Four Open Source alternatives to Google Docs

By Johannes on Tuesday, January 7th 2020

Document editing and sharing tools are essential for all businesses these days. Google Docs and Office 365 are the popular choices in this market. However, with growing concern for data privacy and control, many people are looking for alternatives.

In this post, we shall see four popular open source document editing apps. Because they are open source, they can be installed and run on your server, giving you complete control of your data. We will cover the different formats, features and workflows supported by each app. This will help you make an informed decision on which app to use.

Alright, let's dive right into it!

Collabora Online


Collabora Online is a promising attempt to bring the fantastic LibreOffice suite to the cloud. The project is developed by a large group of engineers who also work on LibreOffice core. The way it works is that LibreOffice is run as a service on the server. This service provides rendering and editing functionality to the browser. As such, it supports all the document formats LibreOffice supports, recently even EPUB export has been added. The editing UX is fairly similar to the LibreOffice desktop application.

One installation caveat is that the app does not store or manage documents. Instead, it is intended to be used alongside a document management app like Nextcloud. It does this by implementing a WOPI-like protocol. If you run Nextcloud, just install the Collabora Online plugin and connect the plugin with the Collabora app to edit and share documents within Nextcloud.

ONLYOFFICE


OnlyOffice is developed by Ascensio System SIA from the Baltics and is a complete office suite written in NodeJs. It comes with a great, modern-looking user interface. OnlyOffice comes in two flavors - Document server and Community server. The community server is a full-fledged office suite including a mail server, CRM, contacts and calendar. The Document server provides text document, spreadsheet and presentation editors.

Similar to Collabora Online, OnlyOffice document server does not store documents on its own. Instead, it integrates with existing apps like Nextcloud as a file editor using the WOPI protocol. If you run Nextcloud, just install the OnlyOffice plugin and connect it with the OnlyOffice document server.

CodiMD


CodiMD provides realtime collaborative markdown notes on all platforms. The story of CodiMD is quite complex. The company HackMD created two versions of their editing software - HackMD CE (Community Edition) and HackMD EE (Enterprise Edition). HackMD had taken a step back from the development of the HackMD CE project and the open source community started moving it forward. To avoid confusion, it was renamed from HackMD CE to CodiMD. After a while, there was a lack of agreement between HackMD and the open source community as to who owns the project. As a result, the project was forked again into it's own organization.

CodiMD is easily the best markdown document editor out there. Documents can be shared privately as well as publicly. Multiple people can work together on the same document with great visual feedback. You can even follow the current cursor position of other editors in real time!

Additional highlight features are:

  • Markdown slideshow support through reveal.js
  • MathJax support for beautiful mathematics displays

Etherpad


Etherpad is a highly customizable Open Source online editor providing collaborative editing in really real-time.

Etherpad is the oldest of the four projects in this article. The editor is designed to be embedded within other projects and thus it is likely that you already have used it in one way or another. One of Etherpad's strengths is the vast number of plugins that can be installed. To get an idea, check out their officially supported plugin list.

On top of collaborative writing, Etherpad has a built-in chat to allow users to talk to each other.

Supported Text Document Formats


Collabora Online ONLYOFFICE CodiMD Etherpad
Markdown
ODT
DOCX
DOC
RTF
HTML

Conclusion

Both Collabora Online and ONLYOFFICE are full blown office suites for word processing. They are fully capable of replacing Google Docs. If you are looking for a Google Docs alternative, I recommend trying out OnlyOffice. It's slick and polished user interface will help you switch away from Google Docs without a second thought.

CodiMD and Etherpad are targeted at technical users who prefer simple editors. These work great when trying to build a knowledge base in your organization. The multi-user editing functionality these apps provide is extremely useful during conference calls where participants can work on a single document together.

Try them out

Cloudron is a platform that makes it easy to run and manage web apps like WordPress, Nextcloud, GitLab on your server. OnlyOffice, CodiMD, Etherpad, Nextcloud are all available on the Cloudron Store and can be easily installed on your server with a few clicks.


Try these apps now
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