Using Opera Unite in your Development Cycle

Using Opera with its Unite service can be invaluable to your development cycle. Most site developers are using their workstation as their development server while they get a site written and developed. During that cycle of development it is virtually impossible for anyone to view the progress without having physical access to that workstation where it is being worked on. I mean, what client or partner isn’t going to want to see “how things are going”?

With Opera Unite you can install different JavaScript server programs that run off of your system while Opera is running. One of those JavaScript server programs that are of particular interest to to web developers working on a development LAMP stack is the Web Proxy (http://unite.opera.com/application/272/) server program. Using Web Proxy it is possible to serve up a program running on your development server. Don’t misunderstand me, it is no perfect solution. The Opera forums are already filled with security complaints and concerns. At this point I wouldn’t feel comfortable using it as a full time solution. But it will enable you to show off the development progress of a site to a client or fellow developer anywhere.

I have has problems with it however. Sometimes you’ll need to refresh the browser to “catch” a renegade style sheet or JavaScript file. Using this server program counts as using a proxy from your development server (LAMP) to the Unite server (running inside Opera) running on your machine that is running through a proxy on Opera’s servers, so there’s bound to be small glitches in throughput. Anything you serve up that uses cookies for security is a security risk. There are other various complaints about the Web Proxy Unite service, but those mentioned are the ones I concern myself with the most.

It’s surprisingly simple to set up too. Download and install the Opera web browser from http://www.opera.com/ . Then go to the link for the Web Proxy Unite program mentioned previously and hit the install button. From there you’ll be asked to enable Unite services in your browser (you’ll need to create a free Opera account and configure the Unite server for your computer – its easy). After that you set a path for the proxy which should be the name of your running development server (on my Windows box its localhost – I believe it sets the running server as default). It also asks for a folder where the content should be served from. DON’T set this as the folder of your program on the development server. That folder will only be served up by Web Proxy if your LAMP development server is off (great for static content though). The path to your localhost will be shown in bold on the configuration dialog. That is the web address to the root of your development server installation. If the program you are working on is in a sub-folder simply add it to that web address to serve it.

One other Opera product I use during development is the Opera Mobile emulator (http://www.opera.com/developer/tools/#operamobile) which emulates a smart phone browser on your desktop. Opera’s mobile edition is getting more and more popular. Viewing how your pages look in an emulator is a blessing when your debugging your css. On a side note: I’ve come across some great web development articles on the Opera developer site (such as this one on mobile pages – http://dev.opera.com/articles/view/the-mobile-web-optimization-guide/).

Opera’s Unite Web Proxy and mobile emulator can be useful anyone developing web sites. Considering that Opera is a free product there’s no reason not to have it on your system.  Opera widgets (http://dev.opera.com/sdk/) are now first class objects on your system. They run as a standalone program does now (without the browser being open). You do, however, need to have the browser installed on your system for them to run. All in all Opera’s a great browser even if you don’t use it for everyday web surfing.

Javascript, Opera

Working With Opera Unite

Doing your own web page on the Internet is easy. Most of the time, if all you are doing is writing that includes pictures your choices are almost endless. Things get a bit more narrowed down once you want anything more. Google and Microsoft both offer web space and blog space (Google with Blogger and Microsoft with Live), but there are limitations put on what you can do. With those services, like many others, you have to stay within their systems framework. Most people want the bling they see on other sites. Most of the time that bling comes at the cost of including JavaScript on the page at the very least. For more complex animations you may want to include a Flash widget or video. This article is about doing it your way for free.

For many, a personal web page is an ever changing slate of personal taste and thoughts. Being able to express yourself to the fullest, with every option available to you, is difficult to do on the Internet these days (for free). The almighty grail of expression is the web server. You can do anything you want with your own web server space. That, however, costs money every month. Most people want to express themselves in their own way for free. Like taking out a piece of paper and drawing on it, we all want the freedom to do what we want whenever we want to do it.

Most of the public sites that allow blogs and free web sites do not allow JavaScript. Why, because it can be a headache for them. JavaScript, beyond making a web page more expressive, can be used maliciously. JavaScript has become the programming language of the web browser. It can be used to redirect the browser, read and write cookies, and in the right hands – cause general havoc.

