Category Archives: Self Hosted Apps and Stuff

Preventing A Cambridge Analytica – DIY!!!!


Like many people I as shocked by the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal that emerged recently. I always thought I was very IT security conscious. I have since found out what data they had on me and I was amazed. I truly was. I thought I had locked things quite well. This reminded me of a joke doing the rounds at the time of the Facebook IPO:

Q: Why have Facebook gone public?

A: They couldn’t work out the privacy settings either!!!!

Many readers will know that I like playing around with web based software and know that I have written often on this subject here. One of my favourite places to find new things to try (Link) has a section dedicated to social networking and media here (Link).

So based on this. I decided to see if if I could set up my own rival to Facebook! I started by running up an instance of Hubzilla.

This was the easy bit. Configuring the software was not too bad either, however what later such as terms and conditions, GDPR and more turned this project or experiment into a bit of a minefield. Many readers who know about my retirement will say that I have plenty of time on my hands these days. I do not have that much time believe me! My cardiology doctors would probably suggest I do not need the stress either.

The next thing would be actually getting my followers on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and others to join this network. I suggest many would not. Not at the moment anyway. OK I could set my own rules and stop certain friends of mine who are Spurs fans from posting anti-Arsenal propaganda! However, at the moment that is not enough to extend what has become a feeble attempt to develop something even half serious as a proof of concept into something more serious.

I enjoyed the time I spent setting up the software and playing around with Hubzilla. In spite of what I have sad above this part was enjoyable and it was easier to set up than some software I have tried to deploy to my web server over the years. I had less detailed looks at some of the other contenders and deployed some to test before going with Hubzilla. I thought it was the best of the bunch.

I have left the software deployed and it is here if you desperately feel the need to take a look.

I do have to take my hat off to the developers of Hubzilla. I like the software and to the most part I liked the setup and configuration parts. I wish them good luck for the future. Their software and software like this (there are several competitors, contenders and pretenders) makes a compelling case for smaller groups to move things on from the various scandals and issues that have blighted the likes of Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and other providers of user generated content since long before the famous case (to us old timers, the youngsters in the business have barely heard of it!) of Godfrey vs Demon Internet. Smaller social networks that are more dynamic, forward thinking and more adept to quick change with the ability to tackle problems such as data breaches swiftly could indeed have a place. Maybe sooner rather than later.

So could a DIY social network prevent the types of scandals such as Facebook and Cambridge Analytica?

In my opinion yes and no. I found that setting up a network like this from scratch would be a massive task and operation so it is probably not for the individual unless they have a lot of time on their hands. A small motivated group, however could potentially have much more success in this field.  I can highly commend Hubzilla if anyone wants a try at this task.

Nextcloud One Year On – A Review


Under the orange news banner in the screenshot above it says “The best gets even better, Nextcloud 13 is out” I cannot argue with either point. Nextcloud 13 is out and I have using it for a few weeks now. “The best gets even better” I certainly cannot argue with that either. In my own opinion Nextcloud is zooming ahead of its peers such as Pydio and Owncloud – the project it split from in 2016. I have been using Nextcloud solidly for just over a year and it replaced Owncloud. nextcloud is so much better than its competitors in my opinion.  I still have to use an Owncloud instance as it used by a project I am involved in to store documentation and I need to access these documents a few times a month. The difference is noticeable and palpable, Owncloud feels slower and clunkier and less “friendly” to me. I wish this project would migrate to Nextcloud. Even though it is missing some features that all users would love the new Nextcloud Talk Android app is excellent too.

Let me tell you a story. In Mid February I was involved in a very serious incident and spent quite some time in hospital. I had my Ipad with me and was able to keep on top of things using Nextcloud, sharing documents editing documents, checking email, talking to people, even listening to my favourite radio station and much more. I was even able to start planning for and taking action an enforced early retirement thanks to Nextcloud. If it wasn’t for Nextcloud I would have had an absolute nightmare  of a mess to deal with once I left hospital and would probably still be dealing with it now.  Even in hospital with a slightly dodgy internet connection I managed to upgrade to Version 13 and I have to say I love it!

To say “The best gets even better” is a very bold claim to make. However in Nextcloud’s case it is very much justifiable and the team behind Nextcloud can definitely justify making that claim. If anyone were to ask me I would certainly defend Nextcloud’s right to make that claim.

