Opera chief: history will silence Unite doubters
Browser code 'too complex' for open source
Undeterred by the media backlash against Opera Unite - the web-browser-meets-web-server contraption unveiled last month - Opera chief executive Jon von Tetzchner says that ten years on, the world will look back on its debut as a seminal moment in the history of the web.
"Some people see Unite, and they understand. With others, it takes some time," von Tetzchner told The Reg this week during a sit-down in our San Francisco offices. "It is very different from what we're used to, and for a lot of people, they don't really grasp what it is.
"That's OK. But this kind of service will be very prevalent in the future... And if we sit town in ten years time, you'll say 'Yes, this was a big deal. Not everyone saw that in the beginning.'"
Four days before launching Unite, Opera floated an online teaser boasting that an imminent announcement would reinvent the web. When the mystery launch turned out to be a personal web server, some were left cold, and many questioned whether putting an addressable web server on millions of desktops was a recipe for security disaster.
But von Tetzchner argues that Opera Unite is actually more secure that a run-of-the-mill post-your-data-to-the-cloud service. And on the whole, he's pleased with Unite's press coverage.
"Ninety per cent of the articles about Unite are saying either: 'This is brilliant' or: 'Maybe it's not reinventing the web, but it's close,'" he told us. "Some have security concerns. But it's always prudent to have security concerns about any new technology. And Some have said: 'Hey, I can do this with Apache. There's nothing new.'
"But if you're technical enough to do this from Apache or anything else, one, there's no problem with that, and two, you're probably not going to understand Unite anyway."
In marrying the web client with the web server, the goal is to allow even the greenest surfers to share content straight from their local machines. "What we're trying to do is take something that currently is very difficult and make it easy. We're tying to give you something that you can describe to your parents or even your grandparents. And I believe we've achieved that."
Well, aside from some hiccups with the Opera proxies required to route data from Unite's personal web server. But von Tetzchner rightly points out that the product is still under test. "Clearly, the service isn't ready yet. We're working on that. That's why we've just put it in a labs release," von Tetzchner said. "But when it's ready," he said leaving it hanging.
For von Tetzchner, sharing content straight from the desktop is significantly easier - and quicker - than sharing via the so-called cloud - especially where photos, videos, and other bandwidth-eating files are concerned. "This is the next natural evolution of the web. We're on our way to the cloud, but we're thinking about what comes after that cloud," he said.
"What if you can just say: 'Hey, Mom, I took some get pictures and you can take a look right here on my home machine' and you don't have to upload to a remote server?"
But he also sees Unite sparking a web revolution beyond the desktop. Eventually, he says, Unite's personal server will help deliver that long-dreamed-of world where the web drives every appliance in the home. "We're starting to see servers in various components, like routers and photo frames. But it's not co-ordinated. It's not working," von Tetzchner continued.
"We'll open up a tremendous amount of capability to build applications that run [throughout the home]. People can build things that, again, run in the cloud or on devices, co-ordinating things between different devices, being able to access - either automatically or directly - any device you have in your home. Think home automation."
Opera isn't just a means of serving content. It's a development platform meant to put applications on the client as well. "What if all devices are tied together and they have the capability to not only connect to other devices but allow other devices to connect to them? What kind of solutions does that open up?" von Tetzchner said. "We're using the web to serve applications and data and services from any particular node in the network."
In the end, he even goes so far as to compare the debut of Opera Unite to the early days of the web itself. Like Unite, von Tetzchner says, the web had its far share of critics.
"I was at the first worldwide web conference and you had people from Apple saying: 'This is no big deal.' They said that Hypercard - remember Hypercard? - was much better than the web, that the web was just a cheap copy of Hypercard. That's more or less what they said. The reality is that the web is now a very big deal." ®
Will Opera ever open its browser code? von Tetzchner and company have discussed the possibility, but the answer is "no". He argues that because Opera is juggling browsers for so many disparate devices, it can't lose control of the source code.
"I don't think that would do very much for us," he explained. "The reason to do open source is for marketing purposes. But with the complexity of what we're dealing with, it's not a good idea.
"Mozilla is more or less focusing on desktop browsers and that's complex enough. We are, at any given time, dealing with more than a hundred different deliveries, because we're not only doing desktops. We're doing mobile phones. We're doing set-top boxes. We're doing cars. We're doing game consoles. We're doing all these things. And handling that complexity is extremely hard. And I think that requires fairly good control over the piece of code."