Norwegian browser company Opera Software has released an alpha version of Unite, software that turns a computer into both a client and a server, allowing it to distribute content to other computers directly across the web, without the need for traditional web servers.

Opera Unite services will run in the browser, so no additional software has to be downloaded, and services will work wherever Opera works, including on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, and later on mobile phones and other devices, according to a blog posting by Lawrence Eng, product analyst at Opera.

Opera has already developed services allowing friends to share files, or to contribute songs to a shared playlist of music on an online jukebox. The file-sharing service generates a direct link to the folder where the content is located. By giving that link to your friends, users can share files without routing them through a third-party Web service, according to Opera.

The technology is a first step towards allowing users to connect with each other and participate meaningfully online, on their own terms, and without losing control of their data, Eng wrote.

For Unite services to work, users distributing content must be logged into their Unite account, which means that the PC has to be turned on and the Opera browser running, the company said. However, the person accessing the data doesn't need to log in or be using Opera: they can use any browser.

The PC is protected using a so-called sandbox, which separates the rest of the PC from the folders that are being shared. There are also a number of different access options. Users can, for example, choose to protect shared data using a password.

Opera will build its own services for Unite, but it also hopes that third parties will build additional services, and has provided documentation for interested developers on its dedicated website.

The technology is a first step towards allowing users to connect with each other and participate meaningfully online, on their own terms, and without losing control of their data, Eng wrote.

An alpha version of Unite can be downloaded from the Opera Labs website.

Opera isn't providing a release date for Unite, but the platform will be a part of version 10 of its desktop browser, which will be released soon, according to a spokeswoman at Opera.