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Owncloud 6 Brings Collaborative Open Document Format Editing to the Web 73

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the process-calculus-for-english-homework dept.
OwnCloud version six was released last week, and part of the release was a pretty major new feature: real-time collaborative editing of ODF documents (the format used by Libreoffice, Calligra, etc.). Although Etherpad has supported collaborating on simple text document for a while now, this is the first Free Software equivalent to Google Docs. From the article: "WebODF is a javascript library that lets you display ODF files in your browser. Think of it as PDF.js, but for ODF. You just throw a webodf.js script on your server, and do a couple of javascript calls to render an ODF file. It works completely client-side, no serverside ODF processing required. ... The collaborative server, included with OwnCloud Documents, lets users join a 'session', which is basically a document with a history of edit operations. Operations are small units of edits (think 'commits'). In a collaborative session, we use Operational Transformation techniques to make sure that operations fired by various clients will eventually result in a consistent state everywhere. When a new client joins an existing session, all earlier operations are played-back for it to reach the current state. Note that this editing is not turn-based; this is true inline collaborative editing where users can join a document and start editing straight away." As always, source is available.
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Owncloud 6 Brings Collaborative Open Document Format Editing to the Web

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  • Seems like a boon for a open source LMS like moodle or canvas

    Wonder if anyone is planning on doing an LTI with it... hrm.

    • More than that... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by houstonbofh (602064) on Monday December 16, 2013 @09:48PM (#45710441)
      I think this is a real game changer. Up to now, if you want document colaberation you have Sharepoint (Expensive) or the cloud. (Trust issues) Or office 365 wich is expensive, and no one really trusts...

      But this is a viable FOSS option, on a trusted platform (Can't swing a cat without hitting an owncloud article) that can be public, or locked down internally.
      • I think this is a real game changer. Up to now, if you want document colaberation you have Sharepoint (Expensive) or the cloud. (Trust issues)

        At this point in time, it's not really a viable SharePoint or SkyDrive replacement. While being able to work simultaneously on ODF documents is a great addition, it's not going to provide any real competition to SharePoint until you can have authors simultaneously editing [] MS Word documents -- in MS Word. For many small business (especially with remote workers), this is "must have" functionality.

        On the flip-side, I presume simultaneous authoring in Word is going to be extremely difficult to reverse enginee

        • There are a few design issues in Sharepoint which make me see it as not viable as well - eg. encapsulating files inside a database instead of keeping them as files with a reference too them is a very major one once you get above trivial file sizes and a trival number of versions of the files.
          Once somebody starts putting files in the multi-GB scale into Sharepoint it hits that design wall, stalls or crashes, and something else is needed.

          So it fills a niche Sharepoint doesn't and presumably vice versa if you
          • There are a few design issues in Sharepoint which make me see it as not viable as well - eg. encapsulating files inside a database instead of keeping them as files with a reference too them is a very major one once you get above trivial file sizes and a trival number of versions of the files.

            Fixed in SharePoint 2010. In addition to storing the files within the database, they can be stored on the filesystem beside the database ("Filestream") storage, or elsewhere, including a SAN ("Remote Blob Storage").

            • by dbIII (701233)
              Good move - the initial idea was insane and a massive performance hit on one setup I saw.
        • by g4sy (694060)

          What functionality is WebODF (which ownCloud is using) is missing that Sharepoint has? I guess I don't really understand what Sharepoint feature you're referring to. (Sharepoint user at a job a while ago, but I wasn't a power user). Just an honest question, since I'm thinking about getting involved with the WebODF project

          simultaneous editing []

      • by heson (915298)
        What is the lag on edits? Sharepoint is not usable for conference call editing as it takes too long for the edits to propagate to all participants. Googledocs is great, often quicker than screen sharing. What other alternatives are there and are they quick?
    • Abiword has been doing collaborative editing since the previous century.
  • This could be really useful for business use, where you don't want Google to know your business plans. What does the server-side component look like? The demo site lets you edit .odf in your browser, but you can't push it back to the server.

