Chris Messina, who blogs as FactoryJoe and is an advocate of open-source technologies such as Firefox and Flock, positively shredded Opera Unite in a blog post last night, June 16, that provoked more than 200 comments on his own blog, Facebook, FriendFeed, Reddit and other sites. See the TechMeme avalanche here.
I spent a fair amount of time writing about Unite yesterday, including this Unite news summary and these pictures. (I actually did not speak to Opera about this, but offered my own unsolicited, vapid copy.) Messina sums up what the Opera Software folks proffered us:
"Like Flock before it (Disclaimer: okay, I'm just stroking my own ego here. Note to self: get over yourself), Opera is attempting to take advantage of the rise of social networking (the verb) and bake it into the browser, as a personal extension to one's computing experience. They accomplish this by embedding what amounts to a web server in the browser, and making it possible to share files, music and photos and to post notes or chat directly with your friends (or anyone who knows the URL to your account and in some cases, has the right password)."
Messina goes on to explain that consumers, at whom Unite is initially targeted, don't care that social networks such as Facebook greedily gobble our personal data. Moreover, he wonders, if Opera is going to wax libertarian, why isn't Unite open source? "With WebKit giving everyone -- including Mozilla -- a run for dominance over the personal viewport to the Web, I simply don't see why anyone would build on the Opera platform," he wrote.
Tony Cripps of Ovum Research described Unite to me in a phone call yesterday as a sort of new Napster, promising peer-to-peer computing for users. But Messina said while Unite does indeed rely on a P2P-like network to function, users must push all traffic through Opera's proxy service. Moreover, the EULA involves fairly strict rules from Opera, not exactly a proviso of the decentralized, peer-to-peer ethos.
In the comment section of the post, Opera Product Analyst Lawrence Eng rushed to defend Unite in this must-read, which clears up some misconceptions:
"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!)."
I'll leave the debate about whether or not Opera was being sneaky and disingenuous in its marketing to the open-source religious zealots. This being Google Watch, I want to point out how Messina patted Google on the back for its approach to decentralization vis-Ã -vis Google Wave, its futuristic real-time collaboration platform. Messina wrote:
"At least Google was smart enough when they launched Wave to build in true decentralization from the start, and to choose a patent license for the Wave protocol that demonstrated that their desire was not to own the network, but to compete on it. (Later, he adds): You can't come out and promise all kinds of world-changing, freedom-enhancing goodness and then not deliver! -- worse, to do so when their newest competitor (Google!) is schooling everyone with the perfect example of how to do it right (see: Wave)."
However, reader Jason Grant noted: "Wave isn't a decentralized (as yet), as using Google Wave would mean storing potentially highly sensitive data on Google servers - again something that every single PLC does not want to do and will not do."
Problem is, beyond a demo from Google I/O, we don't know exactly what Google Wave will turn out to be. It may end up being a super data glutton that privacy and antitrust pundits slobber all over, looking to bite in half. I'd like to think Google is going to get it right, but we won't know until we see it later in 2009.
Given all of the negative Unite press, perhaps Google can accelerate the Wave beta so we can test it out for ourselves? Will Google show Opera how to get it right for open source's sake?