So well done Nextcloud! Regular readers will know that praise is either hard or impossible to come by on this blog but the product and the team deserve it. I can’t wait for Nextcloud 14!

 

Discontinuation – A growing trend in self hosting


Self hosting sites and services relies on a number of different tools and services to be successful. More than that it requires integrations between tools to be available and to work properly. You see, a ton of services big and small come together to make a solution work. There is a host of stuff that sits in this website and behind it that “makes stuff happen”. For example integrations with Google products, mail servers, security, marketing tools, SEO, Amazon, and lots more.

To be fair a lot of these tools, services and integrations are written by the open source community to freely give of their time to complete these projects and make them work either individually or as part of a group. This is a good thing.

The problem lies however when projects stop being developed and then either get discontinued or withdrawn, or even worse just get abandoned only for errors to crop up or even a site to get hacked without warning. Take your eye off the ball in a self hosted environment and there is the possibility for all hell to break loose.

In the past few months I have been getting more and more announcements sent to me that tools, integrations, plugins and more are being discontinued, “sunsetted” or even withdrawn. That or support for certain environments or browsers is being stopped in forthcoming versions.

I used to get 1-3 of these a year. I have had about 15 in 2017 alone. This worries me as it means a lot of extra time in locating replacement “parts” and then testing and deploying these parts, when an environment build should be finished and then just in maintenance and business as usual mode. It does cause a few issues for the operator of the site.

I do hope this trend does not escalate any further. The open source community do a lot of good and valuable work and should be praised for it. I realise that some of this comes down to time and other commitments.

I for one, hope this dies down and that the trend does not escalate.

Now Come On Amber Love…


The Amber Rudd I am referring to is of course the UK Home Secretary.

At the weekend she said that terrorism was been spread by Whatsapp Messenger amongst other popular messaging apps. Quite a few of these I can accept but to bring WordPress into it is starting to get silly in my opinion. Now I have never held Amber Rudd in any form of regard and to be fair I am very unlikely ever to do so. However this is where things start to verge on the stupid. This article from the Telegraph newspaper says more and a WPTavern article lists some of Automattic’s responses in relation to WordPress.

You see WordPress has two strands to it. WordPress.com is a great free blogging platform. The telegraph does miss out certain security points  on WordPress.com though. Some WordPress.com blogs are a bit iffy in my eyes and others are welcome to form their own opinions of an individuals content. Now we get on to the second part of WordPress which is the self hosted side. About 75,000,000 sites including this one are powered by WordPress. 50% of these use WordPress.com so the rest are self hosted. The burning question is where Amber Rudd will eventually draw the line. By going after WordPress.com will she attack site operators who lawfully use WordPress.org as part of what in my opinion would be a very bad choice of “bravado”. I personally cannot see her stopping at WordPress.com.

It is that this point where things go deeper and the range extends farther. You see there are so many CMS tools out there. Will Amber go after site operators, who use Joomla, Concrete 5, Drupal et al? I suspect she will be hot on the heels of the likes of Mrsite and Wix. If she chooses to use WordPress.com to have a swipe at open source site operators using the likes of WordPress, Drupal and Joomla et al, where will she stop?

This brings me neatly on to my next point, what will be the impact for those of us lovingly tending to our sites and minding our own very legitimate businesses. Updates to core? Plugin updates? Red tape? No website owner or operator obviously knows yet, but this potentially has an impact to so many from the smallest business upwards (I  doubt my plumber knows or even cares that his website uses WordPress!) to some very large online businesses. I only have 8 websites at the moment I used to have over 60! I can still see some trouble and issues looming and with that potentially comes a workload I neither need nor want. I suspect others will feel the same.

Simply no one knows what will happen yet but I reckon it will end up being one massive headache.

So come on Amber, love, have a sense of proportion. Going after Whatsapp, Facebook et al on terrorism grounds is one thing but leaving a gate of fear uncertainty and doubt potentially wide open to so many legitimate website owners and operators is totally another. You are the Home Secretary and because of that one of the most senior politicians in the UK and by that very virtue wield an awful lot of power. Some of the things you have done since taking office do not give me a warm and fluffy feeling and your appointment to your current position was shocking to me to say the least. I therefore urge that you wield your power with sense and sensibility in the respect of so many honest and hardworking site owners and operators that your WordPress swipe could potentially affect.

