Besides Collabora Office there is an easy but reliable way to enable collaboration editing of text and spreadsheet files in ownCloud or nextCloud (just like in proprietary solutions like Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive). This article describes how to install and enable EtherPad along with EtherCalc in your ownCloud or nextCloud instance.

Requirements and preparation

First you need a running ownCloud or nextCloud instance of course. (Note: If you’re using ownCloud, ensure that you don’t use versions higher than 9.1 right now. As of January 2018, the used plugin for the EtherPad / EtherCalc integration doesn’t work with ownCloud higher than version 9.1.) It doesn’t matter if this instance is running on your local home server, an Raspberry Pi or if you rented some space at a webhosting provider of your choice. If you haven’t already a working nextCloud / ownCloud instance and you’re okay with hosting your cloud files at a provider, I recommend you the German webhoster All-Inkl.com. They offer cheap webhosting packages with an integrated installer. The installer automatically installs an ownCloud or nextCloud instance for you. You can directly start working with it afterwards. Just for the records: I’m using All-Inkl.com as well.

Besides the running instance you also need the ownPad plugin. It extends your ownCloud / nextCloud instance in order to communicate with an etherPad / etherCalc instance. You can download the latest release of ownPad for nextCloud and ownCloud here.

Installation

After you’ve downloaded ownPad you have to extract the plugin. If you’re using Windows, you can use WinRAR or 7-Zip to do this. For Linux you can double click the archive in order to open it or you simply extract the archive with the following command:

user@machine:~$ tar xfvz ownpad.tar.gz

You now have to move the so extracted ownpad directory to your webspace / server and place it under the apps folder of your ownCloud or nextCloud installation. Check that the directory has the chmod rights of 755 after you’ve uploaded it, otherwise ownCloud / nextCloud may be unable to find the plugin later on.

Configuration

As next we have to tell ownCloud / nextCloud how to handle files that are using the filename ending .pad or .calc (the standard filename endings for EtherPad and EtherCalc files). To do so, you have to copy the file mimetypemapping.dist.json from the subdirectory resources/config/, which is located within the ownCloud / nextCloud root directory, to the subdirectory config and rename it afterwards to mimetypemapping.json.
Open the so copied file config/mimetypemapping.json with your favorite text editor and add the following two lines to the end of the file:

 "pad": ["application/x-ownpad"],
 "calc": ["application/x-ownpad"]

So for example the end of the final mimetypemapping.json file could look like this:

 ...
 "yaml": ["application/yaml", "text/plain"],
 "yml": ["application/yaml", "text/plain"],
 "zip": ["application/zip"],
 "pad": ["application/x-ownpad"],
 "calc": ["application/x-ownpad"]
}

Now that every requirement has been met, you can go on and activate ownPad within your ownCloud / nextCloud instance. For nextCloud, click on the upper right (gear symbol) and click on Apps. Search for ownPad and click on Enable:

Deactivated ownPad App in the nextCloud administration overview (click to enlarge)

For ownCloud however, you have to click the category selection on the upper left and select Apps (plus symbol). To your left, click on Disabled in order to get a list of all the apps and plugins that are disabled in your ownCloud instance. Search for ownPad in this list and click on Enable.

Now that you’ve enabled the ownPad plugin you should ensure that EtherPad and EtherCalc are also activated. For nextCloud: navigate to Settings (gear symbol upper right), click on Additional settings and search for the Collaborative documents section. Ensure that both check boxes are set. For ownCloud you find these settings under the upper right (click on your username), followed by a click on Administration. To your left you will see a bunch of options. One of them is Collaborative documents. Click on it in:

Enabled EtherPad / EtherCalc

By default, EtherPad and EtherCalc are using the instances which are provided by the developers. If you want to use another public instance you can always changes these Host lines to your needs. A full list of public instances can be found here.

It is also possible to setup and host your own EtherPad / EtherCalc instance. Take a look at the official setup guide provided by the developers if you want to: How to setup your own EhterPad / EtherCalc instance.

Testing

To test the functionality, create a new EtherPad or EtherCalc file by clicking on the plus icon in your ownCloud / nextCloud file browser:

New file

As you can see, you have two new options which are called Pad and Calc, while Pad is EtherPad (text documents) and Calc is EtherCalc (spreadsheet documents). To create a new spreadsheet document for e.g., click on Calc and give the file a name you desire. After you’ve done this, you will see a new file with a .calc ending in your file browser:

Newly created test EtherCalc file (click to enlarge)

In order to open this file and start editing, just click on it. The EtherCalc editor is going to be loaded and you’re ready to edit the file. If there is no editor popping up (for e.g. your browser wants to download the file instead), recheck that you’ve executed the installation and configuration steps correctly or try a different browser and delete your browser cache as well.

Test EtherCalc file in action. EtherCalc also supports some formulas. (click to enlarge)

About collaboration …

Now that you have a working ownCloud or nextCloud instance with ownPad running, you can start sharing an ownCloud / nextCloud link, which points to your EtherPad or EtherCalc file, with your co-workers. You and your co-workers are able to work simultaneously on that file that way. EtherPad as well as EtherCalc supports color highlighting while multiple people are working on one document. Besides this there is a chat functionality built-in for a better and easier communication. However, you can also use EtherPad and EtherCalc for non collaborative documents.

Final words

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that EtherPad / EtherCalc allows you to do collaboration text / spreadsheet editing like in Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive. To be honest, to get the same functionality like in these two proprietary solutions you may should better go with Collabora Office which basically provides LibreOffice in your browser. However, for a simple but also effective solution you really should take a look at EtherPad / EtherCalc. It’s easy to setup and use. Besides this it comes with a nice chat functionality which may be helpful as well. And hey, it’s free right? I love open source 😉

 

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