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NextCloud’s long-term vision, data privacy, AI features, and more

Read this interview with Frank Karlitschek, CEO and founder of NextCloud.

In April 2016, Frank Karlitschek, along with a significant number of principal contributors, parted ways with ownCloud Inc. Subsequently, Karlitschek and several of these contributors initiated a fork of ownCloud, leading to the creation of NextCloud.

NextCloud offers capabilities akin to those of Dropbox, Office 365, or Google Drive; in cloud computing, where data privacy and control reign supreme, NextCloud emerges as a beacon of innovation and empowerment. Developed as an open source alternative to proprietary cloud solutions, NextCloud puts the reins of data management firmly in the hands of users.

I have used NextCloud and helped clients deploy it on their hardware. I have been reading about some of the new developments in the software. Curious to learn more about these technologies, I asked Frank Karlitschek, CEO and founder of NextCloud, for an interview. He agreed to answer my questions.

Nextcloud’s long term vision and community approach

Don Watkins (DW): Can you share NextCloud’s long-term vision and how it aligns with current trends in cloud computing and data sovereignty?

Frank Karlitschek (FK): The goal of Nextcloud is to provide a collaboration solution that is 100% open source and can be self-hosted by everyone. I don’t want to live in a world where every person’s data is hosted and controlled by a handful of big companies. We want to regain people’s control of their digital lives, which leads to data sovereignty.

DW: With NextCloud being at the forefront of open source solutions, how do you see the role of community contributions evolving, especially in light of the recent merger with Roundcube?

FK: For 25 years, I’ve been following, building, and contributing to open source communities. To me, this is the best way to develop software. This is why Nextcloud started as an open community project. We have thousands of people contributing to Nextcloud, which is fantastic. We plan to invest even more into the Nextcloud and Roundcube contributor communities to improve them.

Challenges and milestones

DW: Looking back at NextCloud’s journey, what have been some of the most significant challenges you’ve faced, and which milestones are you most proud of?

FK: This is a good question. Of course, the most significant milestone is founding Nextcloud in the first place. Nextcloud is a fork of my previous project. Forking software is always hazardous because you don’t know what sides the community picks. With Nextcloud, we decided to run it as a 100% open source community project. So, the community quickly supported and picked Nextcloud and started to contribute to it.

Another significant milestone was a few months later when we got the first, more extensive customer who helped pay the salaries of the core team. Another critical milestone was at the beginning of 2020 when we launched Nextcloud Hub, which turned Nextcloud from a pure file sync and share software into a complete collaboration suite.

Security and user privacy

DW: In an era where data privacy is a significant concern, how does NextCloud ensure the security and privacy of user data, and what measures are in place to protect against potential breaches?

FK: The most crucial part is that all users control where their Nextcloud is running and where their data is stored. We at Nextcloud have no access to any Nextcloud servers, user data, passwords, or other personal data.

Of course, this power comes with significant responsibilities. Everyone running a Nextcloud server should always keep it up to date and ensure it’s configured correctly. Nextcloud gives hints and warnings if something is wrongly set up and sends notifications if a new update is available. 

We at Nextcloud follow a responsible disclosure security process and run a bug bounty program to find security problems as quickly as possible.

DW: How do you anticipate EU regulations impacting cloud services, and what steps is NextCloud taking to comply with these regulations while still providing a competitive service?

FK: Nextcloud only provides open source software to everyone who wants to host a collaboration service. We don’t have any infrastructure, so the European regulations for online services don’t affect us. Of course, Nextcloud’s mission is to enable decentralized alternatives to these big tech Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, so I think the EU regulations are a step in the right direction.

The role of artificial intelligence (AI) in open source projects

DW: With NextCloud integrating AI features like LocalAI for on-premise AI processing and offering options for external AI services, how do you envision the role of AI evolving in open source cloud platforms, and what do you believe the future holds for AI’s intersection with open source technology? 

FK: AI is a completely new challenge for the open source world. We, as open source projects, should embrace and support AI features because our users will like and demand them. But we have to make sure that we do this ethically and in accordance with open source principles. I think the source code, the AI model, and the training data should be open and available. Only then will this fit the spirit of open source.

About the Author

I am Don Watkins, a free and open source software (FOSS) advocate.

Read Don's Full Bio
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