 

Rainloop


Rainloop? What? Sounds like something from a 1990’s rave dosen’t it. Fear not, we are not returning to the 1990’s. The rainloop in question is a very good web based email client I have been using for the past few weeks.

Rainloop is a very fast, very secure and highly configurable web based email client. It is also highly secure. I deployed this 3 weeks ago mainly for testing purposes for my Virtual Office Product set. Thing is. It passed testing with such flying colours I removed the roundcube email client from my intranet! I offer Squirrel and Roundcube clients as part of thee product set and this Rainloop from my testing has a lighter footprint, faster load and also handle multiple domains on the same client. I am very, very impressed with this product as well. Security is excellent too. Configuration is an absolute doddle also.

The Rainloop team have done a fantastic job here and I must say I do look forward to commending this product most warmly to my clients. For those of you who use Owncloud or Nextcloud there is a lovely Rainloop integration available from the app repositories of both . This is an excellent bonus and another feather in Rainloop’s cap in my opinion. I have had some issues with email integration apps for Owncloud in the past and this works straight from the download only requiring the usual configuration data that any email client anywhere would need to be able to operate. The same goes for Nextcloud.

The final bonus is the documentation. Detailed, punchy to the point, not overbearing to read with high quality relevant information really easy to find 🙂

I am very pleased with Rainloop and I wish the team and the product continued success for the future.

It gets Five stars from me!

The Rainloop website is here

PS: Any Virtual Office customers interested in knowing more should raise a ticket.

OwnCloud V NextCloud


Many readers will know that in the past I have been a massive fan of OwnCloud. It is a self hosted file sharing and storage solution that works well and at one point was eating Dropbox for breakfast in terms of interface, extensibility and security. Last year things changed a little bit. You see the product morphed into two taking some of the brains behind Owncloud with it to another generation called NextCloud. I won’t go into the details but from what I have read about it this action seems to me to have been acrimonious to say the least. I offer both products within my Virtual Office product line. So where do I sit exactly? Well Owncloud does seem to have stagnated somewhat and I do think it is now a stable product. However, I have not seen any updates in a while and with the way that hosted solutions need to be kept up to date it is a small concern of mine. Next cloud on the other hand seems to be updating and improving reasonably regularly and is also adding lots of nice functionality as it goes. In time it could become a defacto choice for the Virtual Office! But, back to updating both products have had a history of some flaky update packages which have required some administration time to fix in the past. Indeed I had some issues the other week with some Nextcloud updates for clients of my Virtual Office product. This does need to change and quite rapidly in my opinion. I am pleased to note that all of my clients were happy with the update process I adopted and a lack of downtime for them. The way the hosted cloud solution markets’ customer expectation is changing flaky updates need to become a thing of the past quite rapidly. I have warmed to Nextcloud and whilst I have an active demo of Owncloud for customers. Nextcloud is now my day to day tool. I look forward to seeing the product develop further and I do also that hope Owncloud doesn’t fall into the abyss as it does not deserve to. So we have a winner in Nextcloud. 🙂 For more information on my Virtual Office product please click here.

Let Us Talk Laverna….


Laverna, I hear you say? Sounds like a posh restaurant doesn’t it?

Fear not. I am not turning into the next Fay Maschler!  The Laverna I am talking about is a nifty self hosted note taking app. I have been searching for a self hosted alternative to the highly regarded and very long standing Evernote for some time now, and I came across Laverna this weekend.

I downloaded the app and gently added some security scripts from my repository to the code for reasons I will go into later. I then uploaded the files to my intranet and after a little faff regarding where I was going to store my self created content – read notes I was able to have a little play. My this works well and it is fast too. It is a lovely replacement for Evernote.

You see I want full control over all my data as much as possible and I want it highly secure too. If I can replace something like Dropbox, Salesforce, Hotmail, Evernote etc etc with something on my own very highly protected servers then I will 🙂 Simples. Hence adding some scripts in to protect my data and track usage. No Russian hackers here!

I have been able to Laverna in anger today taking meeting notes and it was a joy. All I need is an internet connection one click on my intranet homepage and I am in. The slick design works well with my Intranet template and integrates nicely. I like self hosted apps that can integrate into the style and branding of my intranet because if any one sees the apps they look exceedingly professional and that is one image I do want to portray.

So far so good. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to the developers for creating this app and also to congratulate them on a job well done.

Here is a screenshot of Laverna integrated into my intranet.

This app gets five stars from me.