Nextcloud 12: The bigger, better, in-house small business cloud

Nextcloud gives even the smallest businesses a private cloud to call their own.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

It's not even been a year since Frank Karlitschek, co-founder and former CTO of ownCloud, forked ownCloud into Nextcloud. Since then, this do-it-yourself, open-source Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud has become increasingly popular. Now, its latest version, Nextcloud 12, the program is adding more Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) features.

Perhaps the most important of these is Spreed, an end-to-end encrypted audio/video chat system. With this release, Spreed also includes support for screen sharing on the Chrome and Firefox web browsers.

There are many popular messaging systems such as Slack, Skype, and WhatsApp. What's different about Spreed is you control the server rather than some big company. It's this emphasis on giving you the driver's seat that makes Nextcloud popular with users who want power and privacy.

As Karlitschek explained in an opensource.com story, "Building this kind of powerful collaboration software is the next step in file sync and share, in groupware, and for open source in general. People want to have powerful features while being in control over their data and communication."

You can now also share and edit individual file shares. So, for example, you can share document files through public links and immediately collaborate with others in a shared editing session using Collabora Online, the cloud version of the LibreOffice suite.

Nextcloud's heart is still IaaS -- and the company has significantly improved it. The files app, probably the most used part of Nextcloud, now makes sharing the current folder easier. It also gives you the ability to move files through the menu rather than drag and drop. You can also create unique public file share links for multiple users using a new feature called Secure Drop. This makes it easier to give each user their own read/write rights, password protection, and expiration date settings.

With this new edition, you can also use the Circles app. This enables ordinary users to set up and manage file-sharing groups.

You can also now track downloads from public file directories. You can also use this to set an expiration date for shared directories and files.

Nextcloud 12 also now supports instant notifications to users in the web interface. Users can be immediately notified of a new file, when a file has been edited, and any comments on files. Administrators can also send push notifications to users from the command line. This enables integration with other applications and tools.

Sysadmins also get more control over your Nextcloud instance. These new features include:

  • Global Shares for users: These make a shared folder structure available for different groups on a server.
  • Guest app: The Guest app is a perfect way to give a temporary and restricted access to a customer or a partner to shared data.
  • Excludedirs app: This app enables a specific folder pattern to be excluded from being indexed and made visible in Nextcloud. It's useful, for example, to exclude corporate-only sub-folders.
  • Quota Warning app: Sends a notification to users when they reach a certain percentage of their available storage.
  • JSloader app: Allows the administrator to include JavaScript into all Nextcloud pages. It can be useful for web analytics, theming, or further customization.
  • Impersonate app: Administrators can now impersonate another user, thanks to the Impersonate App, which provides a way to reproduce or disprove user issues.
  • Backup app: We've started work on a backup app, enabling easy backing up of Nextcloud instances.

This latest version of Nextcloud also includes security improvements.

  • Developer control over Brute Force Protection: Brute Force Protection protects Nextcloud servers from attempts to guess user passwords in various ways. Besides the obvious "let's try a big list of commonly used passwords" attack, it also makes it harder to use slightly more sophisticated attacks via the reset password form or trying to find app password tokens.
  • Rate Limiting: Rate limiting is a new security capability in Nextcloud 12. It allows a developer to specify how often an IP range or a user may send a request in a specific time period. This can be useful for expensive API calls, to prevent users from accessing too much data in a smaller attempt of time or block or slow down spam.
  • New and improved authentication mechanisms: Nextcloud 12 supports a wide variety of authentication mechanisms including OpenID, OAuth 2.0, Kerberos, and others thanks to its ability to authenticate via an environment variable and enhanced 2-factor authentication.

Last, but never least, Nextcloud claims its basic file-sharing capabilities are twice as fast. I don't know about that, but I do know I can tell it's a lot faster than it used to be.

You can download Nextcloud today and install it yourself on a Linux-powered server. It's also available from more than 50 hosting services.

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