OwnCloud and Zpanel

I have messed around with OwnCloud several times in the past.  My latest experimentation with it coincided with a need that my clients have run into several times.  That would be affordable housing of their pictures.

As we all know most of the cloud companies such as Amazon, Google, and Dropbox will give you a small amount of free storage to get you hooked.  5 gigs for two out of three mentioned companies.  When you go over your limit you then must make a decision about your pictures.

  1. Do you store them offline?
  2. Do you store some offline and some online?
  3. Do you use multiple free services?
  4. Do you pay for storage?

I don’t like to pay.  I’m cheap that way but I feel that the money I save from things I don’t need can be put towards things that I do need.

This is where owncloud comes in.  I could setup my own dropbox like server to sync stuff.  I could do this locally or I could do this on  a cloud server.  Especially on one that I have on 24/7.

I utilize a lot of cloud resources due to my insanely huge electrical bills. Take your electric bill and times it by 5.6 and that is how much a person would be paying where I lived.

During these tests I figured I could use my server with zpanel installed on it to test out another owncloud setup.  Prior to this I had it setup on a virtual machine on my desktop and on it’s own EC2 instance.  All worked without a hitch.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen with zpanel.  I was constantly getting a blank screen when I clicked on anything on the user menu.  I checked the logs and came up with this message:  warning: shell_exec() has been disabled for security reasons

A little digging and I find out that this is a security issue with sushosin and it’s suppose to do that.  One can disable this security but then you have a big hole in your webserver.  I did disable the issue.  I did it by commenting out the sushosin section in the vhost file for the specific domain I was working with.  After that it worked fine.


LibreOffice and OpenOffice saving as CSV files

I was trying for a very long time to import some financial data.  It required me to enter my data into a csv file and upload it.  This was for Xero, my bookkeeping service.  With their help I was able to figure out my problem.  Like many things, the assumption is everyone uses Microsoft Office.  I don’t understand where this came from but it has been a frustration of mine for some time.  With google apps, Office 365, LibreOffice, OpenOffice and many others, there are lots of choices for an individual to choose from.  Many of my clients request Microsoft Office.  Usually when I tell them the cost and that they should try some free alternatives, they are fine with the alternatives.

I like Excel.  In fact, the whole Microsoft suite with the exception of Outlook is great.  It’s just overkill for most people.  Spend that money on something else like a nicer monitor or memory or both!

I’m not sure if this is a bug or a design flaw or just human error on my part.  Logically, I can’t make it work.  In order to get this file to save properly as a CSV in Calc, I had to choose save as and then choose Edit Filter settings.  Shouldn’t that option be before Save As?  In any event, after choosing those options it then worked fine for me.  It took me awhile to figure it out until I found a post on another board here.  Should anyone have any issues trying this, leave a comment and I will try to help.

LibreOffice is an excellent alternative to Microsoft Office.  I just wish the business community would wake up and realize this.  Actually, Google apps is a great alternative as well but still has some nagging issues for me.

How to do a mail merge in LibreOffice (Openoffice)

Finally did a mail merge in LibreOffice.  I use to have difficulties and never actually completed a mail merge.  I needed to do make some labels for a mailing list.  Ofcourse, I never would have even used LibreOffice if Google Docs would have offered mail merge.  So how do you do a mail merge?

Here’s a very quick overview on how to do a mail merge if you have a spreadsheet:

  1. You need to create a database with your spreadsheet.  This part sounds bad and I wish they do something different.  All you really need to do is go to File/New/Database.
  2. In the create window just choose the second option – connect to an existing database.  Here is where you are choosing your spreadsheet type.
  3. Point it to your saved spreadsheet by clicking browse.  Very straightforward here.
  4. Save it.
  5. From here you go back to Writer and choose the label template.  From here it is very similar to Word.

Like I mentioned earlier, this needs to be cleaned up.  I understand their reasoning because you can do so many different things with that drop down menu.  However, they should make it simpler for your average user.

Why pay thousands of dollars for a Windows Server?

I ask this question because I really would like to know the answer to this question.    I do need to put the question into perspective and to clarify.  Microsoft has several server products from a home server to a small business server, data center, web and the standard “Windows Server”.  In an enterprise, a few thousand dollars means nothing.  However, does that justify having to pay licensing fees for every single computer?  I am quite frugal.  I won’t deny this but lets start off with a small business with just 5 people working at it.  Microsoft can get you a few ways.   For starters, a file server is an excellent tool to share files between users in an efficient manner.  Second, Outlook and specifically Exchange is in a majority companies.  Exchange provides organization to your emails, calendaring and tasks.  It can be a good tool to use.   Lastly, there is Microsoft Office.  Different versions exist but the big programs people use are Excel, Word, Powerpoint and Outlook.  These are the stables of American business and are amazing tools once you master them.

For a small business to take advantage of these tools, they will have to shell out out thousands of dollars.  A few hundred for each Office suite, a few GRAND on a server and the respective licensing (per computer or per user), a few hundred on each desktop and then a continual maintenance contract for someone to keep everything running smoothly.

If you look at this from an accounting point of view..lets take an even number of $10,000.  $10,000 depreciated over 5 years is only $2000 per year.  This doesn’t take into account any downtime or any parts that need to be replaced.  We just want to keep things simple.   Now, what if we were to look at some open source alternatives?  First, there is gmail for your business.  the standard edition is free while the premium edition is only $50 per person per year.  That’s a lot of maintenance one saves by having Google take care of that for you.  How about Microsoft Office?  Well, there is your  apps and there is LibreOffice or even openoffice. The last two being basically the same.  I will not take away from the power that the office suite provides but why drive the Porsche to to pick up some eggs at the store when a Camry can do the same job?  What’s next?  That would be the server.   Instead of using Windows, one could setup a file server with linux and samba.  Both open source programs.  You still need the hardware but at least you aren’t paying for licensing.  Samba would allow you to share files with windows clients and can have an active directory structure.

Not taking away anything from Windows Server but it seems like overkill for a small business. You can set all these policies for computers and users but when you have just a few employees, why bother?

I guess that is my biggest concern.  Thousands spent on overkill.  It seems to be a recurring theme since I joined IT full time.  KVM switches everywhere, extra battery backups and for what?  I’ll tell you for what.  For the IT company to upcharge the sold equipment and log more hours per month in work.  I’d rather see the money saved go to the employees, or go to a faster upgrade of the equipment rather than a greedy IT firm.

Free alternative to Exchange and Outlook

I have been doing a lot more research into open source projects.  These would be all for replacements of Micrsoft products.  While I am not a Microsoft basher, I am a cost conscious business owner.  Microsoft products are not cheap.  Especially the servers.  It would cost me thousands of dollars to purchase an Exchange server for only a few people.  This is on top of the Windows Server license.

Well, what does one do then?  Here is where open source comes in handy.  Free alternatives to Microsoft products.  Are they as good as what Microsoft does?  Yes and No.  It all depends on what you need it for.

For example, if you needed to use Photoshop, you will not find a comparable version that works on Linux.  You would have to use Windows and purchase the full version of photoshop.

I did a refresher on linux a few weeks ago by installing ubuntu and several virtualization software packages to test with.  Is it as easy as Windows?  No.  Is it FREE?  Yep.

I wanted to direct attention to this article that I found. Open Source Exchange Replacement.  It seems to do a great job summerizing the alternatives to Exchange.  I haven’t tried any of them out but I will be doing some testing on them.