Opera has launched a new Web browser in an attempt to gain market share. Dubbed Unite, the new browser offers some game-changing features, but tries a little too hard to compete with existing social networks.
Opera is truly the little guy when it comes to Web browsers. While they have been around for over twelve years, their desktop market share is paltry compared to even relative newcomers like Firefox, Safari and Chrome. Unite is a browser with a suite of applications that allow your computer to directly share files, music, and photographs without complex configuration. It also has chat and a Web server built in.
Nothing on the technology front is new here. It's just that in the past, if you wanted to set up these kind of services on your home computer, you needed to know a little some things about, Web servers, Web design, port redirection, firewalls and other network technologies. Opera Unite does all this for you.
Critics are calling it a bad move and saying that it's a system administrator's nightmare. I agree with that last part, but I like rooting for the little guy, and there are some cool tricks you can do with the newest from Norway.
The most awesome aspect of Opera Unite is that it makes sharing your music collection easier than ever. Simply start the service, tell it which folder to use, assign a password and you're ready to go. You can now listen to your entire music collection from any Web browser. Well, almost any. Perhaps unsurprisingly, playing music in Safari on the iPhone is a no-go. Otherwise, simply point the remote Web browser to http://computername.username.operaunite.com, click on the Media Player, enter the password, and go.
File sharing and photo sharing worked in the same way. My iPhone had no problem with these apps.
Two features that I thought were a lame grab at the social networking pie are "The Fridge" where you can leave post-it style notes, and "The Lounge" is simply a chat-room. All the cool kids are already on Facebook or MySpace and swimming in social networking functionality. Opera shouldn't have bothered.
Also included is a Web server. I don't see much point in having this, as there are already so many free and low-cost Web hosting sites.
If Opera is smart, it will hook up with Facebook. It is a mistake to try to create a new social network when a site that has reached critical mass already exists. Having a Facebook Opera Unite application, which connects your friends with content and media directly on your computer, would be wildly successful. Facebook and Twitter are where people will share their Opera Unite links anyway.
This is all bad news for the poor, poor RIAA. People will be sharing movies and music with their friends, and it will be harder than ever to track. Data doesn't pass through a central server, and unless your password is published to the world or they do some illicit snooping, they have no idea what information is being shared.
Oh, and Opera Unite has a Web browser too, although I'll probably keep using Chrome and Firefox for that.
OperaUnite.jpg Opera Unites's media player in action