By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 6:38 pm
Norwegian browser stalwart Opera released the first beta today of Unite, its technology which puts a Web server inside the browser, letting Opera run apps that serve content up to the Web as well as download it. (You need to run Opera to use Unite, but the information the apps deliver–such as access to your music and photos–can be gotten to with any desktop browser.)
Unite first showed up last June as an alpha that was accompanied by some of the most excessive hype ever attached to a product that didn’t hail from Cupertino–the company said it “would forever change the fundamental fabric of the Web.” I understand that changing the fundamental fabric of anything takes more than a few months, but Unite got off to a rocky start, suffering issues related to both reliability and privacy.
The new version of Unite has tighter security (including features to prevent Unite apps from getting indexed by search engines unless that’s what you want, and more rigorous password features). The initial group of apps–such as a music server, a photo-sharing tool, and a virtual refrigerator that friends can tack notes onto–have been joined by some additional ones from Opera and other companies, including an instant messenger and a Twitter client:
Opera has also ratcheted down the hoopla, at least a little: The new release is accompanied by a quote from CEO Jon von Tetzchner talking about “moving closer to our goal of reinventing the Web.”
I still think Unite is an interesting idea, but it’s not a fully-realized one, nor one whose advantages are immediately obvious. (Some of its downsides, on other hand, are easy to grasp–such as the fact that Unite apps only work as long as your PC is turned on and connected to the Internet).
There are only a few Unite apps so far, and none of them feels anything like a killer app. Most of them, in fact, might leave you saying “Explain to me again why this is better than using a traditional Web service that doesn’t run on my computer?” (For instance, the Twitter client is extremely rudimentary, as you can see from the image above.)
Anyhow, if nothing else, Unite serves as a good excuse to give Opera a try. It’s a really good browser overall, and at the moment, it’s my primary one–I’ve been having trouble with both Firefox and Opera under Snow Leopard, and so I’m living with Opera and seeing if it suits me better…