OwnCloud Documents to bring Open Document Format editing to private cloud

OwnCloud, an open-source Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud vendor, is readying an Open Document Format editor to go with its open-source, private-cloud software.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Does the world need another cloud-based, online editor when we already have Google Docs, Office 365, and Zoho Docs? OwnCloud says that we do with its forthcoming ownCloud Documents, and they have several compelling arguments.

OwnCloud is bringing ODF group text editing to its open-source, private cloud offering.

First, ownCloud is primarily as an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud program. With it you can store your files, folders, contacts, photo galleries, calendars and more on a server of your choosing, and then access all this from a mobile device, a desktop, or a web browser. You can also sync your date with local devices and share your data either with the world at large, or specific approved users.

In most ways, it's like most public IaaS services such as Google Drive, Dropbox and SkyDrive. However, since it's an easy-to-deploy private cloud service, you, and not some third-party, have ultimate control of your documents.

In addition ownCloud is one of the first cloud services to support Open Document Format (ODF) editing. Others, such as Office 365 and Zoho, can import and export to ODF, but ownCloud uses ODF as its native format.

Put all this together and, according to Frank Karlitschek, ownCloud founder, what you get is: "collaborative editing! This feature is implemented in an app called "ownCloud Documents" and will be part of ownCloud 6. 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."

OwnCloud and KO GmbH, a software development company specializing in ODF, have done this by integrating KO's WebODF with a "new ownCloud back-end to load, save, share documents and a system to distribute the document changes." WebODF is a JavaScript library for adding ODF support to Websites and mobile or desktop apps by using HTML and CSS to display ODF documents.

What gives its users, according to Karlitschek, are the following features:

  • It runs purely on your server. There's no communication with centralized services like Google — so your data is always protected against surveillance.
  • It doesn'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 ODF 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.
  • All the code is completely free software. The PHP and the JavaScript 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.

That said, Karlitschek admits that ownCloud is still having teething pains. "This is only the first version of this great feature. Not every ODF element is supported but we are working on improving this considerably in the future. We will invest significantly in this because we think that this is a very important feature that is useful for people."

OpenOffice and LibreOffice have both been working on making their office suites available as a cloud services. Neither, however, have yet shipped a cloud-capable version of their program. I expect both will within the next two quarters.

So, if you like the idea of having your own cloud-editing service that you control and is built on open source, then you should check it out. OwnCloud Documents is part of the ownCloud 6 beta 1, which is available for download now.

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