ownCloud: A Cross-Platform, Self-Hosted Alternative to Dropbox & Google Calendar

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owncloud_logoThe NSA and PRISM scares demonstrated that governments can and will access the various popular online cloud services. This means that now is one of the best times to consider creating your own cloud solution.

With your own cloud, you can get the same benefits of accessing various services such as file storage and calendars that you find with commercial solutions, but instead, all of that data is under your control.

This may seem like a daunting task to accomplish, but the open source developers behind ownCloud have been hard at work to provide a framework that anyone can use to easily create their own cloud services without having to write lines of code.

About ownCloud

ownCloud is a free, open source framework that can provide a handful of useful cloud services including: file storage à la Google Drive and SkyDrive (including synchronization through a desktop client), calendars, contacts, and task lists. Besides email, this should take care of most of your personal organization needs.

An email service is harder to provide because of the necessary steps required to create an email address that people can actually send mail to (let alone the tasks necessary to configure everything correctly on the server end). Most web hosting services offer such email services. If you want to go as far as hosting your email to on your own server, you’ll need to use other tools such as Postfix and a webmail interface such as SquirrelMail.

Available Options

If you want to use ownCloud, you actually have a couple of choices. These options are very similar to the WordPress model, in which you can choose between signing up for an account on ownCloud’s servers (which does defeat the purpose) or download the necessary (free) software to get going.

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The software is available as a tarball .TAR file of all needed files, or as installable packages for Windows, Mac OS X, and a handful of Linux distributions.

ownCloud makes use of the *AMP stack (your choice of operating system, Apache Web Server, MySQL/MariaDB, and PHP), so you’ll need to visit Apache Friends and install the correct version in case the ownCloud installer doesn’t pull down all of that for you.

While I can’t test all versions of ownCloud, I do know that in the case of Fedora, the ownCloud RPM package has all the necessary software listed as dependencies, so all you need to do after the installation is enter sudo service httpd start into the terminal and head over to: http://localhost/owncloud.

In order to ensure ownCloud is accessible from the general Internet you may have to configure your network so that the ports forward correctly. It all depends on your own personal setup, so you will need to troubleshoot any issues by paying attention to your network.

Note: It’s best to enable HTTPS as most clients prefer it or might not even connect to your ownCloud instance unless it is supported.

Clients

owncloud_desktop_client
ownCloud offers desktop clients for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and a source tarball for compiling your own binaries. Don’t expect anything too fancy besides simple Dropbox-like file synchronization – ownCloud is more about greater control rather than innovative features, although there is plenty of space for these features in the future.

owncloud_android
There are mobile apps for Android and iOS for accessing your ownCloud instance on the go, at a cost of $0.99 per app. The Android app works very similar to Dropbox in that you can access all of your stored files and upload all pictures and videos that you take. Another rather smart feature is the ability to keep track of file versions and update them automatically on your phone so you always have the latest copy with you.

Features and Interface

owncloud_create_admin
Like I said, ownCloud offers features such as file storage and synchronization, calendars, tasks, galleries, and more. You can enter the web interface and add other accounts once you’ve added the admin user. On the same page, you can additionally configure which database settings ownCloud should use.

owncloud_calendar
The interface is decent looking and functional, which is all you need for a self-hosted solution. All of these features can be accessed by other applications alongside the web interface through open protocols including WebDAV, CalDAV, and CardDAV. This gives you a high amount of flexibility that rivals any commercial solution.

Again, the main idea here isn’t that it looks great, but rather that it works and the data is stored locally (and it definitely works).

owncloud_admin
The admin tools don’t offer a whole lot of options, but one to note is the ability to easily migrate an ownCloud installation, by either downloading the user data, ownCloud system files, or a combination of both. I think this is great because if you find yourself needing to restore or move an installation, you can!

Conclusion

As with many self-hosted products: once you have it all set up, you’re good to go! Of course, making the most out of your own ownCloud installation requires that you know a few things about Linux servers and how to maintain them, so creating an ownCloud server isn’t for everyone.

However, if you’re knowledgeable or willing to read up on the documentation, you can get it up and running. I think that the effort is  very much worth the privacy advantages gained, something that is becoming ever more important as news of more security breaches comes to light.

Visit: ownCloud

Does ownCloud sound like a good idea to you? Have you used it? Let us know in the comments!

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