Ben Everard reclaims his privacy with a web-based office suite he controls
OnlyOffice is a web-based office suite similar to Google Docs or Microsoft’s Office 365. However, unlike its competitors, OnlyOffice is open source (under AGPL) so you can run it on your own server (there’s a hosted version available as well).OnlyOffice is a rebranded version of TeamLab Office, which has been around in one form or another since 2009, so it’s had time to mature to a featureful, stable platform. However, it was closed source and Windows-only until the end of 2014, so is still fairly unknown in the Linux world.
There are two parts to OnlyOffice: the community server and the document server. The community server is for collaboration and includes document sharing, and other tools for working as a team. The document server is just for viewing and editing documents. OnlyOffice also releases a mailserver, but this isn’t developed in-house, instead it’s a build of open source mail tools including iRedMail and SpamAssassin.
You can install OnlyOffice on top of a distribution just like you would any other software, however, there’s also a series of Docker images, which means you can deploy the software with a single command. The images are in the Docker hub, but the Dockerfiles are on GitHub so you can modify them to customise the build (https://github.com/ONLYOFFICE)
The OnlyOffice Community Server is most useful as a web-based document sharing tool. In this role, it works well, but doesn’t offer much to distinguish it over the competition (such as Seafile or OwnCloud). In addition to the document sharing, there’s also an online email client. This connects to an email server that could be the official OnlyOffice build of iRedMail, or could be any other mail server that supports the usual protocols. Again, this is perfectly functional, though unremarkable, and probably not enough to convince anyone to use a new collaboration tool.
There’s also a calendar and an online chat tool. The Community Server can link to any online storage that offers WebDav access (such as Box or OwnCloud). This is a great option if you want to take advantage of OnlyOffice Documents while still using your existing cloud storage option. The real star of OnlyOffice is the online office suite – the word processing is the best open source web-based document editing experience available. This may change when LibreOffice online is released, but for now, nothing else we’ve seen comes close in terms of experience. It can handle complex layouts, it has plenty of features and it runs well (provided you have a modern web browser). There’s also a document viewer that can be embedded in other web pages to allow you to share read-only access with the world.
Our biggest complaint is that OnlyOffice Documents uses Microsoft’s DOCX, XSLS and PPTX formats. It can handle others (such as ODT), but only by first converting them into DOCX (they can be converted back before downloading). This probably makes sense from a pragmatic point of view, but it’s disappointing from a document freedom perspective.
The spreadsheet and presentation editor are similarly impressive. While none of the office suite has quite the range of features you’d expect of a native suite, they have enough capability for most tasks and far more than other web-based office suites.The best online office suite backed up by a reasonable collaboration server.