Getting to know ownCloud
Online storage and syncing. It’s a popular service, but one that’s also very contentious. Many people want to use these types of services, but are very wary of putting their data into the hands of others.
If you want share and sync your files, but want to keep control of your data, then you’ll want to check out ownCloud. It’s an Open Source, web-based app that you can install on your own servers that gives you
I gave ownCloud a close look in 2011. While I saw that it had potential, there were still a few things that weren’t quite right about it. It just wasn’t ready for my prime time. Flash forward about nine months. I recently gave ownCloud another look, and what a difference those nine months made. ownCloud has grown in a lot of ways.
Let’s take a closer look at it.
To use ownCloud, you’ll need a server running the Apache web server and PHP. You can find a list of the dependencies here. Most web hosting companies run the necessary software, and if you’re using your own servers you can download and install the necessary software if you need to. Then, download ownCloud and copy the files to your server.
Installing ownCloud is simple. Just open a web browsers and go to the folder that you copied to your server. Then, follow the instructions on the page that loads into your browser. You’ll be asked for an administrator user name and password, and to select the type of database that you want to use. You have three options — SQLite, MySQL, and PostgreSQL. According to the folks behind ownCloud, SQLite is the best choice for an ownCloud instance with a small number of users. Use the other options if you have a larger base of users. You can:
[e]ither setup the database first, and pass ownCloud the details, or give ownCloud details of an SQL account that can create a database and ownCloud will do the rest.
Since this is a personal instance of ownCloud, I chose the SQLite option. Within a few seconds I was up and running.
That’s pretty simple. Hit the URL of the server where you installed ownCloud, enter your user name and password, and then click the Log in button.
Since I’m looking at ownCloud from the perspective of a single user, I’m not going to look at how to add users, user groups, and how to configure access for those users and groups. That said, one of the first things that you’ll want to do is create a few folders to store and organize your files. To do that, click the New button in the top-left corner of the ownCloud window and select Folder. You’ll be asked to give the folder a name; remember to give it a descriptive one. Repeat until you have all the folders you need (at least for now).
Next, obviously, you’ll want to upload a few files to ownCloud. To do that, click the arrow button (it’s beside the New button). Then, select the file that you want to upload in the dialog box that opens. You can select more than one file in a folder on your computer by pressing CTRL while clicking. Note that you can only upload 10 MB of files at a time.
Now, what about sharing files? Sometimes, you’ll need to do that. For example, you’re collaborating with others or you want to give a client or customer a secure way download files. One way to share files is to put them in the Shared folder and give people access to that folder.
Or, if there are other people using your instance of ownCloud, you can give them access to specific files in specific folders. Do this by by holding your mouse over the name of the file that you want to share and then clicking the Share button.
You’ll be asked to the name of the user or group to which you want to give access to the file. Or, you can click the make public check box. ownCloud generates a URL that you can email.
Using the built-in apps
ownCloud isn’t just for storage and syncing. It also has some useful apps built into it. A fresh install only has a few enabled, and these are available from the menu on the left side of the ownCloud window.
You can enable more by clicking the Settings icon in the bottom left corner of the window and then clicking Apps. Let’s look at a few of the more interesting ones:
- Text Editor is, obviously, a built-in text editor. When you click the New button, you have the option of creating a new text file as well as a new folder. From there, click the name of the text file and it opens in the editor. The editor is barebones, but good for writing notes and the like.
- Bookmarks acts like a barebones version of Pinboard or Delicious. You can also add tags to bookmarks to better organize them.
- Media is a media player. It scans your ownCloud folders for music and you can play your tunes back no matter where you are.
- Contacts is a fairly robust contact manager, enabling you to have information about people in a central location.
- PDF viewer does just what it says — it opens and displays PDF files. It doesn’t do too bad a job, either.
There are a number of other apps that I haven’t tried out yet — like the to do list, the internal bookmarks, the downloader app, and the photo gallery.
Using the desktop client
Uploading files can be a pain, especially with the 10 MB limit. If you’ve used Dropbox, you probably take advantage of the Dropbox desktop client. The client creates a folder that lets you automatically sync from your desktop by dragging and dropping files into the folder. You can do that with ownCloud, too.
All you need to do is download a sync client. After you install the client and run it, you’ll be asked to connect to your ownCloud instance. Just supply the URL, your username, and password. The client creates a folder in your /home directory, called ownCloud. The client monitors the folder and synchronizes any changes with a folder in your ownCloud instance called clientsync.
ownCloud has come a long way since the last time I gave it a look. What I’ve covered in this post doesn’t touch everything that ownCloud can do — such as its WebDAV support. But if you’re looking for an online storage and syncing app that keeps your files under your control, ownCloud is definitely worth a close look.