OwnCloud or gDocs for spreadsheets?

We now have our own instance of http://ownCloud.org running at http://cloud.OSCEdays.org - anyone who wants a login to create, edit and collaborate on documents and to share and sync OSCEdays-related files, just send me a direct message here on the forum.

So far, in the core team, we’ve been planning and keeping track of developments, people we’ve contacted, schedules etc by using Google docs. Now that we have the ownCloud, @TechnicalNature asked in an email what we should do about our spreadsheets - I had copied them over but they’re not directly editable in the browser. So what do we do?

The spreadsheet issue complicates matters somewhat. Although we can collaboratively edit text documents with ownCloud, there’s no support for editing xls/ods spreadsheets yet.

This is definitely a problem, and something we need to come up with a solution for. Continuing to use gdocs for spreadsheets may be that solution, but the main points to consider when choosing are:

a) that you feel comfortable and confident using whatever tool you end up using, and that your needs are met.
b) that it is as easy as possible for others to collaborate with you. As I see it, this comes down to knowing where to find the information/spreadsheet, familiarity with or intuitiveness of the tool, integration with other workflows and software, a smooth process of collaboration and (near) real-time updating, and an understanding of ethical concerns in the choice of software.

For point a) I think it’s entirely up to you. For point b) there are strong pros and cons for both Google and ownCloud.

For me, just to reiterate, the reasons to go with ownCloud over Google (and why it’s a clear choice for ownCloud regarding non-spreadsheet documents) are:

  • We have a clearly designated spot where file storage and collaborative editing can happen, where people know they will be able to find the OSCEdays-related info they’re looking for.

  • this can be more closely integrated with our website and forum -as well as being hosted at OSCEdays.org, I’ve made an OSCEdays theme which Pierre and I will integrate very soon.

  • our data is under our control, not sold to 3rd parties or handed over to government agencies.

  • our platform and its files will still be accessible and useful in the future. ownCloud isn’t going to disappear as a project anytime soon, its continued development isn’t dependent on its profit-making status, our instance of the software is not dependent on a central service, and data is stored in an open standard format (odt/ods) which has longevity built into its design.

  • ownCloud is free/libre - it doesn’t harvest information about us to sell to advertisers, our use of it for collaboration doesn’t force others to conform to that norm, we can be confident there are no hidden backdoors in the software, and should we in our experimentation with the software find interesting new use cases for it, community members are able to build upon ownCloud as a base for new software projects.

My personal suggestions would be:
Download the ownCloud desktop client so that you can sync files on your computer with our server. From the ownCloud folder on your computer, you can then edit the ods document in LibreOffice (probably Word as well?) And every time you save the document (even if it’s still open) it will update and sync with our ownCloud. The drawback here is that you don’t get truly contemporaneous real-time collaboration.
When real-time collaboration is required, you can import to http://ethercalc.org for multi-user editing and export to .ods again afterwards.

(A mid-term solution would be setting up http://ethercalc.net on our server as well, but I’ll put that aside for the moment)

But that’s just one opinion, and it’s up to the people who will actually be working with the spreadsheets to decide what workflow suits them, and if that’s Google, then I totally understand.

Just make sure that if documents are being edited elsewhere, you keep a file in the most logical space on the ownCloud with a link to the current document, so collaborators can find it.


Another problem with my suggested ownCloud process is that spreadsheets don’t display that well in read-only mode in the browser. So for getting updates on changes in spreadsheets you would have to open it with LibreOffice/Word as well.

I think we should definetely stick to owncloud. Obviously for what you mentioned, control of data, open source blabla
And If we use gdoc for spreadsheets and Owncloud. That’s just impossible to maintain, having documents spread in different places…

My question: Do we really need a real time collaboration for spreadsheets?
I don’t think so. Its best if we can but not that bad if we can’t. As you said we simply sync it in our personal folders and its done.

