The Licensing and Compliance Lab interviews Björn Schießle of Nextcloud
Björn has been developing federated technology for ownCloud and now Nextcloud since 2012. He is a computer scientist and has conducted research in the area of distributed robotics before he joined ownCloud and later on Nextcloud. Over the years he worked in many areas of Nextcloud with a special interest in privacy-respecting, distributed and federated networks. He has been active in the free software community for more than 20 years. As a long-time free software activist he has a deep understanding about the political, legal, and social aspects of software freedom.
Nextcloud provides a decentralized and free platform enabling people to stay in control of their data while leveraging all the advantages of the servers like synchronizing their files, calendars, and contacts across multiple devices. It also allows sharing data with people on the same server and outside servers while allowing you to work collaboratively on them. Nextcloud started 6 months ago as a fork of ownCloud by ownCloud founder Frank Karlitschek and a dozen of its core developers. Hundreds of people have joined since, and Nextcloud now consist of a globally diverse community, and a healthy and growing company which provides support to large enterprise customers.
What inspired you to work on Nextcloud?
Today more and more stuff is done remotely. People store files, address books and calendars online. They want to synchronize them across multiple devices and share them with their friends. But they do not have control over the servers hosting their data, or the data itself. The terms of service from the companies hosting are terrible and their software is proprietary. This results in a loss of freedom, control, and privacy. I think we in the free software movement need to provide a constructive answer to it. More than 30 years ago Richard Stallman founded the GNU Project to enable people to continue to use their computers without giving up their freedom. Today, Nextcloud tries to do the same, we want to enable people to continue to sync and share their data without losing their freedom and privacy. Providing such a solution based on free software is a challenging but also extremely motivating task.
How are people using it?
The great thing about Nextcloud is its flexibility. On one hand, people use it on a RaspberryPi with one or two users, and on the other hand Nextcloud is used by large organizations and enterprises with tens of thousands of users. As you can imagine, with varied users the use cases can be quite different. Sometimes Nextcloud is used as a file sync and share solution. Other people extend it with more collaboration features like Collabora Office which gives you a complete LibreOffice in your browser or the new voice/video chat we are working on. Many people leverage the complete power of Nextcloud by using it as a platform for which they and others build many great applications. Some of the most used applications are Calendar and Contacts, Notes, Tasks, a Newsreader, Mails and Music. No matter what you expect from your private server, the chances are high that it is already there and if not you are welcome to develop the next great application.
What features do you think really sets Nextcloud apart from similar software?
There are some projects which try to do similar things. Depending on to which you compare Nextcloud I think there are three main reasons that makes Nextcloud different.
First, Nextcloud really aims to become your private remote solution with everything you need. This means we want to provide everything users expect. This includes file sync and share but continues with collaboration features, contacts and calendar management, streaming your music, etc. You can see it as your personal construction kit for your server. You start with the Nextcloud server and then you extend it with the functionality you need to meet your requirements by adding various Nextcloud apps.
Second, Nextcloud is the only completely free software solution which does this. There are no hidden proprietary features, no contributor license agreement which gives some entities in the community more rights than others, or something similar. At the end of the day it is a free software project licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License version 3 (AGPL).
Last, it not only has a healthy, strong community but also a company behind it which makes sure anyone can use it and that it is well maintained and supported. The company is deeply committed to free software, collaboration, and doing the ethical thing.
Tell us more about the Cloud Federation
This is a really important topic for us. People should be able to set up their own server so that they stay in control of their data but at the same time they should still be able to collaborate with other people who might have their own Nextcloud. That's what we want to enable with Cloud Federation. Together with the Open Cloud Mesh initiative from GEANT. We developed a standard which enables people to share their data with people on the same server as well as with people on other servers. At the moment this works to share files across multiple servers. In the future we want to extend it to all other kind of data like address books, calendars, comments, and activities. Further we also want to make it possible to do audio/video calls across instances. For us it is really important that this becomes a standard used by as many solutions as possible. We don't want to create the next island. Therefore I'm proud that federated sharing for files works today between Nextcloud servers, and also with Pydio and ownCloud.
Why did you choose the GNU Affero General Public License v3 as Nextcloud's license?
Nextcloud exists as a free software project and as a company which provides services and support. We believe that a level playing field is extremely important to maintain and grow a healthy community, which consists of individual contributors, the Nextcloud company and other commercial entities. The AGPL provides exactly this. It is a license which ensures that everyone will always have the same rights to use, study, share and improve the software, no exception. Further, as a licenses based on the GNU General Public License and released by the Free Software Foundation we can be sure that we are using a well known and established license written in cooperation with experts from all over the world. We also believe it offers real benefits to customers and we try to explain that to them!
How can users (technical or otherwise) help contribute to Nextcloud?
Community is really important for us, all we do happens in the open. The code and our bug tracker is publicly available, we have IRC channels and a forum. That's where all the development happens. Of course the most obvious way to get involved is to improve the software together with us. You can work directly on the server, pick one of the many apps available or start writing your own app. But also non-programmers are welcome in all areas. People can help with translations, documentation, artwork, even our homepage, which serves for both the project and the company, regularly gets pull request from the community and we are happy to merge them. Beside that you can also help to create public awareness, talk about Nextcloud in your community, join one of the regular meetings, or start a new one.
What's the next big thing for Nextcloud?
One of the things we are working at the moment is the integration of a video/audio/text chat called Spreed. We already released an early version last week together with Nextcloud 11. It is based on webRTC and provides basic video/audio chat with a arbitrary number of participants. But many features are still missing like screen sharing, integration of a text chat and the integration of federation to enable the user to not only call people on the same server but also on other Nextcloud servers. Of course we also want to provide desktop and mobile apps. This means a lot of work ahead but also exciting times.
Enjoy this interview? Check out our previous entry in this series, featuring Micah Lee of GPG Sync.