ownCloud: The cloud sharing service you control

This open source service is still rough around the edges, but it puts you in the driver's seat

ownCloud was launched at Camp KDE in January 2010 by its founder, Frank Karlitschek. (Mr. Karlitschek is now the CTO of ownCloud, Inc.) The goals of ownCloud, as laid out at the KDE conference, are ambitious: easy cloud setup and management, and ubiquitous access to your data from multiple devices wherever that data may be -- on local storage, hosted storage, or even on social networks. ownCloud also wants to give us the ability to mash up and connect data from different providers, while maintaining privacy and security. While they're at it, I'd like them to provide pink unicorns and rainbows too, which seem about as probable as everything else ownCloud is promising.

But a unified, friendly method of controlling our own stuff is a natural evolution of life online. So far, though, this has been as elusive as pink unicorns and rainbows as vendors cling to lock-in and incompatibility. Mom's on Facebook, Grandma's on G+ and Flickr, and Dad thinks if it's not on Goodreads it's not worth bothering with. So we're juggling multiple accounts, watching services come and go (MySpace, anyone?), exposing our personal data to vendors who claim to own everything -- and we have no rights. "Solutions" like letting Facebook insert its tentacles into all of our online activities are less than attractive.

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ownCloud is an open-source effort to put control back in our hands. It is still young and has rough edges, and has a way to go to achieve its ambitious goals, but it is already useful and exceptionally easy to use. You can easily set up and manage data storage and sharing, and shared calendars and contacts. The server runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows, and it has clients for desktop and mobile platforms. There is an active and growing developer and user community, and improvements are coming thick and fast. This is the #1 cloud project to watch, in my occasionally humble opinion.

That syncing feeling

Use the sync client to share and synchronize files and directories between any Linux, Mac, or Windows PC and your ownCloud server. The client creates an ownCloud directory, and any files that you copy into this directory are automatically uploaded and synchronized with the server. You can share any directory on the client machine, including network shares (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The ownCloud sync client shares any directory you want with the server

If you're having problems, open the ownCloud sync client from the command line with

owncloud --logwindow
so you can see exactly what is happening (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Use the sync client's log window to track down problems

Android and iOS users get to play too, by fetching their respective apps from Google Play or the Apple App Store.

Enable password recovery

If you ever lose your password, you can get it back with ownCloud's password recovery. First configure your mail server in

, then enter your email address on the Admin page of the Web GUI. Then whenever you bork your password, ownCloud will email it to you.

Users, groups, and sharing

You can create ownCloud users and groups on the Users tab on your ownCloud Web control panel, and these are independent of system user accounts on the host server. So you can make up any usernames and logins you want without giving them system logins.

Look on your Admin page on the control panel for the "Enable Resharing" checkbox. The default is to restrict re-sharing files that you own only within your own ownCloud user group; if you check "Enable Resharing," then anyone you share files with can re-share them.

When you click the Share button for any file, you have an option to "share with private link," which creates a hidden URL for the file, and then you have the option to share it within your ownCloud group, or to email the link to anyone.

Keep in mind, though, that sharing files is like sharing secrets: once they're out, you don't have control anymore because there is always a way to bypass restrictions.

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