ownCloud Vs Nextcloud

Alex Alex 10 March
ownCloud Vs Nextcloud

If you want a cloud-based file synchronisation  and sharing platform you are really spoiled for choice; but one downside that Google, Microsoft,  Dropbox and pals all share is that they're all controlled by somebody else.

If you  want full control over your own data and don't mind running your own  infrastructure to do it then two of the biggest players you'll come across  are ownCloud and Nextcloud. What are the differences between these platforms, and which  is best for you? Stay tuned, and let's find out!

I  guess the first question to ask is: why, when many companies are moving to the public  cloud, would you want the complexity of running your own private file sharing platform? Honestly,  this isn't for everyone. Particularly when the likes of Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace come  with working solutions straight out of the box; but there are reasons why doing it yourself can  make sense.

The first is cost. Unsurprisingly it's often cheaper to do it yourself than pay someone  to do it for you - assuming you have the capability to do so. This is a particularly big reason why  hobbyists and home users do it - they don't have enterprise budgets to play with. It's the main  reason I started using these solutions, myself.

I used to use Windows Live Mesh to keep my files  in sync between different devices at home. That's been dead a while now so if you've never used it,  it was a free peer-to-peer file synchronisation tool that sync'd between devices locally or over the  internet. When Microsoft came out with OneDrive (then called SkyDrive) they discontinued Live Mesh  and announced SkyDrive as a new tool to sync your files. Which meant it always went over the internet  and now you had to pay for the cloud storage even if you didn't want the data to be stored  online in OneDrive.

Other reasons you might want to host your own service are control and flexibility. If you have strict rules governing where your data can live then it might be a necessity. For most  people that won't prevent them using one of the major cloud vendors, but you will still get more  flexibility from running your own rather than picking a one-size-fits-all solution.

Back to  my example at home. I have our various devices syncing back to a server. I also have some  media services hooked into that, so if I drop a music file on my laptop it syncs and becomes  available to stream to speakers around my house. ownCloud Vs NextcloudIf I record a video of my kids playing on my  phone it syncs and could be played on the TV. All of the data is automatically backed up from the  central location as well; meaning if a device fails, I delete something, or I get hit by ransomware; nothing is lost. I have some other services hooked into the synchronised data as well, but I'm not  going to keep going down that rabbit hole. It's just an example of how I've been able to customise  my self-hosted service so that not only is it cheaper and faster than using OneDrive; it also  provides me with functionality that OneDrive can't.

Other reasons you might want to self-host  are vendor lock-in and security. Self-hosting, particularly self-hosting using open source,  makes it much less likely a vendor can bend you over any kind of proverbial barrel  or leave you high and dry if they go bust. I mean it's not likely that Google or Microsoft  will go bust, but there's also no telling what service they might just decide to kill off.

As far  as security goes... I think "privacy" is a better way to put it. The vast majority of people who claim  they're not using the cloud for security reasons are actually running systems less secure  than the cloud ones they're avoiding. That doesn't necessarily mean they'd  be any safer by moving the public cloud. For now let's talk  more about ownCloud and Nextcloud, specifically.

ownCloud & Nextcloud Similarities

ownCloud and Nextcloud have more in common than they have dividing them. Both can be thought of as open source, self-hosted Dropbox alternatives. Both have paid support options available. Both share the same original codebase, and both were founded by the same person. There are some technical differences and this  gap is likely to grow as the two projects diverge, but a lot of the differences are more  philosophical or licensing related. If I quickly open the two platforms side-by-side you can see they share the same DNA. ownCloud Vs Nextcloud

Nextcloud's History

So why did the founder quit his own company and  fork his own code to start a new company? The ownCloud company was formed by the partnership of  open source developers with a venture capital firm. Fundamentally, the problems stemmed from these  two groups of people not seeing eye to eye. I'm not going to go into in detail because most  of the information that has been made public is very one-sided and I don't think it would be fair for  me to quote it as fact without hearing both sides of the story. You can look it up for yourself if  you wish - it reads a bit like a soap opera and there's clearly a bit of lingering hostility.

I would summarize it as saying that the open source developers and the venture capitalists had  different motivations, and failed to understand the other's; leading to a fair amount of internal  conflict. This drove a wedge between the company and the community. It resulted in features  getting blocked or removed; and some utterly ridiculous supportability problems like claiming  Windows compatibility for the server despite never actually testing it, and it not actually working properly.

The result was that 12 members of the core development team, including ownCloud's  founder, quit the company and formed Nextcloud. They forked the code and started developing their  own version. It sounds like this was probably the best thing for both projects to put an end to the  infighting, although clearly not a good thing for the employees of the U.S. company, ownCloud Inc., who lost their jobs in the resulting fallout.

In effect, NextCloud is the developers' original  vision for ownCloud, and ownCloud today is the management or venture capitalist's vision for ownCloud. And for the record: neither ownCloud nor Nextcloud supports the server being deployed on  Windows anymore. They came their senses On that one before the split occurred and decided  if they couldn't make it work they should just be upfront about it.

Differences Between ownCloud & Nextcloud

So that gives you a very  brief background. Back to the main question, though: which should you use? That probably depends a  little on the features that matter to you, and whether you care about professional support.

