Cloud

Speculations on why ownCloud's founder forked its popular product into Nextcloud

The original developer of ownCloud has left the company and has forked the product. Jack Wallen considers why, and ponders the implications for ownCloud and Nextcloud.

Image: Jack Wallen

With over 10 million community and enterprise users, ownCloud — a universal, on-site file access platform that utilizes your own hardware — changed the way developers and IT look at file access. So, it came as quite a surprise when ownCloud's founder, Frank Kalritschek, as well as the core developers jumped the ship and formed a new company/product called Nextcloud.

What's Nextcloud? According to the company blog:

"Nextcloud is a reboot of ownCloud, a new way of re-defining the balance into a more sustainable, open ecosystem with a single focus: putting users in control of their data. Kickstarted as a healthy, growing company, Nextcloud reduces barriers to contribution and increases transparency to enable more input of customers and users. On top of the file sync and share you all know and love, Nextcloud will provide full Spreed.ME support. Spreed.ME is a next generation, open source WebRTC based communication platform with video conferencing and text chat. We will also provide support for the popular Calendar and Contacts apps and improve and enrich the user experience in many other areas. New energy and greater ambitions for the future: Nextcloud is the next generation of on-premise cloud technology! We will release more information about our plans the coming hours and days in our blogs."

Why did this happen?

My guess is twofold. First off, ownCloud development seems to have slowed to a crawl. I believe this happened because the core developers wanted to push the product forward, and the business end didn't seem to function well with the creative end. That internal bickering, I believe, centered around the core developers (particularly Karlitschek) wanting ownCloud to function more as a community and less as a company. This didn't exactly go as planned, so Karlitschek announced that he was leaving ownCloud.

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It's not uncommon for developers and even founders to leave and fork their products, though in the case of ownCloud, it was not only a shock but a major curiosity; after all, ownCloud had over 1,000 developers worldwide working on a very solid, well-designed product. Even so, the fork happened, and Nextcloud is now a thing.

SEE: OwnCloud founder forks popular open-source cloud (ZDNet)

What does this mean for the future of ownCloud?

On June 2, 2016, ownCloud, Inc. announced it was shutting down the US office (the German office is still intact). The ownCloud plan is to continue delivering software and offering support, but with the original developer and the main core of developers having left for what I assume they hope to be greener, more open pastures, I cannot imagine ownCloud and Nextcloud continuing on together. One of these platforms will rise above and cause the other to implode. Which one will that be?

That's a tough call. My guess is that Nextcloud will prevail, because the shiny new toy will gain an influx of open source developers that will bring new ideas and features to the mix. They will build quickly and efficiently and, thanks to the open source nature of the project, won't be hampered by a lack of revenue.

ownCloud development will slow to a crawl as they replace developers. Because of this, ownCloud will fall further and further behind and eventually suffer revenue losses that cannot be recovered. Within five years, ownCloud will close down, and Nextcloud will continue on.

I also predict that Nextcloud will eventually be purchased by a company, like SUSE, that could roll everything Nextcloud has built into its already amazing ecosystem. That is all speculation, but a platform like what Nextcloud could deliver would be of high value to the likes of an enterprise-leaning, open source company such as SUSE.

Where's the product?

As of this writing, Nextcloud doesn't have a product ready for use. According to its website, the company will be providing stable and pre-release builds of Nextcloud.

If the Nextcloud forums are any sign (they logged over 1,000 unique posts in five days), this could be something special.

A shame

It's a shame that ownCloud has to go this route, but sometimes internal rifts cannot be soothed any other way. I would like to see both companies co-existing, but we all know how that tends to work out. When the driving force behind a product's development leaves — especially when that same person is the one who dreamed up the idea in the first place — things tend to spiral out of control.

ownCloud offers (past tense isn't applicable yet) a solid product, and it's one I've deployed a few times. It's a sad day when a company like this closes up shop. Hopefully, in the end, Nextcloud will not only serve as a drop-in replacement for ownCloud, but bring to life new features that will attract more and bigger user groups.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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