Tools for collaborative office work

EGroupware and Collabora

Another option you have with Collabora is to use it with EGroupware (Figure 2), a product from the company of the same name, which is based in Germany. The basic version of the EGroupware package [3] is a comprehensive solution for collaborative work that seamlessly integrates Collabora Online for a fee [4]. There are several commercial editions that include cloud access with different storage capacities. Alternatively, you can also use the EGroupware suite with on-premises servers in a local cloud.

Figure 2: EGroupware offers great integration of Collabora Online.

EGroupware provides integrated solutions for calendar, address management, email, task management, project management, and messenger functions. The suite also contains a file manager, rights management, and various synchronization, import, and export filters.

In some cases, EGroupware and Collabora Online complement each other in the accomplishment of tasks. For example, data from EGroupware can be used to fill out documents in Collabora Online without separate manual preparation. Both packages are interlinked via the EGroupware admin panel.


OnlyOffice [5] was developed by Ascensio System SIA, based in Latvia. Like Collabora, it is available in both cloud-based and locally installed versions.

The focus is on online editors. The Integration Edition is suitable for ownCloud and Nextcloud, but also for platforms such as Alfresco or Confluence. The Enterprise Edition, which is available in several versions, includes the entire range of functions of online editors, as well as a wide variety of tools for everyday office work.

You can host these packages on your own servers. An additional Developer Edition lets you integrate the core components of OnlyOffice into your own applications. These commercial versions are available under proprietary licenses.

The company also offers a free Community Edition of the Enterprise Package, which includes all the basic services but limits access to a maximum of 20 simultaneous connections. The Community Edition is also used in the context of an on-premises installation. It is licensed under the free AGPL license and has a limited support offering.

For Linux, a Docker image and several other options are available for download. In addition, there is a locally installable version of the suite with OnlyOffice Desktop Editors and two additional packages for smartphone operating systems. Even the locally installable office packages are not derived from a free office package, but are a proprietary development with its own user interface.

Online Editors

The central component of the online OnlyOffice solutions are the online editors [6]. They include the same word processor, spreadsheet and presentation modules, regardless of the mode of use. Once you access an on-premises server or the cloud service, the editors are available along with the other services.

The editors work closely with the other modules, so that documents can be called up from the file manager without having to open a separate application. The editors' modern user interface is eye-catching (Figure 3); it is based on current design concepts with ribbon structure, tabs, and vertical toolbars at the edges of the screen, but it uses a syntax that takes some getting used to.

Figure 3: OnlyOffice brings a very modern-looking user interface to the desktop via the web browser.

It is advisable to get to know the individual functions required before going live. The online editors in OnlyOffice come with the typical functions for daily office use, but have fewer options than a standard office package like OpenOffice or LibreOffice offers.

In the individual program windows, the Collaboration tab bundles the teamwork functions. In the matching buttonbar, you can define the access rights for the active document, and there is a comment function. The software can also track changes, including the ability to jump to the next change, for faster navigation in large documents.

After creating a new document and granting other users the appropriate access rights, the main editor can accept or reject their edits. To further help track modifications to files, OnlyOffice offers a comparison function in the Collaboration tab and also keeps a version history.

An integrated instant messenger, under the Collaboration tab, rounds off the functions for collaborative work. When you activate the software, a vertical bar appears on the left side of the screen, showing the message history.

There are two editing modes, Fast and Strict. By default, OnlyOffice uses the Fast option, which saves all changes made by participating editors in real time. The Strict option requires the main user to manually press Save to store the document and synchronize modifications.

A variety of plugins extend the functionality of the OnlyOffice package. OnlyOffice comes with some of these add-ons, which you can access under the Plugins tab. Plugins include an OCR module based on the Tesseract software for automated text recognition from images, a WordPress module for publishing documents from online editors, and a translation plugin based on the Russian Yandex engine.

In addition, there is a tool for adjusting photos, one plugin each for managing and integrating code snippets from various programming and scripting languages, and an extension for managing macros. Another plugin supports the integration of YouTube videos into a document.

OnlyOffice can handle multiple file formats, but does not offer the flexibility of locally installed office suites. In addition to ODF, which is mainly used by LibreOffice and OpenOffice, the newer Open XML formats by Microsoft and PDF (read-only) are available. For web applications, the suite also supports HTML.

In our lab, however, converting between the formats showed the same issues that we saw with Collabora: To ensure a coherent layout, the same fonts, including all aspects and sizes, must be available on the source and target systems. Otherwise, you will have to manually edit the documents.

To better adapt OnlyOffice to your individual office needs, you can enable third-party extensions already included in the system. You can access these after logging in to the online portal; click on the Select box in the top left corner and then select Services from the drop-down menu.

The portal now displays a list of third-party apps. Many of them are integrated and activated in OnlyOffice by default. These are usually cloud services or providers for two-factor authentication. To unlock one of the apps, click on the slider to the right of the extension. The program then opens a dialog in which you enter your access data for the service. Please note that the inactive services are generally commercial offerings for which you must have an account (Figure 4).

Figure 4: The functionality of OnlyOffice can be extended by various apps, for example to provide connectivity to other systems.

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