Five Questions about Opera Unite

Opera Software lit up the blogosphere today with the debut of its Opera Unite, a collaborative technology that embeds a Web server in its Opera 10 browser, which is still in beta. The software essentially turns PCs into Web servers, allowing users to run server-based services and bypass the “middlemen who control the servers of the world,” according to this Unite promotional video:

The concept sounds appealing, and I’m all for increasing the power of individual users. But I have a few questions that will likely be answered once the common folk get a chance to play with Opera Unite.

1. A Web server should run 24/7 and be accessible to anyone at any time. Do home users really want to leave their PCs on all the time? If your goal is to share music and photos with friends and family, probably not. That’s a lot of wasted energy, not to mention a higher utility bill each month. When I leave the house, I place my computer in sleep mode (if I’m returning soon) or turn it off.

2. Based on my first impressions of Opera Unite, which I installed this morning, the software’s privacy and security features appear to be pretty good. Even so, many users may be uncomfortable with the idea of turning their PCs into Web servers. Did they set the security features correctly? Will criminals be able to crack Unite’s security and access their personal files? Many folks may not want the headache of running a server.

3. Unite’s setup screen asks this question: “Do you want to share pictures with your family without uploading them to a Web site?” To which I ask: Is uploading photos really that difficult? Millions of people seem to be using Facebook and other social-networking and photo-sharing sites without much trouble. Then again, for photo and video buffs who share thousands of files, a Web server has its advantages.

4. Will the stick-it-to-the-middlemen message resonate with people? While Facebook has annoyed some users by banning pics of breastfeeding moms and various hate groups, it really hasn’t encountered a prolonged, mainstream backlash. Some gripes may be valid. But despite their flaws, the major social nets don’t come across as totalitarian ogres unwilling to listen to their users. And speaking of totalitarianism, there’s also the question of how much control a Web server gives the average Joe and Jane. As we’ve seen recently in China and Iran, governments have a nasty habit of limiting Net access to block information they don’t like.

5. The Web-server-for-all approach runs counter to today’s cloud computing gospel, which preaches the benefits of having our data reside on safe, secure servers run by middlemen. Yes, the very same middlemen that Opera Unite says are no good for us. So who’s right?

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