October 10, 2012 ahydle

An alternative to Dropbox

With the popularity and ease of use of services such as Dropbox/box.net I have heard a lot of rumblings from users and companies looking for “business” solutions to the file sharing problem.

While there does appear to be a multitude of cloud-based solutions the number of companies offering non-cloud based alternatives appear to be pretty slim and (in my opinion) overpriced with prices ranging anywhere between $1,600 to $11,000 a year for only 20 users.

Based on my experience purchasing business software over the years I was anticipating something standard such as a one time software purchase ($1,000-$11,000+) with a 20% yearly maintenance fee for one to two hundred users. So, when I found these high subscription-based prices I was pretty surprised and I could only conclude that these businesses were overpricing their non-cloud solutions to push customers into their more reasonably priced cloud-based offerings. Which unfortunately meant that I didnt have a reason to evaluate these pieces of software as they were to expensive to use or recommend.

What I was left with were two pieces of software. ownCloud and Tonido.

ownCloud

So far I really like ownCloud and have been using it on my home server with much success! I still need to test out multi-user support but for an open-source, self hosted replacement for Dropbox it works really well. OwnCloud also comes with a commercial offering which offers support and (from what I am told) will begin to differentiate itself from the community edition.

The installation instructions for ownCloud were incredibly easy to follow. Basically you just need to install some dependencies on any Debian based Linux distro (Windows instructions also available), untar the web files and enable mod_rewrite in Apache to account for the .htaccess file. After, you are left with a functioning file sharing system complete with web based administration and plug-in applications that can sync files between the web interface, a computer (Mac/Linux/Windows) and your mobile device.

So far from what I have tested, the web interface appears to be pretty solid and nicely laid out. From the web interface you can drag/drop files, create folders, share files with users (if enabled), search files or make use of the Owncloud application infrastructure that allows you to develop or add already developed applications such as an ampache compatible music server, CalDAV Calendar server, CardDAV Contact server, photo gallery and many other applications.

The entire system is easily administered through the web interface as well. You can easily add new apps (they will download and install), add/remove users (or you can use the LDAP app) and maintain basic system settings.

Lastly when you are ready to start syncing there is even a link under Personal to download the clients. So far I have only tested the Mac OSX client and the iPhone/iPad client but they have been working without a problem so far.

All in all I really like this project and their commercial offering seems affordable!

Tonido

So far, I had a few bumps in the road when setting up Tonido cloud but this project also looks very promising! The installation was relatively painless with good documentation and when I did run into a problem the developers were very quick to help out. One thing I liked better during the installation was an easy to use Active Directory or LDAP configuration file. Not that ownCloud wasnt easy (ownCloud’s config was also built in to the web administration) but with ownCloud I had to make sure I structured my LDAP queries properly for AD and in Tonido the setup was very straight-forward.

As far as interface, while I do think ownCloud is cleaner and less cluttered I do see some very powerful management features in Tonido.

When you are logged on to the admin interface, you can see all the users setup in Tonido, manage access as well as view their storage and shared storage usage utilization. While I think that this is very helpful, this is about the extent of the admin interface and I do wish it could do more. I would especially like some more features that would allow me to manage what is being shared and when it expires.

Still, even though the admin interface doesnt have much “meat” to it, the user interface has plenty of functionality! You can easily upload files (though it is not drag and drop like ownCloud), create directories, search files and share files. There is also an image gallery and music player which seems useful but the main thing that I like here over ownCloud is you can easily see what you have shared and manage all of your shared folder settings.

Finally, Tonido also comes with your sync apps for Mac/Windows/Linux as well as mobile devices and so far their clients seem pretty slick and work well. All in all, I would say Tonido shows some good promise as well!

Conclusion

From what I have seen so far both projects show a lot of promise but both projects do still have a bit more work ahead of them. For now, I have chosen ownCloud for my personal use just because I like the cleaner interface, I feel it is much more developed and I like the way the internal app structure works but with both of these apps there is still some more things I wish they could do, such as:

  • Centralized administration / monitoring of what is being shared.
    • ownCloud just came out with a commercial auditing capability which looks like it may handle much of this.
  • Centralized storage reports
    • Tonido does have some of this
    • ownCloud may have some of this but the app causes ownCloud to stop working for me (will research more)
  • I like how ownCloud allows me to expire the share and set a password. I do wish I could force users to always set a password though.

I will continue to evaluate and use these projects and will update my findings as things go on.

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Comments (3)

  1. Nice comparison – thanks. I was considering these two services as well. Use DropBox now but would like to host my own to avoid monthly fees. I see a little time has past since the post. Have you decided on one over the other? I haven’t tried either yet but leaning more towards ownCloud as it seems more open. Thanks for an update.

    • ahydle

      Glad you liked it! So far I have been using ownCloud for some time now and I really like it. I have run into one or two minor bugs since starting but their development team seems to be really on top of fixing bugs and adding a bunch of new features.

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