Opera Unite - Clarifying the Vision
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 8:01:22 AM
I posted it in that blog's comments, but at the time of this writing, "Your comment is awaiting moderation." That's why I'm reposting here in the meantime.
This is Lawrence. I met you at a previous BarCamp in San Diego. Just to clarify, I neither invented nor engineered this technology. My purpose was simply to help elucidate Opera’s vision regarding Opera Unite.
Thanks for taking the time to really look over Opera Unite. It’s a complex technology with even more complex implications, so a dialogue and information sharing are absolutely critical, especially at the early stages of a launch when both hype and counter-hype are running rampant, and mainstream news sources don’t necessarily have the time to dig deeply into the subject.
There are parts of the vision I presented that you and others might disagree with. Some of those things we can chalk up to political differences, or perhaps a difference in the way different parties prefer to approach marketing. However, I think several of the major complaints you have come from a few misunderstandings (which I freely admit might be due to lack of clarity on my part).
There’s one major point that needs to be addressed:
Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Google Docs, and all the various social networks and cloud-based web apps of the world are not inherently evil, by any means. Cloud computing, in the traditional big datacenter sense, is not something to be thrown out. Opera itself hosts a social network (My Opera) that has been a very successful offshoot of our user support forums, and we have our own cloud service for data (e.g. bookmark and Speed Dial) synchronization across browser instances. We also have a presence on various social networking sites around the web, and of course we work very hard to make sure that our browser works with cloud-hosted web applications of all sorts. On a personal note, I am one of those social-network obsessed Americans you mention who has accounts on Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, orkut, etc. and I still plan to use them (alongside Opera Unite).
So no, we don’t hate social networks and big-server computing. The point I tried to convey is that users should have a choice–freedom to decide how and where their data resides and is used. In some circumstances, they may choose Facebook or Flickr, but in other (equally legitimate) circumstances, they may choose to host it themselves. Opera Unite is our way of removing people’s reliance on the big datacenter solution, not because big servers are necessarily bad, but because they’re not enough (for what I would consider a truly healthy online ecosystem) and are not optimal for all the things we envision people will eventually do online (which is a lot!).
That’s the vision we presented for this new technology. How it will be turn out, and what it will ultimately mean for users and the IT world, is a question that only time will answer. Hopefully, we built in the right things so that developers will use the platform for good–in profoundly cool ways. As you rightfully say, it’s not just about the philosophy. The experience we’re providing has to be easy and better, and I think Opera Unite is pretty darn easy to use considering how much power it gives to users (some might say more power than they can handle, but we’re addressing that too).
Regarding a few other specific complaints:
1. Yes, millions of people are comfortable with other people hosting their data, but there are also plenty of people who aren’t so comfortable, either because it’s a hassle, hard to use, or because of privacy concerns. I share photos online (Flickr, Facebook, and My Opera) but that doesn’t mean I want to share _all_ of my “stupid digital photos” on the public web. Just today, I used Opera Unite to share some content with close friends that I wouldn’t necessarily want to put on Facebook, Flickr, etc.
2. Seeking to increase the popularity of Opera and supporting user freedom are not mutually exclusive; that’s a false dichotomy. Furthermore, you can’t get popular without making users happy, and that’s what we try to do when we introduce browser innovations.
3. I don’t know about American versus European perceptions as a whole, but there seems to be plenty of Americans who support the idea of individuals having more choice regarding how they share their data and interact with each other online.
4. The question of Opera and Open Source has been discussed online repeatedly in the past. I don’t think Opera has ever said anything bad about other browsers being open source; obviously, that solution works for them, but it doesn’t necessarily work for us. There’s room in the world for closed source solutions to live beside open source ones, and once again, people are given a choice regarding what they prefer. As you know, of course, we believe that focusing on open standards is the way to go.
5. When possible (depending on one’s router and the design of particular Unite services), Opera Unite supports UPnP (enabled by default) so that users can bypass Opera’s proxy service. Even when that proxy service is used, the data that passes through it is not stored by Opera.
6. The EULA is something we’ve been getting questions on. My colleagues have been fielding those questions and are more suited to answering than I am, so I’ll leave it at that, along with your concerns regarding namespaces (it’s something we will look into, especially if widespread outcry becomes apparent). Some common user questions are addressed on this page: http://unite.opera.com/support/ (I think it’s worth a look)
7. At Opera, we reserve the right to host applications that we deem are appropriate. If someone wishes to host their own Opera Unite application outside of our repository, they are free to do so, but due to security considerations, we recommend that users install trusted and verified applications hosted by Opera.
At the end of the day, Opera Unite is still a work in progress, and we need informed, critical voices as well as enthusiastic ones to make it all work. Your feedback has been valuable, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to clarify some issues (even if some points of disagreement persist). People have always counted Opera out, but the company has been around for 15 years, and we’re going stronger than ever on multiple fronts (including the desktop). We did make ambitious statements about Opera Unite, and big claims paint a target on our back, but we think it’s better to aim high and not give up, even if we stumble a little out of the gate. Maybe I’m just an idealistic American, but I think the best is yet to come.