One trick could be, when you want to modify a spreadsheet save it with the date and time of update in the name in case someone is also working on it. If its the case, merge the two. Its just takes a little bit of time and discipline. That’s how I used to do with a group when we were working on dropbox a few years ago, we managed it.

Ethercalc is also an alternative if we really need in real time collaboration and if we don’t host it ourselves yet we can use existing services.

But yeah I don’t think real time collaboration on spreadsheets is vital and I don’t think we will work that much spreadsheets.

Grand - Think the key one at the moment is the sponsors/ contacts (as well as perhaps timeline) so suggest - just so we all know at this stage i.e. this week - to continue using the gdoc one for this particular case (until we have all transferred/ updated/ resolved). It is important so we don’t cross wires talking/ contacting people for sponsorship etc. Don’t think realtime is essential for this but more about in this changeover period to know where the latest version being updated is.

I’m going through suggestions, downloading desktop etc so once this is all in place hopefully can revert to own cloud working :slight_smile: Will keep posted!


We are planning to collaboratively develop and simultaneously write an Open Source (CC BY-SA) Circular Textile Manual and I am wondering what`s the best way to organize it.

At the moment I am using GoogleDoc, GoogleSpreadsheet (and GoogleMap could be a further extension) - the link is in the owncloud textile folder:
Open Source (CC BY-SA) Circular Textile Manual
Open Source (CC BY-SA) Circular Textile Manual Attachment

The idea is that everybody working on open source circular textiles can, for example, add a short description of their project in the document, may comment the text of others and collaboratively develop best practice scenarios. I would like to get also projects involved which are not in the inner circle of the OSCEDays2015 (i.e. without access to the community and owncloud).

Advantages of GoogleDoc and GoogleSpreadsheet:
everybody with the link can edit the file and use their own browser
people can simultaneously work on it

Disadvantages of owncloud:
people have to login to owncloud in order to edit (?) and cannot edit the files in their browser but have to open the doc (?)
people cannot simultaenously work on a file and this may lead to conflicting copies of the doc (?)
excel/spreadsheet type of document does not exist (?)

Disadvantage of Google:
I would obviously prefer to use open source software according to our philosophy… (OpenOffice, OpenStreetMap etc.).

Do you have any suggestions? What do you think?

Advantages of GoogleDoc and GoogleSpreadsheet:
everybody with the link can edit the file and use their own browser
people can simultaneously work on it

This is also an advantage of the F/LOSS tools Ethercalc and Etherpad :smile:

I’m running a little behind on my plans for documenting use of ownCloud - I’m going to show Alice a few functions this afternoon so that should give me a few ideas about what is important to explain and what is not intuitive for new users. There will be documentation soon, I promise!

Editing documents in Owncloud:
When the files are in .odt format (the open standard for documents), they can be collaboratively edited in real-time, like a google doc.
From Google Docs you can do File>Download As…>Open Document Format (.odt) and then upload it to ownCloud, or place in your desktop ownCloud folder (I prefer and recommend using the desktop client).

You can also create new documents within ownCloud, by clicking on the menu at top left and choosing ‘Documents’ and then ‘New Document’. Once you have written/copy-pasted your content, you can click save (In your preferences you can change the default folder where new documents are saved, or in Files you can just drag it into whichever folder you want to store it in).

There are, however, three issues which I have found where ownCloud Documents doesn’t work as well as Google Docs:

  • hyperlinks - there’s no ‘add link’ option in the toolbar. I will research this and see if there’s something I can change, or a better workaround than just awkwardly pasting the URL in plaintext.
  • As far as I can tell, only folders can be shared for public editing but not documents (click on the folder’s Share link, then ‘share via link’ and check 'allow public editing. I will find out and report back.
  • there doesn’t seem to be a way to add or edit tables from within the browser - obviously you can do this with LibreOffice/Word from the desktop working on the shared doc, but it’s not as convenient for casual users.

