The ownCloud project is adding features fast and furiously. The open-source file synchronization and sharing project announced the Milestone 4 release earlier this week, taking ownCloud in an interesting direction for corporate users. Forget Dropbox killer - ownCloud could be something even better, someday.

We all know that where the data is, the money is. What ownCloud is doing, then, is sort of surprising. The project (and the company behind it) is all about helping users and companies keep control of their data. That means giving up control of the software, and hoping that money comes from services and support.

Understanding ownCloud

Like Dropbox and others, ownCloud has a client piece that synchronizes data from your desktop to a server. The big difference here is that ownCloud also provides a server that's free software (under the Affero GPL), and ownCloud isn't in the business of storing user data at all.

Instead, it's up to third-party providers to offer hosting, or for companies to provide hosting for their employees.

The project provides a server and clients for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android and (eventually) iOS. You can also access ownCloud via the Web to get to files and use its collaboration features.

What's New in Milestone 4?

The project is growing by leaps and bounds. The fourth milestone release includes versioning, encryption and drag-and-drop uploading from the Web client. Versioning and encryption are a big deal for business users, and something that the competition has had for a while.

The v4 release also includes useful collaboration features. ownCloud now has a tasks application, and this release also improves its calendaring features. For individuals, the release includes improvements to the gallery features, so users can not only sync photos - they can also create a Web-based gallery via ownCloud.

Perhaps most importantly, this release includes publicly defined APIs - stabilizing the server side should make it much easier for third-party developers to create applications against ownCloud. Now the company just needs a compelling developer program.

Finally, the Milestone 4 release offers migration and backup features so organizations that are deploying ownCloud can develop an effective strategy for their users' backups.

Not Quite There Yet

The ownCloud folks are making impressive progress, but there's still a few rough edges around the project. If you ask the ownCloud folks, they'll say that they're not a Dropbox competitor. But Dropbox is still the gold standard for users when it comes to easy file sharing and syncing.

The lack of a LAN sync option, which Dropbox has had for years, is a problem. The ownCloud clients are also a bit primitive compared to Dropbox and not entirely stable. Testing the ownCloud client on Linux, the client kept shutting down due to a segfault.

The opportunity is large, and ownCloud is something the market really needs - an open-source set of tools that allow users and companies to keep full control of their data and the ability to modify and extend the tools as needed. The question now is whether the ownCloud team can build a sufficient community and do the necessary development to get ownCloud to the stage where it's ready for adoption.

Here's hoping.