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Goodbye ownCloud, Hello Nextcloud! The Aftermath of Disrupting Open Source Cloud Storage

If you are vaguely familiar with ownCloud, you may have noticed quite a bit of ruckus on the tech blogs back in July when their US business entity was essentially gutted.  The Chief Executive Office and cofounder, Frank Karlitschek, announced he was resigning.  Within a few weeks, most of the core development team followed suit.  This left many long time ownCloud users, such as myself, completely puzzled.  Here we are a few months later and a few questions still linger, but many have been answered.  First, let’s briefly review what the ownCloud platform provides and why this matters.

 

What is ownCloud?

 

ownCloud is an Open Source cloud platform that closely mimics the functionality of Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and all the other big guys.  There is an ownCloud server, that runs on a simple LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP), and then there’s a client(s).  The client is an application that can be installed on Linux, Windows, OSX, iOS, Android and pretty much everything else.  Each user has a folder full of files that magically stays synchronized on the server and each device the client has the software installed on.  Then users can share files and folders with other users, collaborate, and the list goes on.  Functionality has expanded quite a bit over the years, in way of apps.  Apps have integrated mail, calendar, contacts, music, photo galleries and so much more into the ownCloud ecosystem.  The main difference between ownCloud, and the big guys mentioned earlier, is it’s completely free.  Well, it started out free.  Needless to say, with thousands of developers contributing code, and tens of thousands of installations later, it grew.  So, when did things go sour?

 

What happened?

 

A couple years ago, things started to change.  Instead of the community being the driving force behind development decisions and what direction the project was heading (the core principle of Open Source software) venture capital had another idea.  Less attention was being given to community submitted bugs and feature requests, and a divide was being formed between the community and ownCloud’s business entities, ownCloud GmbH (Germany) and ownCloud Inc (USA).  The business makes money by charging for support, but that started to expand into other areas.  The list of complaints from the Open Source community is pretty long, so I’ll give you the headlines.

 

  • ownCloud developers were ignoring feedback and hoarding functionality for their paying “enterprise” customers.
  • User interfaces were mutilated for many of the core services, such as the contacts and calendar apps.
  • Any attempt to give construction criticism was taken as a personal attack and/or just ignored.
  • Major defects in the code were being released, such as broken updater utilities.
  • ownCloud GmbH/Inc was not sharing future road maps and maintained a veil of secrecy.
  • Lack of real innovation and development of the platform as a whole.

 

These major issues, along with many others, eventually caused a revolt of sorts.  Frank, who had grown very frustrated with VC money slaughtering community collaboration, decided to take action.  Within a few weeks of his resignation, most of the core team followed him out the door (by choice).  Everything was very hush hush, then he announced the formation of a new Open Source platform, and business entity, Nextcloud.  At the same time, they forked the ownCloud code base into Nextcloud on Github.  Some saw it as a slap in the face, but many took it as a breath of fresh air.  Out with the old way of doing things, and in with the new.

 

How is Nextcloud better?

 

Within a month of the June 2nd announcement, Nextcloud 9 (9.0.54) and Nextcloud 10 (10.01) were born.  In addition, ownCloud 8.2.3 and later can be directly “upgraded” to Nextcloud, very easily.  Nextcloud claims this functionality will remain as long as possible.  Both Nextcloud releases addressed a slew of bug fixes (commits) as well as the addition of many sought after features.  Including, but not limited to:

 

  • Over 40 bugs fixed, most all of which were pre-existing.
  • Theming app that enabled logo selection and color changes out of the box.
  • Integrated video player (although it only worked with MP4’s on my server, but it’s a start)
  • Gallery+ was replaced with the “Gallery” app, improving the user interface.
  • Server Info app that displays real-time CPU load, memory usage, storage statistics and more via admin panel and external API monitoring tools (think Nagios integration).
  • Already working on advanced features such as Collabora Online Office (think google docs) as well as fully integrating Video & Audio conferencing with the Spreed.ME WebRTC platform.
  • Deployed a brand new app store with full Nextcloud integration coming soon.

 

Out of the gate, Nextcloud hosted meetups and even put together a 3 day conference in Berlin.  They also managed to onboard a very large customer, the Danish Research and Education Network (DeiC), which was migrated from ownCloud.  Nextcloud has even committed honor any current, paid for, ownCloud support contracts at no additional charge.

 

Does this benefit the community?

 

Many were concerned that ownCloud would cease to exist over night, hurting the community as a whole.  This doesn’t seem to be the case.  Although loosing most of their core developers, owncloud is still fixing bugs, although not as many as before June 2nd.  Nextcloud’s bug fixes (commits) have skyrocketed, exceeding levels ownCloud had seen in a long time.  Although resources were split between two projects, it seems to have had a refreshing effect for both projects and will more than likely attract new developers for both.  This isn’t the first time this has happened.  MySQL (MariaDB) and OpenOffice (LibreOffice) both had similar experiences.  A few key things to be aware of would be:

 

  • Nextcloud promised a drop in replacement / alternative to ownCloud within a month; they delivered.
  • Frank has made it known there will be no contributor based license agreement.
  • A newly created foundation will hold the trademarks so they won’t be sublicensed or under company control.
  • The likely influx of new developer talent will breed innovation across the board.

