ownCloud: Your Self-Hosted Dropbox Alternative

These days, there seems to be countless services that can be used to host and share files. The likes of Dropbox, Box and Google Drive are understandably popular, but they all have limitations of one form or another. There’s hosts of smaller, less popular apps, but then you risk whether or not they’ll be around forever.

If you need a more flexible solution, ownCloud could be just what you’re looking for, giving you the chance to easily host and access your files from other computers. You can run it on your own server, or host it on a number of hosting services easily. It just might be the Dropbox alternate you’ve been needing.

ownCloud Server

There are two components to ownCloud: the server side of things and the client (which you’ll run on your local computer). There are a couple of approaches that can be taken for setting up the server, and which one you choose will depend on what your current web hosting situation is, or how much you are willing to pay for storage.

This is not to say that you have to pay for space by signing up for different packages with ownCloud – the software is provided completely free of charge. However, you do need to have some online hosting available that you can use in conjunction with the tool. The good thing is, it can work with quite a variety of hosting services – even shared hosting you might already be paying for to host your personal WordPress blog.

Installing the ownCloud Server software is easy whether you have shared or personal storage.

Installing the ownCloud Server software is easy whether you have shared or personal storage.

If you already have your own shared web hosting account, waiting to be put to good use, there is an online installer that can be used to get up and running. All you need to do is upload and run a script and you’ll be guided through the entire process. It’s quick and simple, and no more difficult to get setup than a standard CMS.

Equally, if you are fortunate enough to have a server of your own (either a VPS or dedicated server), a .tar or Linux package file is available for easy installation. These will give you more features, and in the case of the Linux package file, automated updates, but it’ll take a bit more work to get them up and running.

Or, if either of those sound like too much trouble, or if you don’t already have your own hosting to use with ownCloud, there’s a number of service providers that offer a turnkey ownCloud solution that you can signup for and get running with little effort.

If you need online storage space, ownCloud has a number of recommendations for you.

If you need online storage space, ownCloud has a number of recommendations for you.

Web Interface

Once you’ve got ownCloud installed on your own server, it’s simple to use if you’ve ever used any other online file storage service. Files can be uploaded to and downloaded from your ownCloud Server using the web interface. This is not entirely dissimilar to that found in Dropbox, but it is about more than just storing files. In ownCloud’s web app, you can organize your files, view and edit certain file types, and manage your calendar, tasks, bookmarks, and more.

ownCloud’s web interface is intuitive, with an easy to understand interface packed with options.

ownCloud’s web interface is intuitive, with an easy to understand interface packed with options.

Files you upload can be organized into folders however you see fit, but ownCloud also enables you to quickly jump to files of a particular type – such as music or images – similar to smart folders in OS X. There’s a search box available at all times so you can easily hunt down any files you’re having trouble locating manually.

But where ownCloud really starts to impress is with its built-in online apps. It’s great to be able to access online files through a web browser, but it is even more useful to be able to view and edit them whilst on the move.

Built in apps such as a media player and picture viewer add to ownCloud’s value.

Built in apps such as a media player and picture viewer add to ownCloud’s value.

In terms of file editing, only text files that are supported as standard, but there is the option of installing third-party apps to add new features. There is already a built in task manager – something which is great for collaborative project as well as solo work – but there are plenty more that can be installed from the ownCloud website. This gives you the chance to make ownCloud work just like you want, with an app store of sorts in your own hosted web app.

The web interface can be used to set up user accounts so that data can be shared between groups of people, and individual users can be assigned different amounts of storage space. This is great for teams, and might give your company a way to move to your own servers instead of relying on Dropbox for Teams to keep your documents in sync.

The admin panel of the web interface afford you control over user accounts as well as app settings.

The admin panel of the web interface afford you control over user accounts as well as app settings.

Client Software

No cloud storage service would be complete without a desktop client. The web interface is easy to use, and very powerful, but it always makes sense to have local copies of files as well. Rather than manually downloading  and uploading the latest versions of files, the desktop client can be used to keep a local folder synchronized with your cloud storage, just like Dropbox. And unlike Dropbox, you can sync any folders you want.

Available for Windows, OS X and Linux client software keeps your ownCloud files in sync.

Available for Windows, OS X and Linux client software keeps your ownCloud files in sync.

Client software is also available for iOS and Android devices, making it possible to access files on the move. It’s too bad that the mobile apps are not free like their desktop and server counterparts, but they are very low cost tools that are definitely worth picking up if you’re switching to ownCloud.

Need access to your ownCloud files on the move? There’s an app for that.

Need access to your ownCloud files on the move? There’s an app for that.

In Summary

While ownCloud doesn’t quite have the polished feel of some cloud storage services, it more than makes up for this in its versatility. Opting to use a self-hosted service such as this means that it can be tailored to meet your exact needs, and can likely help you get more value out of servers and hosting accounts you already have access to.

There is great flexibility in the fact that there are no restrictions imposed on how storage space can or should be used. You can use whatever space you have, however you want. The ever-expanding range of apps is already impressive, but as ownCloud grows in popularity we can expect to see development flourish, and this is when things will start to get really exciting.

ownCloud isn’t for everyone, but it’s sure an exciting alternative to Dropbox and its competitors, most of which seem to get more and more restrictive (see iCloud). And if you’ve ever installed WordPress on your own hosting account, ownCloud won’t be too difficult for you to get started with.


Summary

A great way to make use of your webspace to share files with others or collaborate on projects. It's more versatile than the likes of Dropbox, but then, it's more difficult to use.

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  • Its good but dont you think its way too complicated for a new user compared to google Drive and Dropbox? And would cost you a lot more than the alternatives?

    • You’re right, for a new user. I think their target audience would be someone that is tired of paying and using the other services. Additionally some users are uncomfortable storing files in the cloud. Don’t ever forget to keep in mind these built in snapshot features such as Packrat will keep your files in existence forever, even if you delete them.

  • I’ve recently hired someone and am training him (from scratch) in all sorts of design and development skills… …so we often have to share a lot of resources, snippets, templates, and a lot of what he finishes has to be approved by me before he can upload it to a live installation.

    Most of the cloud services haven’t really worked for us and I’m thinking that since I already have a ton of shared hosting slots (that I use for new clients), the best solution may just be to store all of our shared resources in OwnCloud; the fact that it has built in productivity tools is just an added bonus – this way we don’t have to have a slew of different places where we sync our progress and can just keep it all in one place.

    I’m so glad you guys decided to review this.

  • Would love to see a comparison between ownCloud and Gladinet! Gladinet offers a simpler solution for new users and a more mature, brandable solution for service providers with support for more cloud storage services, SAN, NAS and other local devices as well as great file server and AD integration. Platform supports Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Windows Phone.