First Impression Review of ownCloud 4

OwnCloud File manager

Everyone has gone cloud these days. All the big companies are offering it. So it comes as no surprise then that individuals would want their own cloud too. And for those people there’s ownCloud!

I installed ownCloud 4.0.4 in my shared hosting account. It worked on the second try (it would have worked on the first try if I had followed my providers instructions for configuring PHP first). The fact it worked so quickly, without any fiddling around, is a very good sign. I also installed the synchronization client on my laptop.

The basic functionality included in ownCloud is quite impressive. And version 4 brought a lot of great new features. Of coure you can synchronize your files (and if they’re media files you can play them back using the integrate web player). There’s also Contacts, Calendars and a Picture Gallery enabled by default. There’s a lot more you can enable out of the box, including Tasks and External Storage (such as DropBox and Google’s gDrive), and Bookmarks.

For more advanced functionality ownCloud offers an API and an app store for user’s to contribute their own extensions. And there’s quite a few interesting extensions already available.

ownCloud is written in PHP (requires version 5.3) so you can pretty sure it will run just about anywhere – PHP is available on all OSes and every shared host I know includes PHP in their most basic plan. It also requires a database but fortunately it supports SQLite (as well as MySQL and PostgreSQL) so even if your hosting plan doesn’t include a database you’ll be fine for three or four users.

Yes, ownCloud is mutli-user! So you can set it up for your whole family, your friends, or organization.

I was somewhat disappointed by a couple things in ownCloud though. First of all I found some basic things missing or counter-intuitive. And occasionally navigation doesn’t seem to work (ex.: adding a date to a task brings up two different calenders depending on where you click; the button to add a photo to contact are not always visible; etc.). This is polish that will come but makes wonder if basic testing is being skipped.

I’m a bit more concerned but some of the fundamental things which I don’t see. Like the synchronization client doesn’t support proxies! This means you can’t sync from the office (I don’t know any company that doesn’t have a proxy/firewall). Also the advantage of PHP is mitigated by the fact it’s not a long-running process, so every request to ownCloud kicks off a new PHP script. That mean’s it slow(er).

ownCloud is a great idea with some great implementation and a good foundation. I expect a lot can be done by third parties using the hooks built into the software and the API provided. But at the moment I don’t think it can replace my SugarSync account or win anyone over from DropBox, gDrive or iCloud.

I am looking forward to version 5 though. Assuming they not only add the promised features but also polish up the existing ones.

Cross-posted on Schultzter’s Blog

3 comments

  1. Good review, but a couple points:

    1. re: no proxy support. Lots of companies don’t do web proxies, but instead just use Network Address Translation, aka NAT for external access. Owncloud will work just fine with these. In fact, proxies are very 1990s – at the very least a smart company will employ a transparent proxy where the firewall automatically routes all web traffic across/through their proxy, requiring zero configuration on the client side of things.

    If you work for a company that isn’t doing this, well… my sympathies.

    1. re: PHP. Sure, the webserver will have to launch a slow PHP process & compile/run the script on each connection – if your webhost is likewise stuck in the 1990s. First off, you want a PHP caching accelerator like APC or Xcache installed on your webhost – that way, PHP doesn’t need to compile code each time a script is called – it’s compiled once and then resides in-memory for future calls. Secondly, you might want to look at a lightweight web server like nginx with a long-running PHP backend.

    If all this sounds too complicated to deal with, remember: your article is about building your own Dropbox replacement. If these additional steps require too much effort, well, you probably should’ve stuck with Dropbox in the first place.

  2. I want to setup a private cloud on my home server and am considering installing owncloud. However I want a product with an android client, and owncloud’s website indicates this is only available with their paid versions. Can you validate this? If mobile clients [android] are supported with the community edition [free] then I’d download and try ownCloud.

  3. Sorry, I never got that far. You might try 3rd party clients though and enabling webdav might allow Android clients that support generic webdav access.