The folks at Opera Software would like you to believe that Opera Unite, a new, experimental feature set for its Opera browser product, has "reinvented the Web." The company's breathy, gushing press release is truly remarkable spin, even by the standards of dot-com PR. But the way I see it, Opera Unite is hardly game-changing; rather, it's a Hail Mary bid for Opera to stay in the game -- in more ways than one.
That Opera is still around is impressive, in and of itself. It takes guts to offer a proprietary, closed source browser in this market, where the competition consists of one of the most successful open source projects ever, two of the most powerful companies in the computer industry (Microsoft and Google), and Apple. Still, Opera's strong support for open Web standards has won favor with many developers, and its early focus on browsers for mobile handsets was prescient, to say the least.
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The value of this new initiative, however, is harder to see -- which might explain the hype overload. The short description just sounds weird: Opera Unite is a Web server on the Web browser. Ignoring for the moment that this isn't really groundbreaking -- even some vending machines have Web servers on them these days -- why on Earth would anyone want that?
The browser gets social
Digging deeper, it becomes clear that the real appeal of Opera Unite lies not in the embedded Web server itself, but in the additional features Opera has built on top of it. Although it can host your Web sites, Opera Unite also offers peer-to-peer file sharing, chat, a media player, photo sharing, and a "fridge" on which users can leave each other notes, among other features. It's not so much about Web publishing as it is about collaboration.