First impressions and review of OwnCloud

In my recent post (I give up on Google), a lot of people suggested using OwnCloud as a replacement for several Google services. I’ve been playing around with it for a few days, and it is something of a mix of awesome and disappointing, in my opinion.

Files

OwnCloud started as a file-sync tool, somewhat akin to Google Drive and Dropbox. It has clients for every platform, and it is also a client for every platform: you can have subfolders of your OwnCloud installation stored on WebDav, *FTP*, Google Drive, Dropbox, you name it. It is a pretty nice integrator of other storage services, and provides the only way to use some of them on Linux (*cough* Google Drive *cough*)

One particularly interesting feature is the live editing in the browser of ODT, DOCX, and TXT files. This is somewhat similar to Google Docs and the only such thing I’ve seen in Open Source software. It writes changes directly back to the documents and, in my limited testing, seems to work well. A very nice feature!

I’ve tested the syncing only on Linux so far, but it looks solid.

There are two surprising issues, however: there is no deduplication and no delta-uploads. Add 10 bytes to the end of a 1GB file, and you re-upload the 1GB file. Thankfully the OwnCloud GUI client is smart enough to use inotify to notice an mv, but my guess is — and I haven’t tested this, but apparently OwnCloud doesn’t use hashes at all — that the CLI client would require a reupload after any mv, because it doesn’t run continuously.

In some situations, Syncany may be a useful work-around for this, as it does chunk-based dedup and client-side encryption. However, you would lose a lot of the sharing features inside OwnCloud by doing this, and the integration with the OwnCloud “apps” for photos, videos, and music.

The Android/mobile apps support all the usual auto-upload options.

Calendar

A lot of people report using OwnCloud as a calendar server, and it does indeed use CalDAV. With a program like DAVDroid or Mozilla Lightning, this makes, in theory, a full-functioning calendar syncing tool. There is, of course, also a web interface to the calendar. It, sadly, is limited. Or shall we say, VERY limited. Even something like sending an invite is missing — and in fact, the GUI for sharing an event is baffling. You can share it with someone, they get no say in whether or not it shows up, and it shows up on their calendar on the web only (not on synced copies) and they have no way to remove it!

Sharing calendars is similar; you can hide the display of any one of your calendars on the web interface, but not of any calendars shared with you. Baffling.

Address Book

I haven’t tested this yet, but there’s not much to test, I suspect. It can be shared with others, which I could see as a nice feature.

Bookmarks

An interesting bookmarks manager, though mysteriously not with Firefox sync support. There is Chrome sync support, and a separate Mozilla Sync support, but it doesn’t provide cross-browser syncing, apparently.

Music

It is designed to present an interface to music that is stored in Files. It provides an Ampache-compatible API, so there are a lot of clients that can stream music. It has very few options, not even for transcoding, so I don’t see how it would be useful for my FLAC collection.

Pictures

Sort of a gallery view of photos synced up with Files. Very basic. Has a sharing button to share a link to an entire folder, but no option to embed photos in blog posts at a lower resolution or shortcut to sharing individual photos.

Notes, Tasks, etc.

I haven’t had the chance to look at this much. Some of them sync to various clients. The Notes are saved as HTML files that get synced down.

Clients overall

There is a very helpful page that lists all the sync clients for OwnCloud — not just for files, but also for calendars, contacts, etc. The list is extensive!

Other options

The two other Open Source options mentioned on my blog post were Kolab and Sogo, and there is also Zimbra which also has a community edition. The Debian Groupware page lists a number of other groupware options as well. Citadel caught my eye (wow, it’s still around!). Sogo has ActiveSync support, which might make phone integration a lot easier. It is not dead-simple to set up like OwnCloud is, though, so I haven’t tried it out, but I will probably be looking at it and Citadel next.

9 thoughts on “First impressions and review of OwnCloud

  1. SOGo is at least packaged in Debian, and also served in a GPG-signed deb/deb-src apt repository by the vendor. I use it happily.

    Agreed that it’s not dead simple to set up, though. Still, the vendor has pretty good docs on that point.

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    John Goerzen Reply:

    I’m looking into it now. I downloaded their VM appliance to try out. I’m rather miffed at the UI (can’t seem to represent times in 12-hour format in the calendar screen, despite settings, for instance!)

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  2. Huh. I just went into the settings of my SOGo instance and changed that successfully with respect to the main UI. Preferences -> General -> Time Format -> 03:35 PM instead of 15:35. That UI updated correctly as soon as I clicked Save and Close. (Maybe you clicked Close instead?) It didn’t however change the 24-hour time in some of the dialog boxes like the edit screen. Sounds like a bug worth reporting, and if they fix it, it might be worth considering adding the vendor’s apt repository (but of course that will move faster than Debian’s version). You may be experiencing the same kind of reaction the rest of the world has to Americanisms in US company products – SOGo’s authors are in Quebec. :)

    This is SOGo 2.2.10 as packaged in Jessie.

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    John Goerzen Reply:

    Hi Jimmy, that Edit box is exactly what I mean. I did find the spot to change preferences, but it changed it far from everywhere.

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  3. I don’t know if it fits your requirements, there is Cozy Cloud see more at cozy.io.

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    lachlan Reply:

    that looks great, i’m going to try this now.

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  4. OwnCloud looked interesting until I saw that it was written in PHP. Yeah, I won’t be running that on my servers for security reasons.

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  5. You may also want to look at sandstorm.io its a sort of self hosting option. It allows you to run up a owncloud instance but also some other apps as well.

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  6. Been trying this out to share photos and videos for the family. Basically a nice product but spoilt in that it can not cope with large files and therefore hopeless on video footage over about 500mb. Just pauses and buffers. Most annoying. Have it set to syncronise desktops which it does relatively well, although with lots of errors with files over about 500mb.

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