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?
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.