Opera raised the browser feature ante today by announcing Opera Unite - placing a web server in every client and encouraging end users to share content from their own desktop with the world.
Rather than compete with the cloud-based services that are currently so popular, Opera is proposing, and enabling, a return to how the internet used to work: everyone runs their own host device, with their own applications running on their own hardware, which can then be accessed from anywhere using any web browser.
All this functionality is intended to be rolled into the Opera browser, and is currently available in a Beta release, along with a few applications to demonstrate the kind of functionality Opera thinks could become standard fare.
File sharing is the most obvious example: just select the files you want the world to see and there they are. More interesting is Opera's idea of a Jukebox that allows you and your mates to select 10 tracks each, before combining them to produce a playlist that's shared between everyone. A Lounge provides a chat area, while the Fridge provides space to leave each other notes. Everything then vanishes when your computer is switched off, obviously.
None of this is actually new - running your own web server isn't technically difficult and many geeks do it for their own entertainment, but by bundling an easily-managed server with the browser, Opera is opening up the option to everyone else.
Routing is handled by servers at Opera, and the computer on your desk is addressed as "unite://computername.username.operaunite.com". Where possible connections are peer-to-peer, in just the way that the internet was originally envisioned, but much routing will be through the Unite proxy. Conspiracy fans have long posited that the proliferation of NATs and Firewalls is part of a process to divide the internet into "publishers" and "consumers", and Opera is happy to play up their part in reversing this process:
Opera is hoping developers will create their own Unite'd applications, and provides extensive documentation to help them do so.
But the real concern to most technically-minded users will be the security implications of allowing every Opera user to run their own addressable web server - even if everything is being routed through Opera's servers. ®