Sam TO DO:
research public editing of ownCloud docs.
research adding hyperlinks from ownCloud documents app.
research tables in ownCloud docs.
create OSCEdays ownCloud tutorial.

I think creating maps of locations, projects and resources could be really useful.
However, I would suggest building a custom map on Mapbox.com, which gives us more flexibility and independence that Google. Mapbox is free/libre open source software which is used to create beautiful custom maps using OpenStreetMap data. Obviously as the feature set is a lot more in-depth and complete than Google maps, it’s not as immediately straightforward as just clicking ‘new google map’ and adding pins. But we can set it up to be - if you have a couple of hours next week, we can meet up and go through the set up process so that we can have a simple collaborative map, as easy and functional for you and your collaborators to use as Google Maps is.

The advantages here are:

  • Freedom and independence. Sorry, you can’t publish a Google Map in a book, that’s Google’s data underneath your map. Of course, you could pay them for a limited use license to publish your own map in your own book, but it wouldn’t be compatible with a CC-BY-SA document.
    -Portable. For ease of use, we can set up our map initially on the hosted ‘Mapbox.com’ site - but at any stage we can export EVERYTHING - geodata, vector tiles, styling, custom points of interest etc, and without losing any settings or data, we can host it on our own server if we want to.
    -Scalable. While we’re unlikely to hit our map-view limit on google with a simple collaborative map, what if through some experimentation a really cool map-based project comes out of it and it wants to grow? Then they’d have to pay Google whatever they ask, or go back to zero and build from scratch using OpenStreetMap, like FourSquare had to.

  • Flexible - we can change the look of our map, change its functionality or create a custom website around it, without losing our data and other settings. We can also create various OSCEdays datasets and custom maps for different topics, projects, people and resources, and maintain a style consistent with our platform as well as be able to layer and mash-up different maps and data (including publicly available open datasets).

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Great! You have convinced me :smile: Thank you so much! :heart:
Document: I will try to convert the already existing GoogleDoc into a .odt and save it in the owncloud (hope it will also work for the hyperlinks and index etc…).
Map: It would be great if we can add, edit and store the data for the map in a spreadsheet format and then create a map using this data.
Let`s see how we procede and maybe meet next week to work on details! Thank you!!

I did some testing with owncloud and .odt.

Problems which I had:
The browser editor for .odt in owncloud has very limited functionality (no links, no index, no page numbers, no functionality to add images etc.).
If I open the doc with my desktop version of owncloud and Word, it says the file should not be opened. If I nevertheless open it, Word does not recognize the formatting.
If I do some formatting in Word, upload the file, open it online again and save the file again, all changes made by Word (not only formatting but also new text!) are lost.
The synchronisation is very slow and when using the desktop version, files are not saved in real-time but have to be manually saved and so there is the problem of file versions. Thus simultaneous live editing seems to be impossible.

My conclusions so far:
It may be great for very simple text-only documents and when people do not work on the same document at the very same time. If the document needs to be a bit more complex and people really want to work on one document at the very same time, it does not seem to be possible. But maybe there are solutions which I haven`t understood yet…

I think you can share a doc with a public link to anyone without having to register on the owncloud, don’t know if they can collaboratively edit it though…

One very very good news I just saw is that hackpad is going to open source their code in the coming weeks. Maybe we have our solutions here, clearly owncloud is still lacking some functionalities compared to gdoc or hackpad (best one according to me). And etherpad, its nice but same… not as good as hackpad.

So let’s cross fingers for hackpad to be open source before the OSCEdays and as soon as possible

Yeah hackpad would be ideal, but we’ll deal with that if/when it happens.

@sophia no problem, I had a feeling that Word would not play nicely with Open Document Format. Microsoft is not generally a fan of open standards!

I will make a tutorial soon showing how to collaborate effectively on complex documents using LibreOffice, and then you can check it out and decide if it would work for you or not. If not, no problem.

In the meantime, just continue with your Google Doc - I have changed the text file with the link to a pdf with the link as it is a bit more functional.

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