Opera unite!


This description (from the anime Hatsukoi Limited, btw) probably describes the average user of this new piece of free software. Ironically, it is called “Opera unite”.

On February 16, 2001, I wrote an essay about PC-to-PC networking and the future of the Internet. And then I did not upload it, because I decided to write about an anime instead and how it reflected my own life. So there is no way for me to actually document my prediction of the present event.

On February 10, 2003, I once again took a drive-by stab at the topic, mentioning that I would have liked to host the Chaos Node directly from my local harddisk, if standardized technology existed. It didn’t, so I didn’t. I still don’t, but the possibility suddenly jumped miles closer. Thanks to Opera, the Norwegian web browser which tends to come up with the good ideas first, then have them copied by IE and lately Firefox. This one is highly unlikely to be copied by Microsoft, however.

Opera just built a server into the browser. It is not quite grandmother-friendly yet, as there come up some lines that look like Javascript code when you set it up. But it is still astonishingly simple, and should only take a few minutes to get running for the parent generation. From then on, changing the setup can be done in seconds.

There is already built-in code for letting other people play your MP3 files, if you so decide. Or look at your pictures, but only those pictures you want to share. You can even share entire folders to the point where people can download anything they want from them. Obviously this should not be of a too private nature. Well, unless it is password protected. Any of this can be password protected, although each application can only have one password. (So you can not share your baby pictures with grandma and your porn work related documents with someone from work at the same time. You would have to run multiple instances of the same program, and I don’t see that supported.)

The big deal however is that programmers can add their own small programs. If I don’t like that the music players only handles MP3 files, I may make my own that plays AAC, the format used by iTunes. Of course, that requires me to actually program, which I stopped doing years ago. Whatever I think of, someone else is bound to do it, and thanks to Google I should be able to find them when they do so.

The folks at Opera Software are very excited about the new invention. They feel they have finally fulfilled the promise of the Internet. I agree. But I don’t think it will spread enough to really change the world as long as only Opera supports it. (You don’t need Opera to view such a site, only to make it available. So I can share my MP3 files via Opera, and you can play them in Firefox or Internet Exploder.)

The real revolution, I think, will be for illegal file sharing. The “sites” created this way are temporary, ephemeral , transient and don’t last long. There is no backup of them on any corporate server which can be subpoenaed by the Rabid Illiterate American Association or likeminded people. Operaunite.com only connects the giver and the taker, they don’t host the files. Your local harddisk hosts the files. And unlike a torrent tracker, Operaunite.com does not give any hint as to what is stored, or has been stored in the past.

The downside of this is that you can’t find these places on Google or The Pirate Bay or any of the other public resources. You get to know of them by e-mail, IM, certain chat rooms, friends-locked blog entries, someone else’s Opera Unite page, or other underground channels.

If the content is harmless and can stand the light of day, however, there is no reason why you can’t spread it more widely. But even then, you may not want to. Because most likely there will only be a few people in the world interested in your baby pictures and Abba collection, and you may just as well tell them directly.

If this really had come in 2003, there would have been a big unmet demand. But by now we have cloud computing. Pictures can be shared for free on Flickr and Photobucket. Music can be shared for free on Imeem and probably some other sites. Sendfile lets you send any large file privately, such as for instance a movie. There really is no reason to have your computer serving files directly unless you are a fanatic individualist (this program is made in Norway, remember, the only country where the distance between neighbors is measured in stone throws) or really, really don’t want anyone spying on what you’re doing.

Or, of course, you could be like me and do it simply because you can.  Join the revolution!

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