The big selling point for OwnCloud is doubly inviting in this post-PRISM era. It's a file storage and sharing service that runs entirely on open source software and the hardware of your choice, which you can deploy within your own four walls. It also comes with an optional at-rest file encryption module -- useful if you're running on shared hosting and want to keep out prying eyes.
I looked at a previous 4.x version of OwnCloud and was impressed, but the product's been redesigned almost completely from the inside out for its 5.x iteration. Most crucially, the at-rest encryption system used in 4.x has been scrapped entirely and replaced, so users of OwnCloud 4.x will need to take care when migrating their setup.
Installing OwnCloud could hardly be simpler, in theory. Unpack an archive to the desired destination folder on your Web server, navigate to said folder in your Web browser, and create a master user account. You can elect to use MySQL, MariaDB (preferred), SQLite, or PostgreSQL as the database. In practice, setting up OwnCloud can be trickier, in part because your PHP installation needs to be correctly configured for OwnCloud to work right. In my case, it was "strongly recommended" that I add the
fileinfo module for proper MIME-type detection, and similar tinkering was needed to get the file-encryption plug-in running.
The functionality of OwnCloud is provided through a range of add-ons or "apps," several of which are bundled with the system by default: a file manager, a music player and library manager, a CardDAV-driven contacts manager, a CalDAV-compatible calendar, a picture gallery, and add-ons for the likes of OpenID and WebDAV support and in-browser viewing of various document types (ODF, PDF, and so on). Dozens of other apps are available through OwnCloud's app library. This makes OwnCloud more than just a file depository. It can become, in time, a nexus for many different kinds of collaboration and sharing in an organization.
Files can be uploaded into an OwnCloud instance either via drag-and-drop into the browser, or by using a Windows or Mac client that synchronizes the contents of a folder with an OwnCloud account, à la the desktop clients for Dropbox. The only limits on file sizes or storage are those you set yourself. Incidentally, the desktop app is free, but the mobile apps are $1 each -- a smart way for the company to indirectly monetize the free community version of the product.
One of the major add-ons, included but not enabled by default, is the server-side encryption plug-in. Files saved to the server when the plug-in is enabled are encrypted and cannot be read even by the server administrator. Note that file names are not encrypted, just the contents, although I imagine in time this too can be addressed.
The biggest advantage to OwnCloud is also its biggest disadvantage: You have to run it yourself. The total control it gives you over the way files are stored and managed comes at the cost of having to set up and maintain the program. What's more, OwnCloud requires some expertise with Web servers -- Apache, PHP, and MySQL -- to use effectively. An instance of OwnCloud I set up on my own local server ran very slowly -- probably because it wasn't properly optimized. When installed on a Web server maintained by a hosting company, it ran much faster. Your mileage will definitely vary.
The folks at Turnkey Linux have created a virtual appliance edition of OwnCloud for fast installation, albeit only the earlier 4.x version. It's also possible to have OwnCloud hosted by an authorized service provider who can set up and manage an OwnCloud instance for you.
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