The  first major difference between the two is that Nextcloud is completely free, whereas ownCloud  is only mostly free. ownCloud has proprietary features that are only available if you pay  for their top-tier Enterprise subscription.

When Nextcloud split they re-implemented those  Enterprise features as free and open source, meaning Nextcloud is fully featured whether you  pay for support or just use the free version. If you're not looking for paid support this  pushes my recommendation strongly towards Nextcloud because the functionality isn't being  limited.

Another major difference between the two is that Nextcloud has expanded their focus  from just file syncing. ownCloud is focused on being a file sync and sharing platform like  Dropbox. That's what Nextcloud is known for, too; but they have extended their toolset to  include conferencing and groupware solutions. They're aiming beyond Dropbox and more at  something like Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace.

Now, in all honesty that may be their aim but those  two are way ahead of Nextcloud right now. They're playing in very different leagues, but that's to be  expected given the relative sizes of the companies involved. I don't personally use those Nextcloud  features, so it's irrelevant to me; but if that is something you're looking for then ownCloud aren't  going down that route. That's not a dig at ownCloud. It's not necessarily a bad thing to focus  on doing one thing well and incurring less churn.

Open Source Communities

The last thing that matters when considering  open source solutions is the community. Neither of these platforms exists by itself. There are people contributing to them. A quick look on GitHub shows more activity on the  Nextcloud side of things.ownCloud Vs Nextcloud Now, it's a fair point that the number of commits doesn't tell the full story. Nextcloud could be making lots of smaller changes whereas ownCloud is making fewer but larger ones - that's an argument I've heard. If we compare the two graphs, though; we can see that around June 2016, ownCloud's activity dropped off quite noticeably whereas Nexcloud's didn't.ownCloud Vs Nextcloud So what happened in June  2016? Yup. That's when Nextcloud split. You can see the impact right there, and to me that doesn't  look like Nextcloud simply make a larger volume of smaller changes. That looks very much like  a lot of ownCloud's contributors jumped ship. The difference is less extreme now but Nextcloud still seems to be the one with the most activity.

The Google Trends graph also shows  interest in Nextcloud of overtaking ownCloud around the start of 2018 based on web searches.ownCloud Vs Nextcloud  Finally, the selection of apps available to plug into Nexcloud is larger than the equivalent  list for ownCloud. Quantity is not necessarily an indicator of quality, of course; but these metrics  taken together certainly make it appear that Nextcloud is a platform with the most activity,  and potentially therefore the brightest future.

Support Options

Now what if you're a business who wants the paid  support option, and you're not interested in the additional features that Nextcloud has - you're  only interested in the core functionality that is common to both? This is a little less clear-cut as  each have different support plans that don't quite line up.

Nextcloud's public price list starts at  100 users whereas ownCloud starts at 25 users. For the sake of comparison I'll use 100 users on both.ownCloud Vs Nextcloud The cheapest option is Nextcloud's Basic support. Nextcloud's next option is their Standard support, but ownCloud's Standard support is priced just a bit above Nextcloud's Basic support and has a  faster response time than both Nextcloud's Basic and Standard tiers. At that level ownCloud looks  like better value, but remember you don't get the full feature set until you upgrade to ownCloud's Enterprise support. This compares to Nextcloud's Premium support and here Nextcloud looks better because they have options for tighter reaction times than ownCloud (although  a wider range it has to be said) at a lower price.

More critically, Nextcloud's Premium support has  an option for 24/7 support whereas ownCloud's Enterprise support doesn't appear to. That's  a really weird omission, in my opinion. I'm honestly not sure that 12 hours a day, five days  a week, actually counts as enterprise support, guys?

Of course this is all just me going off  numbers on the websites. I have never used the support with wither of these organisations so I can't tell you what negotiation is possible, or what the quality of the support is like. That in  itself is a very important consideration. Quality of support is absolutely critical when comparing  the value you're getting, so if any of you guys have used the support services of either ownCloud  or Nextcloud then comment below and let us know how you found it.

Closing Thoughts

So let's bring this all together, then. Usually, these comparisons end up with a "well it depends on your situation". In this  case I honestly think that in most cases Nextcloud looks like the winner. Depending on what  you choose, you're either getting more features or you're getting a 24/7 support option.

The only  scenario that jumps out where ownCloud is a better deal is if you want to pay for support, but  only middling support, and you only care about the most limited set of core features; or maybe if  you want paid support for less than 100 users. Certainly since I replaced my ownCloud  server with Nextcloud I haven't looked back.

A couple of points I haven't touched  on are performance and security. When Nextcloud started off they made a lot of  noise about these two things, but I haven't come across anything in the way of independent analysis on it.

My own server was noticeably faster after switching to Nextcloud, but I also upgraded  the version of PHP and implemented a Redis cache at the same time so that performance boost  could have nothing to do with Nextcloud itself. I only mention these points because they come up  in Google when you look for differences between the two platforms, but the information I've seen  all seems to come from Nextcloud themselves, and I don't think we should just take their word  on it unless it's been independently verified.

It's also worth mentioning that ownCloud have  announced they're moving away from PHP and to the Go programming language, and they expect this  to boost performance. It'll be interesting to see how the two stack up then, and whether Nextcloud  follows suit. 

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