On this fortnight David (flypig) walks us through some clouds on the app roundup. What great efforts community has been doing in that front. Big thanks to the authors of the featured apps.
Have a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy this fortnight.
As always work continues on all the apps that form the fabric that holds Sailfish OS together. I’m keen to talk about all the latest and greatest apps, but for the App Roundup today I want to take a bit of diversion into the land of the Clouds. Not just any Clouds though, but NextClouds.
Sailfish OS has always allowed integration with a wide variety of online platforms. And while it’s never been mandatory — as you would expect Sailfish OS works perfectly well without — it’s nevertheless provided welcome functionality for many users: synced calendars, contacts, photos and backups for example. New account functionality introduced in Sailfish OS Rokua, released in April 2020, brought the ability to use NextCloud for these features.
With that upgrade NextCloud became a first-class Cloud service on Sailfish OS. And it warrants that position: like Sailfish OS it’s an open source platform with a great community and a focus on privacy. Sailfish OS and NextCloud complement each other perfectly.
Now while the Sailfish OS NextCloud integration is great, NextCloud is actually a huge sprawling application, even before you consider the many hundreds (453 at last count) of additional server-side apps that integrate with it. So it falls to Sailfish developers to fill some of the inevitable gaps.
This newsletter we’re taking a look at four excellent examples.
Although NextCloud now supports almost any functionality you can think of, its original purpose was as an online file system. Somewhere to store files that are too large, too important, or too useful to just have on a single device.
File syncing is therefore an important function. On Sailfish OS there are several apps for accessing the files in your NextCloud account; today we’re just going to look at a couple of them.
First up is GhostCloud from Alfred E. Neumayer (beidl). The fluffy cloud icon is rather appealing and harks back to the ownCloud branding from before the NextCloud split. You can configure multiple accounts in case you have multiple NextCloud instances, just fill out the address along with your username and password details and the app does its thing.
Select an account and after a bit of conversation with the server you’re presented with a list of directories, not dissimilar to many local file explorer apps. The main difference is the account logo at the top left, pressing on which reveals information about your account.
Files aren’t synced passively, but if you drill down into the directories until you hit a file you’ll be given the opportunity to download the file in question. Once selected the file will be transferred from the server into your Downloads folder.
There are pros-and-cons to this download-on-demand model. Depending on the file size downloading can take some time and you’ll need a good Internet connection at the point where you want to access the file. On the other hand, by keeping your files on the server you save space on your phone and avoid the difficulty of potential change conflicts.
In addition to downloading files you can also create folders and upload files to the server. It’s all the basics, but generally done very well.
The SailSync ownCloud app from Edin Sarajlic (6uvNPR) is also used for file access, but takes the alternative route, allowing you to passively sync files in the background. This means they’re always available on your phone even when you don’t have an Internet connection. But because your NextCloud storage is likely to be far larger than the storage capacity of your phone, you have to select only certain directories on the server to share.
You do this by entering the local folder and remote folders you want to sync. The process is made easier by the fact that the paths you enter are checked dynamically in the background as you type, which is a nice touch.
The app can be configured to sync files every day at midnight, or you can sync them manually either per-path or all at once from the pulley menu. Syncing like this is easy and effective and the app does the job well.
There’s no file explorer built into the app so once the directories are synced you’ll need another app to access them. Some might see this as skimping on functionality, but I think it’s great: stick to what you’re good at and leave the file exploring to a dedicated file explorer.
It makes for a minimal app, but it’s an approach that complements the functionality of GhostCloud nicely. I can imagine having both installed at the same time for their respective functionalities.
Version 0.9.2 of SailSync ownCloud is available from OpenRepos.
One of the more popular apps you can add to your NextCloud installation is the Talk app. This is an official NextCloud app developed by the same team as the core NextCloud functionality, which maybe explains its five-star rating.
Arthur Schiwon (blizzz) has developed the excellent Nextcloud Talk app for Sailfish OS to interact with the Talk app on the server. Although Arthur describes it as still being “in a very early stage” of development, it nevertheless already has very usable functionality, allowing you to use your NextCloud instance as an instant messaging service.
The app stores your NextCloud credentials using Sailfish Secrets for security and once logged in the interface is what you might expect from an instant messaging app. You’re presented with a list of conversations which you can select to delve deeper. Each conversation provides a linear history of your to-and-fro chat with the user at the other end.
The app supports multiple accounts simultaneously which you can enable and disable in case you want to switch personas. The chat interface is clean and simple, allowing you to add attachments as well as send messages.
There’s no support for group chats and some will be disappointed to hear that the video calling functionality isn’t supported, but the intention of the app is to provide messaging, so that’s to be expected.
Our final app is also a syncing app, but aimed specifically at syncing of text files. There’s a dedicated NextCloud app for supporting note syncing which works in tandem with NextCloud Notes from Scharel Clemens (scharel) for use on your Sailfish OS device.
There’s a good argument to be made for syncing notes in particular. It means you can keep track of your memos, thoughts and notes wherever you are and which ever device you’re using. Delegating this to a specialised app brings relevant functionality, like line-based conflict resolution and markdown formatting.
The path where your notes are stored is configured on the server and the app will display all of the notes in a list. It’s quite configurable though: you can choose how many preview lines to show and you can sort them either by category, last modified time, or alphabetically.
Select a note to view it with formatting, including headers, styles and links. Another press on the Edit button will allow you to make changes to the note, which are then transferred to the server. Another configuration setting allows you to use a monospaced font for editing, although this doesn’t affect the viewing mode.
The app generally works really well; the only downside is that syncing can take quite a while. This will generally happen in the background, but when you’re expecting something to change on the other side of the connection the time taken can be noticeable. My general feeling is that while there’s scope to make the app slicker in places, the functionality is really great, and its an excellent alternative to the default Notes app if you plan to store your notes online.
Version 0.3 of the NextCloud Notes app is available from OpenRepos, and the app continues to receive regular updates.
While writing this up I noticed that Peter G. (nephros) has also packaged up a command line NextCloud client for syncing files that’s available on Chum. I’d be interested to know of others’ experiences with this: does it make for a usable alternative to a Silica-based touch-interface app?
As you can see, when it comes to NextCloud integration there’s no shortage of useful tools for Sailfish OS. It’s a great combination, and one I encourage you to look into if you don’t already have access to a NextCloud server. And as usual, thanks go to the developers that make all this possible: there’s no question apps like these make using Sailfish OS more pleasant and effective.
Please do not hesitate to share your ideas, thoughts, or suggestion for future newsletter topics.
Big thanks to everybody to make this newsletter to happen!
Please do also join us at our community meetings on IRC, Matrix and Telegram. Next community meeting will be on the 23rd November.