Opera Unite is a scary little Wave

Opera has introduced Opera Unite (now dead). To me, this looks an awful lot like Google Wave, or at least a "lite" version of what that says it will be. However, there's an important difference: Google Wave, if and when it ever becomes real, will require a Wave Server. Opera Unite shares from your computer.

Well, sort of. Opera's servers access your content and share it with others. So it's not direct access to your computer... but really that technical difference hardly matters. As the developer docs (now long gone) explain:

Mount points

Instead of accessing the file system directly, this API uses a concept of mount points. In order to access parts of a disk, it must first be mounted as a mount point in a virtual filesystem. You create mount points by calling opera.io.filesystem .browseForDirectory(), browseForFile().

WARNING: Once mounted, the mount point will be read-write unless the underlying file system defines it to be read-only. Be careful to protect your data by controlling how data gets written to them. You should supply some sort of authentication of users who access these directories and be careful to not leave code open to exploitation.

So you are trusting that the developer of the sharing app didn't screw up? Opers says they have that covered: they "screen" all apps. Yeah, that's comforting.

OK, so if you are the trusting sort, this could be an easy way to share photos and files with friends and family without having to upload them to Facebook or some other server. The downside, of course, is that your computer has to be running and connected to the internet.

And that raises more questions of security. You can require a password to access your content, but does that really make you feel safe? Opera says that this is safe, but plenty of apps have been fully embarrassed after making similar claims. I may be a big worry-wart, but I'm not about to open up my computer like that.

It's apparently possible to really cast caution to the winds (from their FAQ):

What does "UPnP" mean and what does this option do?

"UPnP" means Universal Plug and Play, which allows you to share your data using direct connections to your computer, if available. This can make loading speeds for your services faster, as they will bypass the proxy server. However, as it is up to each service to load content using the direct connection, it may not always run services faster. UPnP has no authentication mechanism, and assumes that local systems and their users are completely trustworthy. If you are unsure about using UPnP, or do not wish to use it, you can disable it by unchecking this option. If you don't want to use UPnP but still allow a direct connection, you can manually forward port 8840 from your router.

Yeah - let's turn THAT on.

No, I think I'll pass on Opera Unite, at least for now. I wonder how long it will be before the first security patch?

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© Anthony Lawrence

Wed Jul 8 11:55:44 2009: 6623   BrettLegree

It certainly is an interesting time, isn't it, with Unite, and Wave, and now (well, later) Google Chrome OS coming. I think Microsoft's been put on notice again.

Anyway, back to the topic - I feel the same way about Unite. It looks interesting, but I don't think I trust it yet.

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