    • by Phil Urich (841393) on Monday December 16, 2013 @10:24PM (#45710681) Journal
      The server-side is a fairly trivial install (especially because they provide repos for every major distro), mostly just depending on PHP. You can store data/config in MySQL, postgreSQL, or SQLite (the default, but obviously not recommended for multiple users). The files themselves have for some time been saved in per-user folders, with a separate folder for past versions of files (by default all files are versioned). For the Documents app, it seems to store a copy of each file named with a UUID/hash in the "documents" folder for each user, the filename that you see it as being merely kept in the database.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        SQLite (the default, but obviously not recommended for multiple users).

        Obviously a good default for collaboration...

      • by Animats (122034)

        That seems too simplistic. Shared document editing has all the same issues as shared source code editing. Just saving old versions in their entirity isn't too helpful, especially when multiple people are editing. You need something at least as good as Wikipedia history diffs. (Git might be overkill.)

    • by oever (233119)

      The server side can be really simple. In a real-time collaboration scenario, there needs to be conflict resolution. The code for that is implemented in JavaScript as well and, in the case of ownCloud Documents, runs in the clients.

      Each change to the document is sent as a numbered operation to the server. If a change with the same number has already arrived, the latest changes are sent back to the client. The client then modifies/rebases the original change on top of the new changes and send the change again

  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Monday December 16, 2013 @09:54PM (#45710491) Homepage

    Glad to see it's GPLv3+, and that they included statements in the javascript that gets sent to people's browsers.

  • by msevior (145103) on Monday December 16, 2013 @10:02PM (#45710551)

    AbiWord and AbiCollab have been providing a free real-time document collaboration service in the cloud for 4 years.

    See: []

    • by caseih (160668)

      Also Afresco offers web-based collaboration and edition of ODF documents. How it compares feature-wise I don't know.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There hasn't been new release of AbiWord in 4 years either...

      Also OpenDocument support in AbiWord is nonexisting. Even Windows 8's WordPad supports OpenDocument better (for real. don't laugh. it's sad, not fun).

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by oever (233119)

      AbiCollab certainly precedes by many years. WebODF is newer and has two advantages of

      First, WebODF runs just in a browser with no need to install it locally. It runs completely on a webpage. That's why it can by integrated into any web-based workflow. E.g. a user could generate a document by filling in a questionnaire and edit a document afterwards with WebODF.

      Second, there is no document conversion. A document that is loaded into LibreOffice, AbiWord, OpenOffice, or Microsoft Office, edited

  • I've been waiting for ODT editing to come to ownCloud for a while now so I could drop my last Google usage outside of search. I just wish there was a way to use it while turning off the collaborative stuff. Things seem to go wonky when you don't close a document properly sometimes.

  • I setup an older version at work to sync important files between laptops. Version wasn't that far behind. We had nothing but trouble with it. If clients didn't hit the network or Internet, sometimes the clients would just lose all their settings. And client setup was not trivial, so I had to be the one to do it. Also, it would sometimes create a huge number of dupe files, which were versioned in order to stop collisions.

    All in all, we ditched it for Goodsync. Not perfect, but it doesn't just one day up and lose all its settings for no apparent reason or create hundreds and hundreds of dupe files.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Owncloud has fixed lots of bugs, you should try it again! Works great for me!

    • If you're looking to simply sync files between computers, Bittorrent Sync has been excellent for me. It's like Dropbox without the centralized storage I don't own, and it runs on Windows, OSX, I-think-Linux, and definitely BSD, since I have my laptop happily syncing with my FreeNAS box. It's simple, it's effective, and it doesn't make a mess. The only thing that OwnCloud does better (in theory, anyway) is the browser access part. BT Sync doesn't do browser access in any capacity, except the config panel on

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There is an other important different (at least for some people) it's freeware, not FOSS.

