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Opera Readies Unite

Opera recently released a beta of its next browser update, Opera 10.10. Of note in this release is Opera Unite, finally enabled by default. Opera is showing signs of progress, but is Unite all it was initially cracked up to be?

Opera made a big splash with Unite but then the feature seemed to fade away. It didn’t quite make it into Opera 10 when it launched in in September, and not much has been said about it. But it looks like the Opera folks have been quitely tinkering away at Unite, and it’s back in the 10.10 beta builds better than ever.

A quick reminder: Unite is a Web server inside of the Opera Web browser that allows users to run applications that connect them with other Opera users. The default set of applications includes a Web server, file sharing, photo sharing, media player, and a message board.

This means anyone, or at least anyone with an an Opera account and an Opera build with Unite enabled, can run their own collaborative applications. Rather than depending on third party services, like Flickr or an instant messaging service like Gtalk or AIM, users can host their own. In addition, a high-speed Internet connection is not required but I’d definitely recommend it for any of the file/media sharing applications.

I grabbed the latest build of Opera 10.10 for openSUSE 11.1 and whipped the RPM onto my system. Opera definitely deserves credit for supporting multiple OSes. They provide packages for most Linux distros, 32-bit and 64-bit builds, and also offer binary tarballs. Not only is Linux well-supported, the Opera folks provide Windows, Mac OS X, FreeBSD, and Solaris builds.

Aside from enabling Unite by default, 10.10 doesn’t have a lot of difference from the 10.0 release. So let’s take a look at where Unite stands today.

Unite Progress

Opera has started to attract a few developers, so I thought I’d try out some of the new applications.

What kind of apps will you find? There’s a training log for runners, a collection manager for folks who want to track their collections, and file sharing applications, pastebin replacements, and so on. The sign that Unite has “arrived,” though, is the twicli unite Twitter client. That seems to be the new “hello world” for any platform.

In general, the apps are useful, easy to install, and easy to use. But Opera still has no “killer” applications that are going to drive people in droves to Opera. Of the apps I tested, most worked as advertised, though one of the file-sharing applications appeared to allow uploads to my instance of Unite, but then failed to actually save anything locally. Other than that, I didn’t have any problems.

The nice thing about most of the apps is that Opera is only required on one end of the connection. So, if you’re an Opera user and want your friends, co-workers, or family to be able to upload larger files to your computer (for instance) you can run the Document Courier app and they can access it from their favorite browser.

One thing that is interesting about Unite is that it demonstrates how much we live in our browsers. If you look at all the work going into Unite, and all the work going into making Google Chrome ready for extensions, and all the work going into Firefox’s developer ecosystem, browsers are becoming pretty rich application development platforms in their own right. They’re not just for displaying Web pages anymore.

Right now, Firefox still has a long lead on the competition when it comes to extensions and expanding what a browser is and will be. If you look at not only the add-ons, but Weave, Ubiquity, and other advancements out of Mozilla Labs, the Moz folks are leading the way in terms of making Firefox much more than a Web browser.

Opera still has a way to go before it catches up to all the apps for Firefox. Having a stable release of Opera with Unite enabled should help Opera quite a bit, though. It will be interesting to check back on Opera in a few months to see if Unite has taken off, or if the Unite application page is still in the double digits.

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