Open Source Musings The thoughts, ideas, and opinions of an open source guy

Working in open source on the web with Sandstorm Oasis

The word 'WEB' as a tag cloud

It can be hard to get away from working on the web. Doing that is incredibly convenient: as long as you have an internet connection, you can work from just about anywhere on just about any device.

The main problem with most web-based productivity tools — like Google’s suite, Zoho Office, and Office365 — is that they’re closed source and that your account and your data exists at the whim of large corporations. I’m sure you’ve heard numerous stories of, say, Google locking or removing accounts without warning.

If that happens to you, you’ve lost access to what’s yours. So what’s a FLOSS advocate who wants to work on the web to do? Turn to Sandstorm Oasis.

Let’s take a look at it.

Sandstorm Oasis?

Sandstorm is:

an open source operating system for personal and private clouds

The idea is that by installing Sandstorm on your server, you get one-click access to various open source, web-based applications.

Sandstorm Oasis, on the other hand, is for folks who don’t have the technical skills or desire to maintain their own instance of Sandstorm. Or, like me, they just don’t have a server on which they can install it. Or all of the above.

What you get

You have your choice of over 50 applications in the following categories:

  • Productivity
  • Office
  • DevTools
  • Communication
  • Media
  • Graphics
  • Games
  • Web Publishing
  • Science
  • Social

Some of the Sandstorm Oasis Productivity tools

Those tools include note-taking applications, collaborative editors, file sharing tools, version control apps,

Those of you familiar with open source web applications, you’ll recognize many of the apps available with Sandstorm Oasis. And there might be a few surprises in there for you.

If you’re wondering, here are some of the applications that I use in Sandstorm Oasis:

  • ShareLaTeX (a web-based LaTeX system)
  • WeKan (a kanban board)
  • Dillinger (a Markdown editor)
  • EtherPad (a collaborative document editor)
  • EtherCalc (a spreadsheet)
  • Radicale (a web-based calendar)
  • Draw.io (a diagram editor)

Using Sandstorm Oasis

Once you create an account, you have a blank canvas waiting for you to install applications on it. To do that, click Install from app market. You’re taken to the Sandstorm App Market. Find the application that you want to use and click Install.

It only takes a few seconds for the application to install. The application appears on your apps page.

Apps page in Sandstorm Oasis

Click on the app that you want to use. When it opens, click New. Doing this creates what the folks behind Sandstorm Oasis call a grain. A grain is a single instance of an application — it can be a document or a chatroom or a blog. Sandstorm Oasis isolates each grain:

in a secure sandbox from which it cannot talk to the world without your express permission.

Once you’ve created a grain, you get working.

Using ShareLaTeX in Sandstorm Oasis

Your work automatically saves periodically. On top of that, you can share individual grains with others even if they don’t have a Sandstorm Oasis account. All they need is a link.

Sharing in Sandstorm Oasis

Drawbacks

There are a few. The first of which is that not all applications are regularly updated. A good example of this is Ghost (a blogging platform). The last time it was updated on Sandstorm Oasis was in August, 2015.

If you’re expecting a 1-to-1 replacement for popular proprietary tools, you might be disappointed. EtherPad, for example, doesn’t pack all of the features of Google Docs.

As well, there are applications missing. If, say, you want to use an open source read-it-later tool like Wallabag then you’re out of luck. You can ask the developers to add it, but that could take a while.

Still, the applications that Sandstorm Oasis currently packs are often more than good enough for your needs. I find Sandstorm Oasis to be liberating. I’m not only using open source tools to do my work, I also have more control over my data.

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