Nextcloud: Your swiss army knife

The last step of this process is the largest – we’re going to get Nextcloud installed. Nextcloud offers a boatload of features – chat, file sync, document creation via Collabora, maps, tasks, oh my! But the problem with Nextcloud is precisely this broadness – it is difficult to keep Nextcloud secure, fully updated, and working well for everyone. It does a lot, but what it does well is more of a mixed bag. Unfortunately, it’s the best solution we have. We’ll cover Nextcloud in more detail in the next post.

I’m going to take you through a basic Nextcloud setup with their built-n Mail and Calendar apps as well as Collabora, a web-based document, presentation, and spreadsheet program.

Installing Nextcloud

This will be a long one! If you did all the previous sections of this guide in one go, congrats, but be aware this will take a bit longer than the others. Nextcloud has a lot of options, and we’re just going to get you set up with the basics.

Install Nextcloud as you would any other app and pay close attention to the install message.

Change your password by clicking your user icon in the top-right corner > settings > security.

Save this password somewhere save, but for convenience, you can use your Cloudron account. Click Users, then click the pencil icon your account, and put yourself in the admin group, then click done to ensure the change is saved. You can now log out and then log in to your Cloudron account.

Email

Accessing your email account in Nextcloud is easy. If you don’t see the mail icon in the blue bar at the top, click your profile icon, then Apps, App Bundles, scroll down to Collaboration, and install the following:

  • Calendar
  • Collabora Online
  • Contacts
  • Mail

In the Mail app, follow Cloudron’s instructions for logging in.

Calendar

Your calendar should appear instantly, and you can start adding events and inviting anyone you like to meetings. You may notice a few things missing from other calendar systems, like smart geolocation of addresses. Nextcloud does include an easy way to find a time (among people who use Nextcloud as their calendar). Add your attendees, then press “Show busy times” to find a time that works for everyone.

Mobile support can be somewhat complicated, unfortunately, and we’ll cover that in Part 2 of this guide where we’ll go deeper into Nextcloud. If you don’t have it setup yet, just log in on the web and select “List” view.

Contacts

Like Calendar, Contacts in Nextcloud are pretty straightforward. You can import contacts from other sources like Google Contacts by downloading them as a .vcf file and then clicking Settings > Import.

Ensure you and your users keep in mind content in Nextcloud is not encrypted.

Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations

Go back to your Cloudron page and install the Collabora app. Wait for it to start, log in with your Cloudron account, and enter in the address of your Nextcloud app. Mine is nextcloud.socialism.tools. You must enter the primary Nextcloud address, not a redirect.

Now open Nextcloud. Open your menu and click Settings, then Collabora Online Edition. Check “use your own server” and enter the full web address of Collabora.

Like this!

Now click “Files” at the top menu bar of the screen, and then click the plus button. You should now see options for Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations!

You’re tellin’ me I can edit my office documents … in the cloud?

The Collabora document editor

Create a test doc and open the Nextcloud document editor. As you may come to realize, Collabora is not exactly equivalent to Google Docs. It’s a little clunky, a little less full-featured, a little rougher around the edges. That being said, it’s easily the best open source solution – there’s even a mobile app!

Document editing, more than chat or email, is likely to be the most controversial choice. Chat is transactional, Rocket Chat and Element are very close to Slack, and many people won’t need an email account (or will only need to check it infrequently). But a lot of people will need to collaborate on documents, some of which will be released to the public. Collabora may not offer the features users need, and they may want to keep using Google Docs or Microsoft Word. If this is the case, and your other chapter members are OK with using these tools, you can manage that as well!

While any integration with Google Docs is not possible, you can still use Office – and any other programs that store files locally – pretty easily with Nextcloud. Download Nextcloud’s file sync utility to automatically keep files updated with the copy stored in Nextcloud. Just remember that Microsoft Office licenses cost money and may not be accessible to everyone in your chapter. (and please, do not store personal files on your work computer you don’t want your boss to see!) We’ll cover integrating other document collaboration systems in Part 3 (to come).

Recap

You’ve done a lot of work so far! You now have a centrally managed yet private cloud for all your chapter’s applications and data. Your data is no longer being siphoned off by big tech, and you’ve gained some new features along the way. You have a base that’s secure, with chat services, a blog, email, contacts, calendaring, and perhaps more! You’re ready to begin your chapter’s journey into their open-source future. You will undoubtedly hit bumps along the way, but hopefully, the other articles on this site, along with your nerdy comrades, can help you overcome them.

Good luck, and solidarity forever!

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