The file sharing, synchronization market led by Dropbox is a popular target these days. For many companies, it's a chance to horn in on a growing market and carve out a piece of the pie for themselves. For open source projects, it's a chance to return control of personal data to the user. For the folks behind ownCloud, it's both.

ownCloud is a project started by Frank Karlitschek, who's been very active in the KDE project. This week, Karlitschek took ownCloud to the next level with former SUSE/Novell guy Markus Rex and funding from General Catalyst. Terms weren't disclosed, but sources say that the funding is "well into 7 figures" but below $10 million.

Comparing ownCloud to Apples and Dropboxes

ownCloud is online storage, but it's not a quick and easy drop in for Dropbox nor is it an exact analog to Box.net or Apple's iCloud.

First off, ownCloud isn't just about syncing files. That is to say, it syncs not just files but contacts, calendars and bookmarks across devices. (Yes, those are files too, but it's doing more than just dropping files into a folder.) ownCloud even features streaming music features.

Secondly, ownCloud lets you choose where your files are going to be hosted. You can use Amazon S3, you can use Google, or you can drop in your own server. For casual users, ownCloud is probably a bit more maintenance than the average user is going to want to deal with. Folks who are particularly privacy conscious, technical or already running their own servers (or using S3, etc.) will probably take to ownCloud, but it's mostly businesses that will find this feature particularly compelling.
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Rex says "we allow the system administrator and company to decide where they want to have their data reside and give complete flexibility around" where it's stored and how it's shared. Not only does this mean that you have control, but it also means that users are paying for a service and that the ownCloud business "does not depend on selling gigabytes" says Rex.

Finally, ownCloud is open source. This means that companies have the option of adopting ownCloud without any ties to the company itself, until they need support and/or want to hit up the company for custom development or some other form of support. Companies can also extend ownCloud and participate in development, rather than being locked into a roadmap set by Dropbox or another company.

Not So Fast

If you're excited by the prospect of ownCloud, you can try out the demo or grab a ownCloud appliance to deploy on a server or Amazon EC2. You can also grab the source and install it on a server with Apache, PHP and MySQL.

However, Rex says that the native clients for Mac OS X, Windows, Android, iOS and so forth are still in development. The actual ownCloud launch is not scheduled until sometime in the first quarter of 2012.

It's About Time

ownCloud has been in development for quite some time, and has about 350,000 users (estimated). Even though it's not quite ready for prime time yet, it should be ready to roll early in 2012.

While Dropbox is the easy solution, and Box.net offers a much more advanced service, ownCloud will offer companies a lot more control over their data. It also will provide ISPs and other businesses the opportunity to add ownCloud as a value-add service or standalone offering.

How does ownCloud look to you? Is your business likely to deploy its own file-sharing service?