 

How did ownCloud respond?

 

ownCloud obviously will suffer somewhat in the short term.  How much is to be seen.  Some say it’s the beginning of the end.  When Nextcloud was announced, ownCloud posted a short blurb on their blog that was slightly unprofessional.  They accused Frank and the others of being responsible for the demise of ownCloud Inc (USA).  When Frank pulled out, the USA based lender froze their credit and ownCloud said they had to shut it down immediately.  Because of this, 8 employees lost their contracts.  However, Frank has publicly stated he would hire all ownCloud employees that haven’t already started working for Nextcloud already.  Regardless, ownCloud GmbH is still around and has promised their customers all support contracts will continue to be honored and everything is business as usual.  That’s somewhat hard to believe.  Time will tell.

 

 

9 thoughts on “Goodbye ownCloud, Hello Nextcloud! The Aftermath of Disrupting Open Source Cloud Storage

  1. Josh says:

    Thanks. This seems to be a well written outline of what happened and why. I’ve got high hopes for Nextcloud.

    Reply
    • disqus_scFpd4aYGM says:

      Indeed its a quite good write up. What me bothers is, that most of the pointed out “list of complains of the community” are related/directed to the ownCloud core developers. And most of them are now hired by Nextcloud. To me it seems the bad turned to the good by changing names and nobody wants to see that.

      Reply
      • Jos Poortvliet says:

        Nextcloud guy here.

        Note that a developer is typically not the one who decides what to work on, the boss does. We essentially changed management, that is why Nextcloud is making such big steps forward. The ‘bad’ and ‘good’ you mention – they are still there, just not in the same company anymore.

        Reply
        • disqus_scFpd4aYGM says:

          Seems you have completely missed my point here:

          > that most of the pointed out “list of complains of the community” are related/directed to the ownCloud core developers. And most of them are now hired by Nextcloud.

          These are the points i’m referring to and which are more then the half of the critic points in this article:

          – ownCloud developers were ignoring feedback
          – User interfaces were mutilated for many of the core services, such as the contacts and calendar apps.
          – Any attempt to give construction criticism was taken as a personal attack and/or just ignored.
          – Major defects in the code were being released, such as broken updater utilities.

          And this is absolutely something related to the developers moved to nextcloud, not the bosses.

          Reply
          • Jos Poortvliet says:

            Thanks for your feedback!

            I don’t think I missed your point. The things you mention are most certainly related to management decisions.

            We explicitly said in public that the Calendar and Contacts app being neglected were reasons for us to leave.

            Another reason was the lack of time engineers had for dealing with community requests and input. Just compare with how it is today. I can’t guarantee we take very piece of feedback into account (can’t please them all and make it rain plus sunny at the same time) but we’re 10x as responsive as before.

            Just to illustrate this point, internally at Nextcloud engineers have at least 50% of their time to spend how they see fit.Most of which goes to working with and on community matters. That is massively different from before, where time was booked >95% by enterprise features (though Frank usually managed to sneak quite some ‘vision’ and community features in the feature list).

            WRT the broken updater – our first action when we released 9.0 was turn the broken updater off and write a new one, so yeah, we agree, it was BAD. We’re still working on more fixes there (Nc 12 will no longer automatically disable apps on upgrade, for example).

            WRT the personal insults, while one’s “constructive criticism” is another persons’ trolling, if you can point me to any case where polite feedback is answered impolitely, I’ll make sure it won’t happen again.

            You see, on all these points, and more, we made massive progress. And most certainly where we limited in doing that before.

            Of course, nothing is perfect, so please – if you have feedback on anything else, let me know and I’ll do my best to deal with it.

            By the way, if you are the anonymous ownCloud guy known as “asdfasdf” or something on the forums and on twitter – you should be ashamed of your online conduct.

          • disqus_scFpd4aYGM says:

            Aehm, i havn’t posted this blogpost and the points listed above? This was a collection of the community from the blogger here?

          • Jos Poortvliet says:

            I didn’t mean you wrote the blog post, sorry if it seemed that way.

            It seems rather simple to me. If management tells you not to work on or promote things and doesn’t give you time to review pull requests, well – that is what you do.

            Anyhow – it isn’t hard to see how things are going, today and how they will be going in the future. The results speak for themselves. If you are not convinced, that is fine, it has only been 8 months. We did a big 11 release, in no small part thanks to a lot of community contributions (9 and 10 were largely based on the code we wrote while still at ownCloud). Our Android app – entirely volunteer work, and moving faster than ever before!

            It clearly has been convincing enough for a lot of people, but you’re entirely free to wait a bit more. I am certain the trend will not change, not at all.

          • disqus_scFpd4aYGM says:

            No worries, i’ve already migrated my data away from owncloud to two completely different software solutions before my post here. I had read too much accuses and FUD from both sides and lost my trust in both projects.

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