I have a soft spot for Opera. I've always been a fan of this plucky underdog, ploughing its own furrow, and doing all the other metaphors that are invoked in these cases. I even like its product - pity it's not open source....
Anyway, it serves a vitally important function in the browser market as probably the most innovative player there, constantly challenging the assumptions that underlie our use of this tool. And with its latest incarnation, dubbed Opera Unite, it's done it again:
Take control of what you share online
Opera Unite allows you to easily share your data: photos, music, notes and other files. You can even run chat rooms and host entire Web sites with Opera Unite. It puts the power of a Web server in your browser, giving you greater privacy and flexibility than other online services.
Now, on the day that the Digital Britain report is being released, and which is not likely to look so favourably on the idea of taking control of what you share online, this is a cheeky move. But I think it's an important move for a completely different reason: Opera Unite is the first anti-cloud.
Cloud computing is without doubt the hype du jour; but there's one aspect of this whole tendency that's very strange. If you read blogs like the excellent Global Guerillas, which discuss something rather terrible, called “open source war” - basically, applying open source principles to warfare - it soon becomes apparent that the last thing you want to do is to centralise critical resources like energy, water, gas – or computing. They make the perfect target for the disaffected, because a single strike, costing relatively little, can cause billions of pounds of damage, crippling a nation for days.
So with cloud computing we seem, perversely, to be moving from an extremely robust, distributed model for computing, to an insanely centralised, vulnerable one of massive data-centres just begging to be shut down by criminals and terrorists.
Opera's Unite boldly invites us to go in the opposite direction, to bring the Web server onto our own machines. That may not look revolutionary or inspired now, but just wait until one of the big server farms run by Google or Microsoft is taken down for a few weeks, and huge chunks of Western society grind to a halt: then you might begin to recognise the attractiveness of having control of your own computing, data – and destiny.