Whilst usually professing not to believe in such nonsense, often I find myself doing or not doing things in the belief that I “don’t want to tempt fate”. Sychronicity does not exist; it’s impossible that the act of me performing a random task on one side of the world could cause some unconnected event to occur on the other side of the world. With this in mind I’ve started writing an article whinging about the non-availability of the MyKolab service that I’ve been eulogising recently in the hope that the very act of writing about its downtime will make it reappear.
It worked! I went away for a bite to eat, came back and lo, MyKolab was back up but without a word of what happened to the service during the downtime. If I were Paddington Bear then I’d be giving MyKolab one of my very hard stares. To its credit, a post facto explanation did appear on the MyKolab site two days later.
Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring
The panic of not having email, contacts and calendar for an indeterminate amount of time with no indication as to when my data would be available again, tends to focus the mind on alternative solutions. I’d remembered hearing about ownCloud on FLOSS Weekly, installed it and admit to being smitten. But then I am the original technology floozie.
iCloud, myCloud, ownCloud
ownCloud is not a straight replacement for an enterprise collaboration suite – it doesn’t have email – but it’s a close match for pretty much everything else. Think of ownCloud as a replacement for Dropbox, Google Docs, Google Calendar and Google Contacts but giving the user or organisation control of where the data is stored.
The geek route or the easy route
There are two ways to install ownCloud. Either you can install it yourself on your own web server or on a hosted web server or you can take the easier route of using an ownCloud hosting provider, these are predominantly based in Europe; ownCloud originated in Germany some four years ago.
Configuration of the web server application is relatively straightforward; it pretty much works “out of the box”. Ideally a client application is installed too, which synchronises files between the web server and the desktop.
ownCloud supports online collaborative document editing directly in the browser, in a similar fashion to Google Docs. Documents are stored in the OpenOffice ODT format, so they can be downloaded and edited in OpenOffice or LibreOffice. OpenOffice-format spreadsheets and presentations can also be viewed in the web browser.
Various chunks of ownCloud functionality can be enabled or disabled by the administrator. Including:
- versioning – ownCloud has simple versioning built-in.
- encryption – file encryption must be enabled by the administrator.
- bookmarks – this relies upon a bookmarklet which is not as slick as, say, a Firefox or Chrome extension, but it does the job. It might take a little while before it approaches the slickness of a service like Pinboard.
- external storage support – third-party storage services, such as Dropbox, Amazon S3-compatible services and Google Docs can be linked to a user’s account.
- media player – investigating this area of ownCloud did cause me to investigate the rather excellent Tomahawk music player, which I’ll definitely be investing some time in.
ownCloud is simple to install and the user interface does an excellent job of making fairly complex technology seem simple – it does this by hiding what needs to be hidden from the average user and allowing complicated functionality to be exposed gradually; it’s a poster-child for great human-user interface design.
Although ownCloud does not an email server built-in, this is understandable as there are already plenty of email servers available for installation. However it would really complete the package if there an email server were built-in.
If you want privacy and control over your data, then ownCloud really is an excellent solution for data storage and collaboration. Am I going to switch from MyKolab though? No just yet.