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Opera Software reinvents complete irrelevance

Unites browser with self-delusion

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Fail and You Last week, in a bold attempt at being relevant again, Opera Software unveiled Opera Unite, which is marketese for "web server inside a web browser." The less obvious news tidbit from the release is that Opera Software is evidently still alive, and it's only when you've been clutching that single digit market share for a decade that you can convince yourself that everybody needs a web server on their computer to facilitate a revolution of sharing, openness, and all that happy horse shit.

So anyway, since we're all here, we might as well dive in. From a technical perspective, Opera Unite spins up a web server on your machine and has a host of services that can run on top of the web server like photo sharing, file sharing, and chat Believe me when I tell you that the future is now. You make an account with Opera Unite, enable services, and then tell people about what's running on your machine. Opera provides you with a DNS entry for your machine, so your friends can address your machine from their browsers. For example, http://pornbox.teddziuba.operaunite.com/photo_sharing/ could be used to serve all of the wholesome, family friendly images of petting zoo animals I keep on a machine running in my closet named "pornbox."

In the spirit of Europeans expressing their GDP envy by thumbing their noses at the American recording industry, Opera Unite provides you with a way to share your music library out of the box. You can point this web server at your perfectly legal collection of music ripped from CDs you own, recordings of live performances, and MP3s from local bands that remain unsigned for a reason, and share your music over the internet.

Now, my history is a little weak, but I think somebody has tried that before. That feature is evidently in beta, because I can't seem to get it to work. Attempting to play an underground recording of *NSYNC from their glory days on my Linux laptop leaves my speakers silent. Oh Justin Timberlake, I guess you will just have to wait. Honestly I can't blame Opera for that part not working. After all, they're the first ones ever to write a computer program that plays sound, and they don't exactly have a reference implementation to look at.

There's also a bizarre feature called "The Fridge," whereby other Opera Unite users can leave you an electronic text message and sign it with their e-mail addresses. Like the music sharing program, this one sounds awful familiar too, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

I would be remiss to tell you that the disaster stops with these select few applications. Oh no. Opera Unite is a full on platform for application development, because remember: When engineers can't write code that normal people want to use, they lick their wounds by writing code that other engineers might want to use. API designers like to pat themselves on the back for producing something for smart people only, but really that's just masked guilt for a failed career. So in that regard, let's have a gander at the Opera Unite developers' guide. It was written by a fellow named Hans S. Tommerholt, and I apologize to you all, but there's actually a slashy thing through the first "o" in his last name, but I can't figure out how to type that on my American keyboard.

Butchering the semantics of a foreign culture is easier than figuring out UTF-8. You see, one of the reasons that many American programmers were disappointed that George W. Bush couldn't be elected to a third term is that one good side-effect to his vision of spreading democracy around the world is that ASCII spreads around the world with it. If a thousand bombs have to fall for the world to be rid of multibyte character sets, then so be it.

Anyway developer rage is sending me off-topic. On to the platform to end all platforms. Fuck me, I'm pumped. Let's do it.

Like everything else wrong with the internet, the cornerstones of Opera Unite application development are Javascript and XML. So let's get this straight. As a developer, writing what is essentially a web application, you are restricted to Javascript. Oh no, it's not like there are any other frameworks or library kits out there that make web application development easier or anything, Javascript will do fine. I guess the Opera developers were too tired from slaying ass all night to fully hash that one out at their team meetings.

Okay, fine. I'll play ball. Javascript would be a fairly useful language if its runtime weren't easily mistakable for a cruel practical joke, it had some good libraries for doing every day things, and if there were a development environment for it that didn't make me want to drown myself in a toilet. Maybe Opera did some work at making Javascript a bit more friendly, especially to those of us who are willing to develop applications for them. Ha, nope.

One of the key components to any web application development platform for grownups is a templating language. It's something of a rite of passage for an engineer to write his own templating language at some point. After all, why choose from Django, Mako, Clearsilver, Rails, JSP, ASP, web.py, Cheetah, Velocity, FreeMarker, or anything else that's been used by other shops for enough time to iron out a useful number of bugs? Oh no, let's make our own. And since we're Scandinavian, let's call it Markuper. Awesome idea, guys.

If you've ever been in a car accident, you go over the details of it in your head after it's over. I was approaching an intersection, the light was about to turn, and I was t-boned from the side. You get that nervous feeling that something's about to go horribly wrong every time you approach that intersection again. Call it superstition. Call it a caution earned by experience. But you still sweat a little more when your car rolls up to that light. Well, if you've ever used JSP tags, Markuper will give you that superstitious feeling that something just ain't right.

Anyway, if you're like me, you probably forgot that Opera Unite existed until now. Cryptic pre-launch statements about revolution, no out of the box application that makes you sit and go "hmph," and a development environment that looks about as fun as watching Full Metal Jacket on peyote. I'm going to pass on this one. I think it's safe for everyone to continue to not remember about Opera until you chuckle about it at a browser compatibility meeting.

Funny thing about revolutions, though. When they fail, someone usually gets beheaded. ®

Ted Dziuba is a co-founder at Milo.com You can read his regular Reg column, Fail and You, every other Monday.

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