5 open source collaborative text editors

5 open source alternatives to Google Docs

Posted 09 Jul 2015 by 

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When you deal with a lot of documents every day, whatever you write—whitepapers, manuals, presentations, different marketing materials, contracts, etc.—at a certain point (most commonly, at the final stage) you have to interact with different people, specifying and discussing details, proofreading and approving them.

Even today the most common way to proceed, in this case, is to send an email. The action sequence is more or less the same: send document, wait for the response, make corrections, send it again, wait for the result, make corrections, and so on till the result satisfies both parties.

Another way to collaborate on documents is to use version control systems such as Subversion, but these tools do not allow real-time collaboration—the modified version is merged to the original one stored in a repository.

The simplest way to work on your documents simultaneously with others is using online document editors like Google Docs and MS Office 365. Both allow you to co-edit documents in real time and store them on centralized servers. While these are both popular options, there are several open source alternatives. In this post, we'll take a look at five open source collaborative text editors available to anyone.

Gobby

Gobby

Gobby is a text editor that allows real-time, lock-free collaborative text editing. Before you start sharing and co-editing your documents, you'll need to choose a private key and a certificate or create a new pair. You can open an existing document or create a new one that can be later saved into its own native format or exported as an HTML file. The text editor offers full Unicode support, automatic saving of documents, and advanced search and replace options. This is great for creating and co-editing a simple plaintext document, but if you need to format it it's not the right solution for you.

Gobby collaborative text editor

Etherpad

Etherpad is a web-based document editor that enables you to collaborate on documents, leave comments, and interact with others using an integrated chat. It provides you with simple text formatting features like font type, size, color and style, and text alignment. You can import an existing document into Etherpad and export the current "pad" as a HTML, markdown, or plaintext file, print it, or embed as an iframe into an HTML webpage. Written in JavaScript, Etherpad is easily customizable, so you can use one of publicly available instances or set up your own.

Etherpad collaborative text editor

Firepad

Firepad

Unlike the other editors in this list, Firepad allows synchronous document (with CodeMirror) and code (via ACE) co-editing. The formatting features are almost the same as those of Etherpad, save that it allows you to insert images into the plaintext documents. Since it uses Firebase as a backend, Firepad requires no server-side code. You can easily embed it into any web app using the available JavaScript files, so if you wish to extend your web application capabilities by adding the simple document and code editor, Firepad is your choice.

Firepad collaborative text editor

OnlyOffice

OnlyOffice

OnlyOffice is a multifunctional online office suite that features text, spreadsheet, and presentation editors working within a browser. It includes features similar to MS Office desktop editors, but also lets you to co-edit and comment on documents in real time. You can install it standalone and integrate with any application through API or together with OnlyOffice's collaborative system that offers additional possibilities for document management. If you are looking for a collaborative document editor with good MS Office format compatibility and complex feature-set, OnlyOffice is just what you need.

OnlyOffice collaborative text editor

ownCloud Documents

OnlyOffice

OwnCloud Documents is a part of file sync-and-share server ownCloud that lets up to five people collaborate on rich text documents in .odt, .doc, or .docx formats within the browser. You can share your document inside ownCloud or using the public link, setting up an expiration date and password, if needed.

ownCloud desktop screenshot

All screenshots provided by the author.

As a technical writer and translator I am working now at Ascensio System SIA, developer of the productivity solutions based in Latvia. All my time I try to spend with my little son and husband. Open to new ideas. Optimistic by nature, I know for sure that all will be well.