Tuesday, 08 October 2019 06:35

Thinking big: Nextcloud chief aims to overtake Office365 and GSuite

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Frank Karlitschek: "We have a shared vision and mission that goes beyond the normal 'making money'. And we work a lot better with the [open source] community and with partners." Frank Karlitschek: "We have a shared vision and mission that goes beyond the normal 'making money'. And we work a lot better with the [open source] community and with partners." Supplied

The head of the open-source file syncing and sharing software company Nextcloud, which has been growing at a fast pace, has ambitions to overtake proprietary services like Office 365 and Google GSuite.

Founder and chief executive Frank Karlitschek told iTWire that, given these plans, the forthcoming Nextcloud releases would see big improvements in productivity, collaboration, communications, scalability and security.

Nextcloud was started as a breakaway from another company, ownCloud, that Karlitschek himself started in 2010. Asked about the split, which occurred in 2016, he said he did not want to dwell on the reasons for the break-up, but said: "At the end of the day the complete set-up of the old company was wrong. [It had] the wrong management, investors, product focus and strategy.

"With Nextcloud we were lucky to fix these issues so that Nextcloud is on a lot better track now. And the results proves us right which makes the full team happy and proud." He added that while he still had friends at ownCloud, when it came to business the two companies were competitors.

Karlitschek has been a contributor to open source software for a long time and has also been on the board of KDE, the first full-fledged desktop environment for Linux users.

However, he says that this experience has not helped him negotiate deals with German and other European companies. "KDE is not a business and doesn't do negotiations with customers. But I learned a lot for KDE how to run a real big, and successful open source project and product. I believe that the Open Source development model is superior in innovation, speed, creativity and security compared to the classic proprietary model."

Apart from his KDE experience, Karlitschek has managed engineering teams for more than two decades and also worked as head of unit and managing director at different Internet companies. In 2001 he created the openDesktop.org social network as well as GTK-Apps.org, GNOME-Look.org, KDE-Apps.org and other 'AppStores' before AppStores existed.

He attributed Nextcloud's progress over the three years of its existence to its employees. "The reason is that we as a company have a focus on hiring only the best people," he said.

"We have a shared vision and mission that goes beyond the normal 'making money'. And we work a lot better with the community and with partners. And there is a clearer strategy for the product. This all results in a great momentum and high development speed."

Karlitschek agreed that there was a mystique about cloud computing when in reality it was just someone else's computer. "This is an interesting challenge. For a lot of people this kind of cloud services are completely abstract and magical," he said.

"They don't realise that this is software running somewhere by people. There is a lot of education and communication needed to explain how the cloud world really works. And I expect there will be more and more privacy violations and data breaches on this big cloud services in the future. This will make it clearer that the current centralized services are not a good idea and the future belongs do decentralised solutions like Nextcloud."

No shrinking violet when it comes to plugging his own firm, Karlitschek said while Nextcloud had competitors like Seafile, Pydio and others, "it is safe to say that Nextcloud is the most advanced solution with the biggest momentum. Our only real competition in the market is Office365, over which we have the unique advantage of being on-premises".

Karlitschek has a number of other feathers in his cap: he was an invited expert at the W3C to help to create the ActivityPub standard. He has spoken at MIT, CERN, Harvard and ETH and keynoted LinuxCon, Latinoware, FOSSASIA, Campus Party and many other conferences. He is also a fellow of Open Forum Europe and an adviser to the United Nations.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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