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Frank Karlitschek

ownCloud Documents: Pure open source, open standard based Google Docs, iWork, Office 365 competitor

There are so many online word processors including Google Docs, Office 365, iWorks and many others that one may wonder ‘do we need another one?’ I think we do.

The biggest problem with all these solutions is none support ISO approved ODF standards. No matter which one you choose you are in a way locked to that provider. Google does offer export to ODF but it doesn’t have the same kind of support as it has for Microsoft’s controversial OOXML format.

Organizations looking for open standard based ODF formats are out of luck. This lack of support of ODF has created a huge demand (need) for an online editor which allows users to create and edit documents in ODF format.

In a recent interview with Google’s Director of Open Source, Chris DiBona, when I asked about bad support for ODF across Google properties he said the reason was  demand – there is no demand for ODF. Well, that’s a Catch 22 situation  – there is no demand because no one, including Google, is enforcing or encouraging it as much as it is encouraging docx or its own WebP or WebP formats.

There are a lot of organizations and individuals who want to use a standard based, open source online editor to avoid any vendor locks but there are no solutions. The Document Foundation is said to be working on an online version of LibreOffice but there are no concrete announcements.

Enters ownCloud, a fast growing company and community with very strong roots in free software.

Instance of ownCloud Documents running.

Instance of ownCloud Documents running.

ownCloud is working on a web-based editing software which offers native support for ODF formats and works across platforms and applications.

The upcoming release of ownCloud, version 6, will come with ownCloud Documents.

Frank Karlitschek, the founder of ownClouds says, “People can view and edit their ODF text documents directly in the browser, inside your ownCloud. Another cool thing is that you can invite users from the same ownCloud to work collaboratively on the same document with you. Or you can send invitation links by email to people outside your server to collaborate with you on the document.”

That sounds like the first true open source killer of Google Docs, iWorks and Office 365.

Yet another major company from Germany KO GmbH is working with the ownCloud team. KO are responsible for office suites like Calligra and apps like Krita.

Karlitschek added,”The browser part is based on WebODF with a new ownCloud backend to load, save, share documents and a system to distribute the document changes.

So how different would this be from other commercial solutions? One of the most important factor which differentiate the service from the rest is that it’s not owned or controlled by 3rd company. You run it on your own server and you are in control. Which also means that it’s out of the prying hands of NSA and GCHQ as you can host your server in a pro-privacy country like Switzerland or Iceland.

These are some of the features of ownCloud Documents:

  • It runs purely on your server. No communication with centralized services like Google — so your data is always protected against surveillance.
  • We didn’t introduce any new server requirements here. Just take ownCloud and put it into your web server document root and you have your own collaborative editing server. This is far easier to install and run than for example Etherpad.
  • All the documents are based on ODT files that live in your ownCloud. This means that you can sync your documents to your desktop and open them with LibreOffice, Calligra, OpenOffice or MS Office 2013 in parallel. Or you can access them via WebDAV if you want. You also get all the other ownCloud features like versioning, encryption, undelete and so on. This is very unique I think.
  • All the code is completely free software. The PHP and the JS components are released under the AGPL license. This is different than most other solutions. Some of them claim to be open source but use creative commons as a code license which is not free software.

ownCloud Documents can be game changer as online document editing is a mess at the moment. They don’t work with each other – you can’t edit or work on files created by iWorks using Google Docs; Office 365 won’t talk to Google Docs files and the vicious cycle continues. Imagine a world where Gmail customers can’t read mails sent from Hotmail accounts or Yahoo! users can’t open mails sent by Gmail users!

Online editing services are a disaster zone.

ownCloud is offering a solution which is free of any vendor lock and can be used from any platform – Windows, Macs, GnuLinux, Android or iOS.

ownCloud team has released a beta of ownCloud which comes with the document apps.

We are looking for aspiring bloggers and journalists for The Mukt. If you are interested, apply now!

Download ownCloud 6 beta

Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.


  1. Sweet!

  2. Typo: imagine a word (world)

  3. And anyone can use it for free (paying for extra space if so one wants) at http://www.owndrive.com .

  4. I think Owncloud should switch from PHP to Python or Ruby, that’s the future.
    PHP is going down

    • Agreed. PHP = web 1.0; Python and/or Ruby = web 2.0

      • I disagree. What’s really wrong with PHP except for being called “web 1.0″? It’s a mature, easy to learn and widely supported language with plenty of great apps. And Ruby? It has a complicated syntax and there are only few affordable hosting services.

        • @Ty, The Performance of Python and Ruby is better than PHP.
          Python can be compiled into .pyc files, that’s a better performance.
          Ruby/Python are the future web languages.

  5. I had already said at the beginning that owncloud would very likely
    be a core component of the percloud (http://per-cloud.com, check slide 6 of the slideshow). The arrival in
    owncloud of ODF-compatible online editing is excellent news and makes this almost certain, if the projects takes off.

    • Marco, for the embedded slides viewer you might want to try if viewerjs.org could work for you already, instead of relying on a non per-cloud service ;)
      Current plugins use WebODF for odp/odt files, and pdf.js for pdf

      • Karl, frankly I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean, or how it is relevant. per-cloud.com is not a percloud/owncloud site, of course. Why should it be, and HOW? I am trying to get support just to build the percloud, hence I set up a quick wiki because that’s all was needed and I could do anyway, I put a slideshow on the most popular platform for slideshow, and embedded it in the wiki with the tools provided by that platform. So what?

        • Idea was that you could already start even with simple websites do go as personal as possible, if you liked. For the HOW, http://viewerjs.org/instructions/ will tell you that you “just” need to add a js file and the odp/odt/pdf file to your website sources and add something to the HTML code like , done.

          Uploading to slideshare makes sense, sure, to reach more people who might search for it there. Using viewerjs (if it works already good enough, odp element support only enhancing over time) was simply a proposal to already go more personal and not rely on other (proprietary) services.

          • Karl,
            thanks for your explanation. My point is that if I could afford to do for free ANYTHING more than post a quick explanation and call for support I’d do the actual percloud, not websites that talk about the percloud with percloud-friendly PDF viewers.

  6. I run a private ownCloud server for business and personal use. It’s great–even comes with a music player so I can stream music from wherever I go. I cannot wait for this feature to go stable, ownCloud 6 is going to be amazing and a major milestone for the project.

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