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NextCloud gets bigger and better with Nextcloud Hub 19

The best open-source, Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud, Nextcloud, is getting even better with improved security and built-in Collabora Online office Software-as-a-Service.

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I've used Nextcloud, a great open-source Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud, for years on both my own on-premise and shared servers. It works well, it's simple to set up, and it does the main job of replacing public cloud storage services such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and DropBox flawlessly. With this latest edition, Nextcloud Hub 19 is also adding improvements to its built-in, office Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) programs. 

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Frank Karlitschek, Nextcloud's CEO, explained this release is named "home office," because "COVID has accelerated a trend already visible in many businesses, forcing them to provide a secure remote collaboration solution to their employees. We named our release "home office" as it provides a large productivity boost for organizations employing many home office workers, like we do ourselves."

New Nextcloud Hub features add document collaboration to video chats, massively simplify authentication, and greatly improve performances.

How "greatly?" It's everywhere. Here are three examples. If you're using ftp, you can read files up to 500% faster. You can also scan files up to 2.5x faster. And, you can image thumbnails from 25-50% faster in LibreOffice OpenDocument files and Krita paint files.

Nextcloud is also moving on from password security to WebAuthn. This is an emerging password-less secure-login standard. With it, you can use Nitrokey open-source, FIDO2 compliant, hardware security keys, Windows Hello, and other hardware keys. It also offers a choice of other authentication options with stronger account security than the usual -- and so often busted -- username/password combination.

This release of Nextcloud Hub also has other new security features. These are:

  • Optional automatic logout
  • Password reuse limitations
  • Automatic account locking in response to failed login attempts
  • Password expiration features

Nextcloud also has its own built-in video-conferencing and group meeting service: Nextcloud Talk. Here, the most interesting new feature is you can now edit office Collabora documents during video calls or from within a chat room. Collabora is a SaaS version of the popular open-source LibreOffice office suite

While Nextcloud and Collabora have long worked hand-in-hand together, Nextcloud Hub 19  is the first in which Collabora Online is shipped with it ready to run. This is a special community server version, which dramatically eases its installation. Having done it myself, this is a real blessing. Installing them together manually isn't trivial. 

Unfortunately, as Nextcloud admits, "This version however sacrifices scalability for this ease of installation and is not suitable beyond private use. We recommend the existing Collabora Office solutions for that, with docker images for small offices and more scalable solutions available for enterprises through Nextcloud." 

I found it worked well for personal use, but I wouldn't push it much further than that. While it's nice that it's there, it's a shame it doesn't go any farther. Even a small-business, plug-and-play version, which could handle say five users, would be really useful for micro-businesses. 

Another interesting Talk mini-feature is it now automatically scales call quality depending on users' bandwidth. The program has also gotten its share of performance and scalability improvements The net result is people on Talk with limited internet connections can still participate successfully in a group conversation

The Nextcloud Hub user interface has also been improved to make it much easier and faster to find, share, and co-operate on work files. Under the hood, this release also introduced several significant improvements:

  • Ability to use 'fseek' in Amazon S3 storage. This allows you, for example, to start playing a video file without first downloading the entire file.
  • Brought OpenStack Swift performance to the same level of S3 by enabling the 'streaming' file. This means the Nextcloud server doesn't first download the file from the Swift storage and then send it to the user, but starts sending the data onward while receiving. Swift was also updated to be able to deal with larger objects than 5Gb.
  • Windows and Samba Server Message Block (SMB) storage was enhanced with better ACL support, hiding folders that users have no access to, reducing both the browser load and the number of folders users might have to search through to find their files.

Put it all together and you get the best all-in-one private cloud package available today. Sure, there are more complex open-source clouds, which can do more in particular areas, such as OpenStack and Cloud Foundry. But, if what you want is a straight-forward business cloud, which you, and not some vendor, controls, then Nextcloud is what you want.

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