Here’s how to set up your own Microsoft 365 alternative

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Collaborative real-time editing has become an essential component of hybrid work environments that have become the new normal in all businesses. Like any other form of real-time collaboration, collaborative document editing will help improve business processes and workflows, regardless of employee location.

In fact, the popularity of software as a service (SaaS) offers such as Microsoft 365 and Google docs testifies to the prevalence and benefits of collaborative document editing.

However, just like the others hosted cloud solutions, the trade-off for using popular SaaS services is the loss of control over documents, which will need to be transferred outside the secure boundaries of your corporate network. There is also the issue of cost. Although they are competitively priced, the mere fact that there is a price tag associated with the service could be a deciding factor for price-conscious users.

It’s there that Collaborate online comes into play. As the name suggests, Collabora Online lets you edit documents collaboratively. The application is based on LibreOffice and offers a very rich editing experience that works with popular proprietary formats like .DOC, .DOCX, .XLSX, etc., as well as open formats like Document Format open (ODF).

(Image credit: Collabora online)

Collabora Online works directly in web browsers, making it a suitable substitute for proprietary office suite services, such as Office 365 and Google Docs. Best of all, the office suite comes in multiple self-hosted versions, making it an ideal option for privacy-conscious users to collaborate on confidential documents with your colleagues without uploading them to remote services.

Editions

Collabora Online offers three different editions of its self-hosted on-site versions of the office suite.

There is Collabora for SMBs which supports up to 99 users and costs € 17 or $ 18 per user / year. Large companies can choose Collabora for Enterprises.

(Image credit: Collabora online)

Then there is Collabora Online Development Edition (CODED), which is free for small teams. It can handle ten documents and 20 simultaneous connections, making it ideal for small setups.

Also note that Collabora itself does not suggest using CODE in a production environment as it is under development, although as a CODE user you will be able to experience new features before they happen. found in other editions.

Installation

CODE offers several installation options. You can enter it as a container from Docker Hub, or install it on your Linux installations, such as Debian, CentOS, Ubuntu, and open SUSE.

(Image credit: Collabora online)

The easiest way to install CODE for a quick trial is to download it as virtual device from the Univention Corporate Server (UCS) application center. This appliance contains CODE and all the additional software you need to be up and running in minutes.

You can choose between two types of integration, CODE with Nextcloud or CODE with ownCloud. Each appliance is available in four formats, namely KVM, VirtualBox, VMware Workstation and VMware ESXi.

To start, all you need to do is download image for your favorite cloud platform in the virtual image format you prefer. We suggest you select the Nextcloud integration on VirtualBox, which we will use in this tutorial.

Once the image is downloaded, simply import it into your virtualization platform. In VirtualBox, head to File> Import Appliance … and point to the downloaded image.

Configuration

As soon as you have successfully imported the image, you can start your virtual machine which on first start will walk you through a simple setup wizard to help you customize some important aspects of your Collabora Online instance.

(Image credit: Collabora online)

One of the first important steps in the process is setting up the network. By default, the appliance automatically obtains IP address information using DHCP, although we suggest that you specify one manually.

Next is the Domain setup screen, which provides three options for integrating your device with an existing directory server on the network. However, the first default option, which configures the appliance to also manage users, should work fine for most users.

The process will also ask you for the name of the organization, as well as the password for the Administrator user. You will also be asked for an email address, where Univention will send the appliance activation key.

The process will use the organization name to suggest a Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) for your device, along with the built-in directory server settings. Unless you know what you’re doing, it’s best to use the suggested default entries.

That’s all there is to it. When you are finished, the device restarts and activates the settings. Your Collabora Online server is now ready for use.

Before you can access the server using the custom FQDN, you must either add the appliance name to the list of DNS name servers or add its IP address and FQDN to the hosts files local, such as / etc / hosts in Linux.

Now launch a browser on any machine on your network and you can access your device by entering the fully qualified domain name of the device.

Start editing documents

You can connect with the Administrator using the password you specified during setup.

The first thing to do is add more users. To do this, click on the System and domain settings option under the Administration in the instrument panel. Then head to Users> Add and enter the basic information of the new user.

(Image credit: Collabora online)

To edit documents, log in as one of the users you just created and click on the cloud platform listed under the Applications section. This will connect you to either Nextcloud or ownCloud, depending on which appliance you downloaded.

As we mentioned before, Collabora Online works with all popular formats, so you just need to upload them to the cloud platform and then just click on the document to edit it in your web browser. Or, you can create one by going to the Files section and use the + icon to display options for creating a new text document, spreadsheet, or presentation.

To edit the document collaboratively, simply share the document with another user that you have added to your appliance. This allows all users who have access to the document to open and edit the document at the same time. Changes made to the document by one user will be synchronized with others in real time.

(Image credit: Collabora online)

Conclusion

As you can see, Collabora Online’s interface is quite similar to that of a standard text editor, offers pretty much all the usual text editing features, and is just as intuitive and usable.

Besides document editing, Collabora Online supports viewing many other file formats such as PDF, Visio, Publisher, Keynote, Numbers and Pages as well as many other more obscure formats.

While CODE should work well for small teams with limited collaborative requirements, larger teams should consider switching to one of the other plans to edit documents collaboratively with their colleagues within the secure boundaries of their corporate network. .


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