De-googling Docs and Sheets

Take Control of Your Data. Host your own office productivity suite either on premises or in the cloud with OnlyOffice.

The overall ease of use and portability make Google Docs (and Sheets) a very indispensable tool for many people. What are your options if you are trying to free yourself from being someone else’s product, and you still want a convenient, safe place for your data?

One idea is to use an open source product like OnlyOffice. With a bit of technical know how and a small amount of time, you can have your own private cloud or local instance of a very capable (and comparable) online office software suite at your fingertips. It’s the perfect Google Docs replacement.

OnlyOffice is published by Ascensio System, and they provide a free and open source version of their enterprise-grade product for anyone to install. Of course, I should mention that Ascensio does provide paid options to let them do all of the heavy lifting for you. They have several affordable options, all based on the number of employees and/or connections you need simultaneously.

If you’re a single users, or perhaps a small business, you might find the free version is more than capable for you. If you one day outgrow the limitations of the free version, you can always convert it into the paid version. I like software products like this that let you really try them out before charging you.

Installation

Your first choice is going to be where to install OnlyOffice. A docker image is the preferred method of installation, or at least it’s my own preference. If you want it in-house, on-premises, etc., I’d recommend a dedicated computer or virtual machine with the following specifications at a minimum, provided from their own installation guide:

  • CPU dual core 2 GHz or better
  • RAM 6 GB or more
  • HDD at least 40 GB of free space (I’d go for something much larger here)
  • Additional requirements at least 6 GB of swap
  • OS amd64 Linux distribution with kernel version 3.10 or later

You can also host in the cloud provider of your choice. Good options for that would include Linode and Vultr. I’ve used both of them for many projects over the years, and they are both very stand-up companies.

Features

OnlyOffice features a wealth of different options, and you can pick and choose between which ones you want available. Of course there are the requisite Document, Spreadsheet and Presentation modules. There is full compatibility with all versions of Microsoft Office files, as well as any other program that uses the .ODF, .ODS, etc. file formats, such as Libre Office.

A mail server is also included, as well as options for group messaging, discussion board, project managements and calendar features.

The User Experience

The main screen of OnlyOffice features a quick link to the individual modules/features you have enabled on your instance of the platform. My office uses only the Documents, Projects, People and Community modules. But if you uses the calendar, email server, and other features, they would appear here as well.

OnlyOffice main screen gives you several links to the various modules in your installation.

Entering the Documents module brings up a listing of your own documents, with links to those shared with you, as well as a “Common” area, where you and other team members can collaborate.

Documents module in OnlyOffice shows various files and folders of content you created and shared.

Now we enter an actual document editor. The Word-like interface has almost any feature you need, and is very comparable, and in my ways superior to Google Docs.

Document editor in OnlyOffice.

A very powerful feature is the Common documents area. This feature allows you to share documents across many users in your office. You can also set permissions by user or group, to allow different levels of access.

Common documents area in OnlyOffice allows for flexible sharing and collaboration with others.
Spreadsheet editor in OnlyOffice gives you all of the features of a traditional desktop-based program like Microsoft Excel, including charts, graphs and enhanced formatting options.

Conclusion

OnlyOffice is a viable, mature, and easy to use alternative to Google Docs, as well as other desktop-based software. There is also a Desktop Editor available for free, that allows offline access to your documents. Apps are also available for iOs and Android. The best feature is that you are in total control of this data. It is your data, on your machine, either locally or in the cloud!