Google Sites http://sites.google.com/ is an option for many people. Google does NOT allow you to run your own JavaScript. Google does, however, allow you to embed some of their own JavaScript widgets (which gives you a bit more than the other guys). If you are willing to sacrifice a bit of creativity I would use them. They don’t require ads of any kind and they have many templates to get you started. You can create as many sites with as many pages as you like as long as you keep within the 100mb limitation (you can fit a lot of HTML in a hundred megabytes). After you get set up there I recommend you visit Steegle.com for customization tips. I would also recommend using google docs as well as you may embed anything you write there on your site. It is plain to see that Google give users many free services that could be used to your advantage http://www.google.com/intl/en/options/

You may say “well that’s great, but I want more”. Beyond paying for some shared hosting, there is a way (I did say free at the beginning of this page). However, there are other limitations. It has to be on your computer and you have to download and run

the Opera web browser http://www.opera.com/ with the Unite http://unite.opera.com/ Web Server service turned on. That means your site will have operating hours like a store or the library unless you have your computer running 24 hours a day 7 days a week. When your computer is off or you have Opera turned off users will be redirected to a page that has your Opera profile picture in the upper right corner and an explanation that you Unite server isn’t running. You get one paragraph on that page (that’s it though so think of something short to say – like the hours you are running), and it would be a good idea to have your opera profile picture something relevant to the page you are hosting.

Also, there is the matter of your Internet connection speed. Your web server is limited by your connection UPLOAD (which is usually a little slower than your download throughput). If you are just hosting web pages with a little script in them you’ll have little problems. But if you are hosting last Thanksgiving’s video of uncle Bob acting like a chicken, you may run into a speed problem (dial-up users pay attention). If you put the video on Utube or another video hosting site and embed it on the page you probably won’t have any problems at all however (because all the visitor is downloading from your page is the embed script not the video itself).

Opera provides you with your web address after you choose a name under your user profile. It will show up as a sub-domain under your profile user-name in the URL. The Opera Unite web server program will forward the visitor to a default Unite profile page (which will have your picture from your Opera profile) if your browser isn’t running . If you are running other Unite services other than the web server they will be listed on this page as well.

Domain forwarding services are a way around the default address given by many of the free site providers such as Google sites. Unfortunately most, if not all of these don’t seem to work with Opera Unite’s proxy service. There are a couple out there that are free, but the big thing with those services are ads. Those services will allow you to register a free domain name (just not a dot com name) and point visitors to the page of your choice.

I have had mixed experiences using these types of services. Take smartdots http://www.smartdots.com/ for instance, they tell you that there are no forced ads using their service and they lie, lie, lie (get used to that on the Internet). I found some German ad asking me if I want a free iPod pop up anyway (which made me angry of course). However, smartdots does list you in as many search engines as they can (maybe you can still use that to your advantage). One that is not that bad is the .tk domain service http://www.dot.tk/. TK will give you a domain free, but you have to get 25 hits on that domain in 90 days or it gets canceled (or you can pay 7 dollars a year). No advertisements were found using this service but they do force their favorite icon on your browsers tab. Also, sub pages on your site will always point to your homepage using these free services.

There is also another up side to using these services I almost forgot to mention, you can change where they point to whenever you want to. So you can log in to the domain provider and change to another site hosted on say Google (or anywhere else you can get a free site) whenever you want to.

The Opera Unite Web Server service is great. Your page will have to be named index.html in the folder you create or choose during setup in order to run. Setup is easy, just read what is there and follow the directions. You can choose to create a blank index page to get you started with something to edit.

I am referring to a static web page with anything you want running in it with no JavaScript or Flash limitations. Don’t expect to be able to run PHP doing this because it will not work – just HTML (and JavaScript).

Opera Unite’s Web Server service has the capability to run server side scripts, just not PHP. If you really need to run some kind of server-side scripting it does allow you to using JavaScript. So it is a true web server in that sense. The technology is new, however, and it is largely unknown to me http://dev.opera.com/articles/unite/. Hopefully it will be the subject of another page of text the next time I am writing here. But I do know there are no limitations on static pages using this. The only size limitation is the space you want to use on your hard drive. Keep in mind that Opera Unite has other services to offer, what I am referring to is the Web Server service specifically here.