Opera Unite

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Long-term web application users rarely switch ships, but a look at the Opera browser's free-to-download Unite file sharing system was revealing, and it might tempt some users away from their accustomed choice, particularly if they want to share their personal media.

The Opera browser has many features, such as allowing you to host a web page straight from your computer, but for us Opera Unite was a revelation with its ability to provide a quick and easy way to share media including photos, music and other documents. Now out of beta, it worked well for us and never crashed, which is always a good thing, particularly when you are just starting out with a new way of doing things.

Opera Unite is a relatively simple idea on paper, but has apparently eluded other browser development firms. What it does is create a personal file-sharing system on your desktop computer. This means that you no longer have to load media such as digital photos into third-party sites, which often involves surrendering your personal privacy and can lead to loss of control over your content. It also removes the usual system of setting up a private network of your own to share files, a process that may elude some less technical users.

Rather than do either of these things, Opera Unite users can choose to share a private URL to their content with their friends that can be used to enable access to an application, a collection of files or an individual file. As well as being a sharing system, Unite can also be used to access your own computer and files remotely, providing that your source computer is up and running.


As either a home or remote user, you see a very similar page and options such as 'download', which are fairly self-explanatory. File access is easily controlled, and you can apply passwords to particular files and users as you wish. Passwords are typically four characters long and a mix of upper and lower case numbers and letters, which some might consider a bit insecure.

Access is cross-platform and we tried it on Internet Explorer, Firefox and a Windows Mobile Nokia. Testers enlisted to help try out the remote sharing described it as "amazing" and "pretty sweet". We were able to send files of all sizes, share any number of photos, and even stream a full length film during the tests. One large .wav file took about an hour to download to the Nokia handset, and we didn't come across any constraint on the size of files that Unite can handle during our testing.

Transfer speeds

Compared to a private FTP server Unite was slow, presumably because it uses the HTTP protocol. On average music was shared at a rate of about 40Kbit/s to 45Kbit/s, which was a bit disappointing. Opera quotes seconds for file transfers, but we found that it was actually closer to minutes.

The FTP admittedly involved a lot more setting up than Opera did for sharing purposes, but disappointingly only boosted download speeds to roughly 60Kbit/s. This may have been the fault of the network upload speeds available on the end-machine though.

Other systems might work better, or be quicker or more appropriate for power users, but as a simple, easy-to-use and understand file-sharing system, Unite is great. However, Opera will have its work cut out as it tries to tempt less adventurous users away from the long-established, and for now ubiquitous, Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers.



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