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Explain to me in simple terms what ownCloud is and why I would want to use it, please?

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See also the ownCloud Enterprise FAQ.

What is this ownCloud thing? Why would I care?

ownCloud is a file sharing server that puts the control and security of your own data back into your hands.

Today, most people have their digital life stored on online servers from various companies. Think Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Instagram and many others. You uploaded your pictures, your music, your daily ramblings, happy and sad thoughts. You use these services to share with others, to send and receive emails, store address books, play music and video, have your files available on any device you want. All great features, no doubt! When your phone breaks, just having to log in to the new one to find all your pictures, contacts and other settings is an amazing and reassuring capability brought by these services, often (perhaps incorrectly) called 'the cloud'.

But you might wonder: "Where is this data? Who has access to it?"

These questions have become more pressing since the revelations that our own government is spying on us, and collecting and snooping into virtually all of our online communications.. We know that foreign and our own governments have access. Criminals and large corporations, too. This knowledge about us can be used and abused in many ways, for financial gain, for control, for harmless and harmful fun.

Many people prefer to have more control over who gets to see the photos they send to their spouse or friends, who gets to read their bank account statements or determine their political allegiance. Or know where they are - as mobile phones track your location pretty much continuously...

This is where ownCloud and similar technologies come in. ownCloud offers you the option to take back your data. Once you install it on a server (or let somebody do that for you! Decentralization is an important tool to protect privacy) you can access your private data in an easy to use web interface or synchronize it with your devices like Android and iPhones. You can store your contacts and calendar as well as files on ownCloud and, through the many ownCloud apps, use it to store passwords, play music and movies and so on. It also allows you to securely share with other people and collaborate on documents. Learn more about ownCloud features here.

All this is free, as ownCloud is available under an 'open source license', which gives you the right to examine, share and modify it. ownCloud is developed by an international community of both paid and volunteer contributors and you can get involved, too.

Things ownCloud does not do

Note that ownCloud is NOT a backup tool: the desktop client, for example, will synchronize the contents of a local folder with the server. That works for file modifications and additions, but also deletions. If you delete a file on the server, it gets deleted on all devices that you installed the client on! And if you delete a file on the client, it gets deleted on the server and then deleted on other clients that were syncing that file. ownCloud does have a trash for deleted files and retains older versions of files, which means deleted or modified files can be brought back. But this functionality can be disabled by the system administrator and depending on the space usage settings, deleted or older versions of files get deleted over time. You should always backup your ownCloud server!

Similarly, note that External Storage and the Server to Server sharing which ownCloud supports, connects ownCloud to an external storage like FTP or Samba, or to another ownCloud server. Files will show up in your web interface and can be synced with the client. However, they are not replicated on your ownCloud server! They are merely fetched whenever you request them in the web interface. Once the external storage disappears or the other ownCloud server retracts your access, you can no longer access the files! Make a copy if you want to have them on your own ownCloud server.

See what ownCloud can do in this video