When Opera promised to "reinvent the web" this morning, we were cynical - and when it started talking about inventing "Web 5.0" we set our word-guns to maximum mockery.
Then it showed us Unite. We're not sure about Web 5.0, but we're convinced that Unite really is worth getting excited about.
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Unite is a simple idea with huge potential. It puts a web server inside your browser, and you can use that server to deliver almost anything. For now Unite offers file sharing, media streaming and photo sharing together with sticky notes and chat, but it could deliver any kind of content you might imagine.
FAMILIAR LOOK: Unite looks rather like a social networking site, and that's essentially what it is - but it's running on your computer instead of some far-away server
Crucially, Unite is cross-platform. Provided Unite is running inside Opera on one machine, you can access your content on PCs, Macs or Linux boxes, in Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari, and even on your phone.
PHONE ACCESS: Here, we're checking out the photo sharing on our phone
How Opera Unite works
So how does it work? Simply run Opera 10 (you'll need the latest beta, released today) and click on the Unite icon in the lower left hand corner. If you haven't used Unite before you'll be asked to create a free account, and this account forms part of your Unite URL.
You'll also be asked to give your computer a name. Once you've done that, you'll have a Unite page at http://computername.yourname.operaunite.com. And that's when things get interesting.
To share content it's just a matter of double-clicking on the appropriate option at the left of the screen, so to share files you'd double-click on File Sharing; to share photos… you get the idea.
SHARE AWAY: File sharing couldn't be easier, and Opera promises that it's safe, too. You can make folders public, password-protected or private
You'll then be asked to choose the folder you want to share, and we found Unite worked happily not just with folders on our Mac but also with folders on our Time Capsule remote drive.
Then it's just a matter of choosing what level of access you want to provide. You can make content public, so anybody in the world can access it; you can password-protect it; or you can make it private so only you can access it.
You don't need to know anything about networking or muck about with complex configuration; it's just a matter of choosing what you want to share and then sending people the URL.
Opera Unite just works
To nick a phrase from Apple, it just works. We had no problems streaming media from one PC to another, we could access the photo sharing from our phone, and the file sharing worked flawlessly.
Opera tells us that everything's sandboxed, so somebody accessing your photos or downloading a shared file can't start messing around with the rest of your PC, and while people can access your files they can't edit, rename or delete them.
MEDIA SERVER: Unite includes a bare bones media server, enabling you to stream your music to any computer. It isn't pretty, but it works
Unite also includes a web server that you can use to host your own websites (although of course you'll need to have your PC running and connected 24/7 for that to be useful), and Opera is encouraging developers to create their own services for the Unite platform.
Unite is an alpha so this is very much a trailer for the main event, but when the final version of Opera 10 ships it'll be in every copy.
We think it'll be worth waiting for: it's very easy to use, very useful and most importantly of all, it's going to be free.
IN VIEW: Photo sharing works like file sharing, although Unite adds some image-specific tools such as zoom and a basic slideshow
SHARE EVERYWHERE: As you can see, photo sharing works in rival browsers: this screenshot shows photo sharing in Safari 4