    • by dbIII (701233) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @12:56AM (#45711337)
      A lot was fixed in 5 and it was easy to set up and use. The only hassle I've seen with the client software (which the users setup themselves without help), is sync issues of files vanishing on clients with clocks that are out by tens of minutes. The files are still available in the "previous versions" part of the web GUI but it's still very annoying behaviour.
      The linux client in 5 also didn't handle links to different filesystems from the sync directory.

      I have not used version 6 yet.
    • by M1FCJ (586251)

      Ditto with previous versions experience. I started using 6 when it was in beta and I only had one stupid deadlock issue which there was no way of fixing easily and one quota issue (it appears to be broken at the moment, even when my 40GB quota was less than half used, it was reporting full). Allegedly fixed but I just removed my quotas.

      Dupe issue appears to have been fixed, that was what made me stop it using last time.

    • by jon3k (691256)
      How old? I've built ownCloud 5 and 6 servers and both have been very easy to setup and configure, and are extremely fast. I haven't had a single problem yet.
  • by spasm (79260) on Tuesday December 17, 2013 @12:26AM (#45711239) Homepage

    I just set it up on a spare server and had a quick play with an odt version of a NIH grant (US National Institutes of Health) I'm collaborating on at the moment. Not too shabby - unlike google docs it doesn't completely bork the page formatting and the collection of styles we use to keep it in line with the (typographically absurd) requirements of the NIH (oh, SF424, how I hate thee). Which is a big deal, because most of the sections required in an NIH grant have strict page limits (and required fonts, font sizes, line spacing, and margin limits), and getting right to those page limits without going over is important. So when you've finished collaborating and are ready to download the final document, with google docs a) you have to reimpose those margins, fonts, etc which is a pita; and more importantly b) you run the real risk that on reimposing those margins, fonts etc the page count will change, requiring another whole round of editing to get it under the required page count. Whereas this appears to keep the document in odt the entire time and hence there'd be no nasty surprises at the end.

    Having said all that, there's no way to add citations. Google docs has a close to useless implementation of citations (imagine 5 scientists collaborating on a document, each of whom have their own citation databases with thousands or tens of thousands of entries, and then go and have a play with citations in google docs. Try not to giggle too much when you realize how well that'd go..). But given open/libreoffice has really good integration with zotero, and zotero is also open source and browser based, it seems like these two could be made to talk to one another, which for academic collaborators would be a HUGE feature, jumping it way ahead of any other collaborative tool I've ever seen. And believe me, collaborative writing is so central to my work that I play with *anything* that looks like it might be an improvement on google docs or the nightmare of emailing around multiple copies of a document with 'track changes' in heavy use.

    • by oever (233119)
      When importing an ODT into Google Docs, it is converted to a format internal to Google Docs. The blog post explains that in WebODF / ownCloud Documents, conversely, no conversion occurs.

      For example, WebODF does not support displaying columns yet, but if you have loaded a document with columns, after saving, the columns will still be there.

      Since the document is part of the DOM, you can edit it programmatically with JavaScript. So adding functionality for scientific citations is as easy as any website prog

  • How well does this work on touchscreens like mobile phones and tablets?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Touchscreen and mobile support is currently being improved []. The virtual pop-up keyboards are surprisingly different across platforms.
    • by jon3k (691256)
      Just tried it from an iOS device (iPhone 5S) and the document editing doesn't work at all. If I tap a .odt file it just shows me the thumbnail, which is the default behavior for any filetype. Works fine from my desktop computer.
  • I was wondering why the last upgrade (Debian) on my server resulted (unhappily) in LibreOffice being installed.

    Owncloud is very useful. I use it for file syncing, calendar, contacts, firefox (iceweasel) sync, etc. I've been using it for about 6 months, and, so far, it has been reliable.

    Best wishes,

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The LibreOffice dependence is just to generate the thumbnails. It is not needed to do editing or viewing of the ODF.

When speculation has done its worst, two plus two still equals four. -- S. Johnson