not interested, they feel great to hold your data and to keep having the money flowing in. There are people that have tried Unite and find it to be too overwhelming to set up and run their computers 24/7, however it make me feel great that I am the one hosting those files and I can share what is in my laptop with my social networking sites. Opera is amazing! Opera 10.60 is doing well with speed and now with my iPod touch and Android phone, I have chosen Opera mini as my default web browser.