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Interview with Frank Karlitschek of ownCloud

by Joshua Gay Contributions Published on Dec 20, 2013 04:17 PM
This is the latest installment of our Licensing and Compliance Lab's series on free software developers who choose GNU licenses for their works.

In this edition, we conducted an email-based interview with Frank Karlitschek, the lead developer of ownCloud, a server software project that provides universal access to your files via the Web, your computer, or your mobile devices — wherever you are. It also provides a platform to easily view and sync your contacts, calendars, and bookmarks across all your devices and enables basic editing right on the Web. It is licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License version 3, or at your option, any later version.

A note on diction. While we believe that "cloud computing" is a vacuous term that should be avoided, we still greatly appreciate the ownCloud project and its aims, even if we might have chosen a different name for the software.

What inspired you to create ownCloud?

I've been a long-time free software developer. I contributed to KDE for over ten years to help to build a desktop that can carry freedom to users. But I noticed that more and more users use GNU/Linux only to access proprietary web-based services. I asked myself: What is the benefit of a free desktop if only using it as a "terminal" to services that are acting as free software substitutes, such as Google Drive or Dropbox? So to put the code and the data back in the hands of users, I decided to create a free software replacement for some of these services.

How are people using it?

We designed ownCloud so that it is super easy to run your IT on your own hardware. Some people run an ownCloud server on a server somewhere on the Internet, some run it on some web server they got from somewhere like a university, some run it on their home router or NAS, and some run a server on their home desktop that is always connected to the Internet. You can also get ownCloud hosting from providers if you want. You can then use your machine or device to access, sync, and share all your data from anywhere. In this way, I think that ownCloud serves as a good replacement for Dropbox or Google Drive.

What features do you think really sets ownCloud apart from similar software?

The main thing is that you can run it wherever you want. This allows a user to decide where their private data is stored and who has access to it. Also, ownCloud is designed to be very extensible with new modules; there are clients available for every major mobile and desktop OS, even the proprietary ones.

Why did you choose the GNU AGPL version 3 as ownCloud's license?

Free software gives the users the right to inspect and modify the code. This is especially important if this code handles private data. The AGPL is a great license that guarantees this right. So a user can even review and inspect the custom code of any ownCloud service provider. This is very important to guarantee the freedom of the users.

How can users (technical or otherwise) help contribute to ownCloud?

ownCloud is developed by a community of contributors. You can see more information on We have a lot of feature requests and we are always looking for new contributors to help us implement them. Additionally, people can help with packaging, testing, and improving the user-interface, or with writing documentation.

What's the next big thing for ownCloud?

The core functionality of ownCloud is to store, sync and share files. With the new ownCloud 6 release we add the feature to do collaborative editing of ODF documents in the browser. I think this is a very important feature because it provides a useful free software replacement to Web-based services with proprietary JavaScript like Google Docs.

Enjoyed this interview? Check out our previous entry in this series featuring Andrew Ziem of BleachBit.

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