Q&A: How ownCloud and Collabora are bringing LibreOffice online

In this exclusive interview, ownCloud's Frank Karlitschek and Collabora's Michael Meeks discuss the ambitious online LibreOffice project.

frank meeks
Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

How is this online LibreOffice different from ownCloud Documents?

Michael Meeks: We implement this with a full LibreOffice implementation cunningly hosted on the server - so, high fidelity rendering of complex file formats (as well as ODF of course). In addition we bring rich spreadsheets and presentations too.

Frank Karlitschek: ownCloud Documents is still supported. They are a bit different. Documents is super easy to install and works on every ownCloud instance. It is also very lightweight but limited to Rich Text. So people who only need to do some light document editing and collaborative editing in teams should use that.

The LibreOffice online integration supports the full power of LibreOffice with spreadsheets, presentations and MS Office compatibility. But it is heavier on the server and requires some Linux knowledge to install. So this is more suited for the more demanding users who are willing to run a more complex setup on the server.

Is LibreOffice online similar to Google Docs? If yes where will it be hosted?

Karlitschek: The ownCloud strategy is still that we don’t do hosting but we want to enable our users and providers and customers to host and run it as easily as possible. I’m sure several ownCloud providers will offer this feature for their customers.

Meeks: Design-wise it is more similar to Office 365; the bulk of the complexity occurs on the server, although the client can cache a lot of data to give good zoom/pan responsiveness.

In terms of hosting, Collabora will work with many cloud vendors - of whom ownCloud is an excellent Open Source example - to integrate this into other products. Collabora will certainly not be hosting an alternative to Google Docs. We don't have a gigantic advertising business to cross-subsidise that. That's why we encourage developers to download a virtual machine to host it, and hack on it where they want to, and to get involved with the development.

Can users download it and host it themselves or will it remain a service?

Meeks: You can download now and have a go. Clearly this is a huge strength of an open source solution. Again, to re-emphasise this, this is a development edition; we will be releasing Collabora CloudSuite in the new year with our partners. That will come with long term support, security, maintenance, etc., but I'd really like to focus on only the community side for now.

Karlitschek: It will be downloadable from ownCloud.org. This is all for self hosting. We won’t offer a hosted service but we will make it easy for users to run it. There will be a preconfigured virtual machine (VM) for example.

Will there be a pricing tier for corporate users? Will it be free of cost for home users?

Meeks: This is a development release. It is clearly free for everyone, but not (yet) suitable for enterprise deployment.

Karlitschek: It is completely free software and every user can run it wherever they want. We are working on a support option to corporate users. But this is something for later.

You've mentioned that this is a development release. When can we expect the final release?

Meeks: Early next year

What's your objective/goal with LibreOffice online?

Meeks: "World domination" is a bit hackneyed, but getting a great quality free software office suite out there, and making it easier to re-use it in lots of places would be excellent. From a corporate perspective I want to grow Collabora Productivity's revenue such that we can attract yet more top talent to invest in LibreOffice.

What kind of features can users expect in the future?

Meeks: You can expect us to be working hard on collaborative editing and making the user interface richer over the next year.

Who is your target audience?

Meeks: For CODE [the audience is] clearly developers and very early adopters who want to see what is possible in this space; those who like to see and play with something new and fun.  [author's note: CODE is the name of the development edition of LibreOffice online and stands for Collabora Online Development Edition]

For CloudSuite, as and when it is released, [the audience is] clearly enterprise and government customers who want a mature, stable and dependable product, which we would support via one of our partners.

What kind of collaboration was there between ownCloud and Collabora on this?

Karlitschek: We and Collabora have been discussing and working on this for a year now. We are very happy that we could finally announce this.

Meeks: ownCloud provides a great, open source, secure enterprise file sync and share product, as you know, and [they] have done some work integrating document editing into that. We naturally built on their great foundation, to integrate the development work we've been doing around Collabora Online so that people can more easily get involved there. As it happens we have some great friends at ownCloud from previous experiences at SUSE and openSUSE, it's good to work together.

Is CODE the final name or you have something 'secret' for later?

Meeks: Clearly this is not a product brand; that's just the happy co-incidence of the name of our development edition. We want a place where people can try out the latest, unstable development work and get involved with that easily. And this is that.

Collabora has a culture of working in the open, and contributing to FLOSS - we call that 'Open First'.

We've already announced some of the other elements of Collabora CloudSuite - with some 'coming soon' badges on Collabora Office - so, hopefully our direction is clear and we're executing on that for our customers alongside partners like ownCloud.

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