Opera Unite could lead to ‘fog computing’ age

Opera Software ASA has embedded a new beta feature in its Opera 10 Web browser that can turn any users’ PC into a fully fledged Web server. But according to one industry observer, if Canadian users catch on, the browser could lead to a slew of legal, regulatory and security challenges.

The Norway-based company launched Opera Unite on Tuesday, calling the application platform a “natural step” in the evolution of the Internet, where online users are no longer at the mercy of server hosting providers. CEO Jon von Tetzchner said the feature would enable every single computer to act as a two-way street on the Web, freely able to share information and services with whoever they want.

“People have been talking about Web 2.0, maybe this is Web 5.0,” he said in a Webcast. “We tend to be a few years ahead of the curve on these things.”

In addition to offering a Web hosting feature, the beta release of Unite also comes with a handful of embedded services, including a file sharing application which allows users to select the files they want to share and the access control rights (private, public or password protected) they wish to set.

Once you choose a name for your PC, Opera will be able to create a custom URL — which will work with any Web browser — to give out to incoming users.

Other embedded services include a media player, a photo sharing application, a chat room and a chalkboard-style social networking tool dubbed “Fridge” which allows users to leave each other notes in real-time.

While users are given the option to run the browser hidden in the background, all of Unite’s Web server and embedded service capabilities will shut down when the Opera browser is closed.

Duncan Stewart, director of research at Deloitte Canada covering technology, media and telecommunications, called Unite a “neat idea” but warned of the network security, piracy and system stability concerns that the concept could bring.

“The ISP world is definitely not ready for this,” he said. “As a matter of fact, under the terms of service that many people have with their ISPs, especially if they’re on broadband, it specifically says, ‘thou shalt not act as thy own server.’”

Just from the topology of the traditional shared broadband network, Unite’s functionality could give many ISPs and broadband providers’ conniption fits, he added. “The network architecture is not currently built to support this.”

In addition to network concerns, Unite could also make piracy and cyber criminal enforcement efforts more difficult, as users move away from third-party hosting services to their own private hosting model, Stewart said.

“If every computer in the world ran Opera Unite instead of going to a cloud that Google, IBM or some hosting provider owns, the new cloud would be every computer in the world,” he said, referring to it as fog computing.

“Instead of it being something white and fluffy that’s 10 miles away and looks like a sheep, it’s this grey, amorphous mass that you’re inside of and you might have some trouble finding your way around. Fog is also something that hides you, and pirates at sea especially like fog to move around undetected.”

As of now, many of these Unite issues will probably fly under the radar in Canada simply because the adoption rate for the browser is incredibly low, said IDC Canada Ltd. senior research analyst Kevin Restivo.

“IT pros are likely going to appreciate the ambitious effort of Opera Unite, but in general, I wouldn’t expect a parade of people to depart from their existing applications and migrate to Opera.”

Opera’s chief development officer Christen Krogh said the company is hoping the development community will help create more Unite services in the coming months. He added that Opera was working on extending the Unite feature to mobile phones, but would not specify any additional details on those plans.

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