Opera is creating their own interpretation of cloud computing with Opera Unite. While most other companies are creating gigantic server networks for users to upload their information to, Opera is going the other way and opening up client computers for peer to peer file sharing.
Opera Unite is actually a set of different services, all turning your computer into a file-sharing or web-server. The services include photo and file sharing, a media player, a chat client (hosted on your own computer) and the fridge (a bulletin board system where anyone can leave messages for you).
Although Opera Unite is in early Beta we tried all the available services out to see what the fuzz was about. Unite lives in your web-browser, so the first step is to download the Opera 10 browser and install it. Then you will need an Opera account, which can easily be created.
Perhaps the most interesting feature in Opera Unite is the file-sharing capabilities. There have been many times where you just want to e-mail a file to someone, but because of all the spam-filters and file-size limitations it is not that easy.
When installing the Opera Unite file-sharing service you simply select a directory that you want to share with the outside world. It is possible to share the folder with everyone making it public, but also to password protect the folder so that only selected users can view the contents in it. When a folder has been configured you get a URL, for example xxxxx.operaunite.com/folder/file-sharing/. Then it is a matter of sharing the URL with the people you want to be able to access the files.
It is also possible to create a completely private folder, just for yourself. This might be suitable for when you are on the road and need access to your files.
Another interesting service is the Fridge, where users can leave messages in the form of post-it notes on a fridge. To be quite honest it is difficult to see any real use for it though, most people would text, send an e-mail or use discussion groups or other collaboration environments. But it is nevertheless fun.
Media Player is another Opera Unite service, it resembles WinAmp Remote. It works basically the same-way as file-sharing with some added capabilities like shuffle and repeat.
The web-server service is quite handy if you just want to use it as a test-environment, especially if you are designing web-sites and want to give your clients an easy way to look at the sites. However the Opera Unite web-server does not contain any support for PHP or databases, which I thought was the whole point with having a web-server for test-purposes.
Opera Unite also has a photo sharing capability. I was in a meeting and wanted to share some photos of a project we had been working on, sending them by e-mail turned out to be a nightmare because of spam-filter and file-size limitations. So I used Opera Unite, with little success. I shared a folder and directed the meeting participants to my URL, the service just sat there and loaded, nothing happened. After my third attempt I just uploaded the photos to my Smugmug account, worked like a charm. The Opera Unite service is a bit quirky and does not always work, which can be expected since it is in testing.
Opera Unite is sort of a borderline product, one side of the story is that it is brilliant. For files that you want to share fast without uploading them somewhere it is great. For small businesses that does not trust cloud storage services it is also great. However it comes with limitations, first of all the client computer has to be on all the time. If the client computer gets lost you do not have the natural back-up as regular cloud services provide.
Another issue is security; I cannot help feeling worried when I create public folders and services on my own computer. Opera Unite is not something I dare to make permanent on my systems since it is not a finished product, and I can imagine that there are quite a few exploits and other security issues hidden in there, as in most other new beta software products.
Opera Unite is easily accessible from Opera 10; however Opera 10 excites me more than Unite. The product is a good start and it will be interesting to follow, but as of right now it is nowhere near finished, cloud sharing services still have the upper-hand.