(Credit: Screenshots: Tom McNamara/Download.com)

With the introduction of Bitcoin in 2009, the internet figured out a way to exchange digital goods with the same level of confidence as physical goods, but the concept isn't necessarily restricted to monetary transactions. When Ethereum arrived in 2015, it expanded the notion of a community-verified ledger to apps, which can be specially designed to run in a decentralized manner within the Ethereum network.

Think of Google Docs, but instead of connecting to a regional Google server to access your files, you connect to the Ethereum network; it becomes a kind of virtual server represented by every participant. As you might imagine, one of the strengths of this decentralization is that it's very resistant to being shut down or targeted for attacks.

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That makes it potentially popular for app developers who can't afford regional servers of their own, and it could democratize the creation of cloud-based products.

However, connecting to the Ethereum network can be tricky for non-technical users. But instead of using a browser extension or separate app to get onto Ethereum's "Web 3" network, Android users have another more straightforward option: the Opera mobile browser.

Today, Opera Software announced that the Android version of its mobile browser now has an Ethereum connection built in, not only for accessing Web 3 apps, but for your Ethereum cryptocurrency wallet as well. (The iOS version presumably lags because Apple requires app developers to use its Safari browser engine under the hood for security reasons, which can complicate the inclusion of new technology.) Now "Dapps," aka distributed apps, have one less software layer between their decentralized network and potential customers.

Charles Hamel, Opera's product lead for cryptocurrency, says in the announcement, "We've decided to support Ethereum, as it has the largest community of developers building Dapps and has gathered a lot of momentum behind it. Opera with Crypto Wallet supports the Ethereum Web3 API, making interaction with these Dapps seamless to the user."

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So far, the most popular Dapps are the ones that let users exchange Ethereum cryptocurrency, which makes sense. One of the main advantages of this type of money is that it can be acquired, traded, and spent anonymously, potentially boosting the kinds of commerce where privacy can be difficult to achieve in a digital context.

On the other hand, this type of commerce may involve illegal goods or services -- and the value of an individual Ethereum coin can fluctuate as wildly as Bitcoin. Over the course of 2018, ETH spiked early on at nearly $1,400, but it's steadily declined to less than $100.

For now, Opera for Android is the only major web browser that directly integrates Ethereum's Web 3 network. Opening it up to a wider audience like this may be the catalyst for Web 3 to take off in 2019. We'll keep our eyes peeled.

Takeaways

  • Opera Software announced today that the Android version of its mobile web browser now has integrated direct support for the Ethereum "Web 3" network and cryptocurrency wallet.
  • The Ethereum network lets developers run apps in a decentralized cloud

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.