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Notes on ownCloud robustness


I'm on my way to a meeting at Intersect about the next phase of the [Cr8it data packaging and publishing project](http://uws.edu.au/eresearch/home/projects/cr8it). Cr8it is an ownCloud plugin, and ownCloud is widely regarded as THE open source dropbox-like service, but it is not without its problems.

Dropbox has been a huge hit, a killer app with what I call powers to "Share, Sync & See". Syncing between devices, including mobile (where it's not really syncing) is what made Dropbox so pervasive, giving us a distributed file-system with almost frictionless sharing via emailed requests, with easy signup for new users. The see part refers to the fact that you can look at your stuff via the web too. And there is a growing ecosystem of apps that can use Dropbox as an underlying distributed filesystem.

ownCloud is (amongst other things) an open source alternative to Dropbox.com's file-sync service. A number of institutions and service providers in the academic world are now looking at it because it promises some of the killer-app qualities of dropbox in an open source form, meaning that, if all goes well it can be used to manage research data, on local or cloud infrastructure, at scale, with the ease of use and virality of dropbox. If all goes well.

There are a few reasons dropbox and other commercial services are not great for a university:

But ownCloud has some problems. The ownCloud forum is full of people saying, "tried this out for my company/workgroup/school. Showed promise but there's too many bugs. Bye." At UWS eResearch we have been using it more or less successfully for several months, and have experienced some fairly major issues to do with case-sensitivty and other incompatibilities between various file systems on Windows, OS X and Linux.

From my point of view as an eResearch manager, I'd like to see the emphasis at ownCloud be on getting the core share-sync-see stuff working, and then on getting a framework in place to support plugins in a robust way.

What I don't want to see is more of this:

Last week, the first version of OwnCloud Documents was released as a part of OwnCloud 6. This incorporates a subset of editing features from the upstream WebODF project that is considered stable and well-tested enough for collaborative editing.

We tried this editor at eResearch UWS as a shared scratchpad in a strategy session and it was a complete disaster, our browsers kept losing contact with the document, and when we tried to copy-paste the text to safety it turned out that copying text is not supported. In the end we had to rescue our content by copying HTML out of the browser and stripping out the tags.

In my opinion, ownCloud is not going to reach its potential when the focus remains on getting shiny new stuff out all the time, far from making ownCloud shine, every broken app like this editor tarnishes its reputation substantially. By all means release these things for people to play with but the ownCloud team needs to have a very hard think about what they mean by "stable and well tested".

Along with others I've talked to in eResearch, I'd like to see work at owncloud.com focus on:

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Notes on ownCloud robustness by Peter Sefton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License