It can be hard to self-host many open source apps if you’re not a Linux expert. Several projects try to make this easier – they offer new admins an easy web-based installer and come out of the box configured to support secure, stable applications. There’s a large number of different apps that claim to support this need. Here, I’ll take a look at the following apps, and try to determine how good of a fit they would be for an easy, low-maintenance way to host the apps in my tutorial on taking control of your chapter’s digital tools. Here’s the list of apps I looked at:
There are two clear standouts among this group – YunoHost and Cloudron. The rest lack support for applications you would likely need (FreedomBox, Bloom, Bitnami), or aren’t very actively developed (Sandstorm.io). Let’s dive deeper into Cloudron first, as it’s what I recommend in the Digital Tooling guide.
Cloudron is a source-available (more on what this means later) application that’s quick to install, and provides a large number of one-click, high-quality apps. It includes and email and LDAP server that integrate seamlessly with all Cloudron apps, and allows multiple copies of apps as well as multiple domains per installation. It’s actively developed, and offers a support forum where the developers regularly respond to problems. It’s a very compelling solution that checks off every box, and it’s why I chose it for my guide.
So why not Cloudron?
Cloudron has a few downsides that may not be tolerable for some. While Cloudron’s source code is almost entirely available for anyone to see and contribute to, it’s not really open source. First, it costs money to install more than two apps or have more than five users. Second, as the devs explain, the real value of Cloudron is the app packages, which require constant work ($$$) to maintain, and the charging of a license fee allows that work to continue.
Basically, the argument is that without the license fee, the software would not exist, and the current licensing model allows Cloudron to be very open-source while not meeting the official definition of a fully Open Source project. I think this is fair, and the Cloudron devs have released both build instructions for the platform and their tools that allow techies to package their own apps. In theory, one could fork Cloudron and re-package whatever they want. (Nobody has yet, as far as I know, becuase this would be a lot of work!)
There is a lot more to write about open-source funding models, but suffice to say – for people looking for a 100% open-source solution, Cloudron will not work. So what’s the next best option?
YunoHost – the 100% free alternative
YunoHost is a program that’s similar to Cloudron but entirely open-source and volunteer led. All YunoHost apps are AGPL3. YunoHost is similar to Cloudron in that you set it up and have an SSO solution, email, and an app store to easily install things from.
YunoHost is more difficult to setup than Cloudron, doesn’t offer as wide of an app catalog, and overall it’s less polished. None of these are deal breakers, however! Installation is still easy if you are familiar with the basics of how SSH and Linux works, all of the most important apps (WordPress, Nextcloud, Matrix apps, etc) are there, and I don’t think the lack of polish is severe enough to prevent non-technical people from using it as co-admins after it’s set up the first time.
As a bonus, YunoHost offers more guidance on running YunoHost on consumer hardware at home, and has guides on how to install on PCs and ARM devices (with special guides for the Raspberry Pi).
In short: For chapters that are extremely committed to the spirit of open-source and have the willingness to power through the bumps that requires, or for extremely cost constrained chapters, YunoHost is the best option there is.