Open365 puts LibreOffice, Kontact, and Jitsi in the cloud

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Article from Issue 190/2016
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Office suites, email clients, and video chats often run as a "software as a service" on the network. Open365 is pitting web-based LibreOffice together with Kontact and Jitsi against the top dogs Google Drive and Office 365.

Many people working on screens switch between multiple devices rather than using a single computer – typically PCs, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. For users, this means that they don't just need to synchronize the data between the computers, they also need compatible software for all these devices. Not least because "Software as a Service" (SaaS) is becoming increasingly important: Instead of installing software locally, you can use cloud-based services that can be accessed from all devices no matter what platform is used.

As you know the big software corporations have a foot in the door here already: Microsoft has offered its own web-based Office365 since mid-2011 in the form of a fee-based subscription model. Google also clawed its way into the market 10 years ago with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. In typical Google-style, the use of these services remains free. So, the question is: Google or Microsoft; if you use SaaS, you'll be giving up control of your data.

A Whole Load of Cloud

Another alternative is now entering the scene in the form of Open365 [1]: The service combines the well-known open source tools LibreOffice as an office package, Seafile [2] as a synchronization tool, KDE Kontact [3] for managing addresses and emails, and Jitsi [4] as an instant messenger on an interface.

The service is currently (at the time of of writing) in the beta phase, but registration is open to any interested parties. In addition to the web interface, Open365 provides a desktop client and an Android app [5] that, similarly to Dropbox, is used for synchronizing data. The developers are currently still working on the iOS version of the mobile app.

The Seafile web interface (Figure 1), which slightly expands Open365, serves as the central component of Open365. In this interface, you can organize your data in libraries (Libraries) and encrypt them as required. Altogether 20GB of disk space is available free of charge. (See the "Installation" box for more information.)

Figure 1: The Open365 web interface comes from Seafile and has been expanded to include LibreOffice and a voice and video chat function.

Installation

Like the service's web interface, the Open365 client is based on Seafile. You can install the program via the package manager in the form of a DEB file. Open365 professes to support Ubuntu from version 14.04, but you can also install the package on Debian 8 "jessie." Both Ubuntu 16.04 and Debian Unstable are still missing the Qt4 libraries requested by the package as a dependency. This means you have to wait for an update by the Open365 developers. Various virus scanners kick in when running the set up in the client's Windows version – the reason for this wasn't clear by time of publication [10].

Similarly to Dropbox and unlike Google Drive, where Linux support is still missing, Open365 also provides a PC program for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows that synchronizes data between PC and online storage in the background (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The client provided by Open365 for desktop PCs for synchronizing data also originates from the Seafile project.

LibreOffice on the Web

The Seafile front end of Open365 provides the option for uploading data and synchronizing these data between different computers via the client. Data or even whole libraries can also be shared with other people – this includes the option to add these files to a library. There is also a personal wiki, an editor for text files along with Markdown formatting, an image viewer with a gallery view, and an HTML5-based player for various video formats in the front end. However, the most important component is probably the web-based LibreOffice.

Open365 includes the word processor Writer (Figure 3), the spreadsheet Calc (Figure 4), and the presentation tool Impress from LibreOffice 5.1.0.3. The programs provide the same functionality as a locally installed LibreOffice. Technically, the implementation of Linux programs is based on the web desktop from EyeOS [6], whose first versions were published under an open source license [7].

Figure 3: Open365 includes Writer, Calc, and Impress.
Figure 4: Using Open365, you can edit LibreOffice documents and those in Microsoft's Office Open XML format.

Open365 provided a set of sample files in the My Library folder for direct testing, including current Microsoft Office documents. You can save your own documents in any library and then, for example, back up the files using the Open365 client on your PC, where you can continue editing the file without any problems. The client then synchronizes local changes with the online store and the data therefore always remains up to date.

Voice and Video Chats

As well as the LibreOffice suite with Kontact 4.13.0.15 from KDE 4.13.3, Open365 also includes a comprehensive personal information manager (PIM) with email, address book, and calendar functions. Your account name in the style of "fredbloggs@open365.io" is automatically used as the email address. For this to appear properly for the recipient later, click Mail in the Cloud drop-down, open the email function in the sidebar under Mail, and then correct the name from the menu under Settings | Configure KMail.

Within Open365, the service also provides the option to send short messages to other users. You can access this function from the hub via the chat icon next to your name. You can search through the complete set of users in the sidebar that opens Contacts – Open365 lists the name here that you specified when creating your account. There are no options for protecting privacy so far – such as hiding your own name in the search.

You can start a call in the chat window by clicking Start Video Conference. Internally, the service uses the open source video chat solution Jitsi and the protocol WebRTC [8]. Thus, you don't need special drivers or apps – all modern web browsers should work. However, Chrome proved to be a bit awkward in the test compared to Firefox. The Google browser asked for permission to access the computer's webcam when starting a chat but then didn't show either the camera image or the operating elements of the video chat.

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