Have Web Browser Have Web Server – Prediction Fulfilled

This week my confidence in predicting future trends on the web has taken a boost. For several years I have been suggesting that future web browsers will incorporate web servers, making every browser install a potential publisher of web pages and applications. This week we saw this prediction come true when Opera Unite was released in an alpha version.

We know that most versions of Windows for years have incorporated the Microsoft IIS web server which is trivial to switch on. Having to teach with web servers it have been continually frustrating that the default proxy setting at my university has always prevented browsers accessing the local web server at http://localhost. For years I have ranted that this will prevent local web servers sharing information, but no one has listened. Now Opera has vindicated my stance.

Yes I agree that a simple download and install of the free Apache for Windows is a good option for running a web server on every Windows box with other easy to use web server management software available as well. On the other hand we all know that running a web server from home raises the usual problems of domain names, dynamic IP addresses, firewalls, lack of SSL, and user authentication. I actually like the efforts of British company Ultidev that offer an upgrade of the tiny but powerful Cassini web server that solves these problems, and their upcoming HttpVPN product that promises even more. These and other Windows web servers all operate as separate software packages.

Now Opera Unite bundles a web server in the browser itself and solves all the problems listed above in just one 10 MB download – brilliant. Out of the box Opera Unite comes with a few Web 2.0 services in addition to the web server all controlled in the browser Unite panel.

uniteservices
  • the web server allows you to select a local machine folder to store the pages of your web site –use any web site publishing package to build these pages
  • file sharing allows navigation of a chosen folder hierarchy on your local box and download any file
  • the fridge is a simple sticky note notice board on which you and others can post
  • the media player gives play access to any music folder containing MP3 files
  • photo sharing builds photo albums and simple navigation between pages of photos
  • the lounge is a simple, personal chat service you, your friends and other Opera Unite users can share

You can also search and link to similar services offered by other Opera Unite friends and other users.

Overlaid on these services is a simple and consistent authentication mechanism. You basically choose between private services only the local machine user can access, shared services using a password you expose to other users, and public services open to the Internet.

unitesecurity

As you would expect of Opera it is possible to create and add in your own services using a combination of XML configuration files, HTML/CSS documents and JavaScript. The developers’ manual shows how easy it is to build a simple blog service for example. No doubt we can expect a huge raft of third-party developed Opera Unite services soon.

unitedev

I am confident this is the way of the future when every person browsing the web has the possibility, in a very convenient and straightforward way, to publish their own web pages and applications to share with the world.

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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