Tue, 16 Jun 09

Opera Unite - Against the Grain, Yay!

Opera - the epitome of nice guys finishing last and maker of the eponymous browser - has launched Opera Unite, an attempt to reinvent the Web.

The notion of a web browser as a web server is not new, it simply fell by the wayside in the Internet Gold Rush. Netscape decided to essentially give away the browser and charge a huge premium for the server. Once Microsoft realized that browser market share was critical to control standards, formats and future evolution of the technology, the browser business model was deemed FREE. A dying Netscape spawned the open source Mozilla, and various companies nurtured it to develop Firefox. Not surprisingly, Google feels the need to replay the strategy with Chrome.

Yet Opera has not made much headway. Because, or in effect, they seem to make decisions that go against the grain. For example: 

  1. They stood for diligently following web standards, when every website was breaking them and optimizing for new features on Netscape or IE. 
  2. They charged money for the download, when everyone else was giving away browser for free.
  3. They diversified to lesser known, low-volume platforms such as BeOS and smartphones.

Obviously, the company has staying power, and some of these bets have paid off. For example, Opera was chosen as the browser for Nintendo Wii. Yet, clearly, Opera struggled for a while trying to “educate” people that good software costs money before slashing its $39 cost to essentially free.

So now, while everyone else is touting centralized Cloud Computing, Opera is taking a stand for a decentralized, distributed web - the way the web was meant to be. They deserve cheers from every idealistic web champion. Yay!

I think Opera Unite is great for people who want to share files with known collaborators. It might be convenient and since its free, its easy to give it a try. 

However, for the privacy-conscious, it is unclear how much of that information is really private, and how much goes to and is retained by the servers at operaunite.com. As for developers, the lack of market share and unclear revenue opportunity might create hesitation in writing plugins. 

Serious users and service providers value 24/7 availability and reliability, which cannot be left to intermittently connected notebooks and desktops. Operating or utilizing such a service costs money and needs viable revenue models. So far at least Opera has not talked of such services. 

So, Opera Unite is a great reminder of how the web could be technologically, and how it evolves commercially.

Tue, 16 Jun 09