Five open source alternatives to popular web apps

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Remember when Sun Microsystems proclaimed that "the network is the computer"? Many people guffawed at that proclamation. What was once a clever slogan is now a reality thanks to the proliferation of web-based applications.

Chances are you use more than a couple of web apps in your daily life—email, storage, office applications, and more. What’s great about web apps is that you can use them anywhere and with any computer or mobile device. On the other hand, with most of those apps you’re locked in a closed ecosystem. Or worse, you may be handing over the rights to your content and your files when you agree to the terms of service. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You can replace a number of popular web apps with solid open source alternatives. If you want to embrace your inner geek, you can even run many of them on your own web server. Or, you can use hosted versions of those apps which will only set you back a few dollars a month.

Let’s take a look at 5 open source alternatives to some popular web apps.


Who doesn’t like whipping out their smartphone and snapping photo of themselves or something they’re doing, then sharing the photo? While Instagram is still all the rage for doing that, you can keep control your own photos using ownStaGram.

ownStaGram is a self hosted replacement for Instagram. All you need is a web server that runs PHP and mySQL, and you can install it in a few minutes. From there, you can upload photos from your computer to your instance of ownStaGram. Or, you can use the Android app (which includes several of those hackneyed Instagram-like filters).

One of the key selling points of ownStaGram is that you:

Keep the ownership of your photos. No one will ever use them for advertising or anything else. Your photos belong to you.

That’s a pretty good reason to give ownStaGram a try.


There’s a lot to read on the web and not enough time to read all of it. At least, not when you find it. That’s where read-it-later tools like Instapaper and Pocket come in. They let you save interesting articles and blog posts until you can get around to them.

wallabag puts the power of Instapaper and Pocket into your hands, and under your control. It’s a self-hosted read-it-later application that does most everything its commercial rivals do—from removing navigation and advertising to saving your articles as an EPUB file. There are also mobile apps and web browser extensions that make using wallabag easier. If maintaining your own instance of wallabag isn’t your thing, you can use the hosted version called Framabag.

You can learn more about wallabag in this article.


It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since Google pulled the plug on Google Reader. In the interim, a number of RSS readers came on the scene. Among them, a number of open source tools. One of the better ones is FreshRSS.

FreshRSS is a self-hosted reader, which is easy to use, fast, and attractive. All you need to do is add links to the RSS feeds for your favorite sites (or upload a collection of feeds in OPML format) and you’re ready to go. You can also save items in your feeds to wallabag, to Shaarli (a bookmark manager, described later in this article), Diaspora, or post a link to those items on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

You can give the demo a try. If FreshRSS isn’t for you, then check out this article that looks at a few other RSS readers.


When it comes to storing and synchronizing your files online, Dropbox, Box, iCloud, and OneDrive are arguably the most popular on the web. ownCloud does most everything that the proprietary names do and it keeps control of your information in your hands.

With ownCloud, you can get to your files and information from anywhere, synchronize your data between computers and devices, and share individual files and folders with others.

ownCloud goes beyond storage. Thanks to a range of apps, ownCloud offers you a flexible set of tools. They include a document viewer, a calendar, a to-do list, an RSS reader, a music player, a note taking app, and more.

You can install a desktop sync clients for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS, and there are mobile apps that let you work with ownCloud using your smartphone or tablet.

While you can host your own version of ownCloud, there are also a number of service providers offering free and low-cost hosted versions of ownCloud that are ready to use.


How many bookmarks have you collected over the years? I’m willing to bet more than you can remember off the top of your head. Why shouldn’t those bookmarks be under your control?

That’s the promise of Shaarli, a self-hosted bookmark manager that’s designed as a replacement for web apps like Delicious and Pinboard. You can save bookmarks by uploading a bookmark file from your web browser, by copying and pasting links into Shaarli, using a bookmarklet, or with the Android app. You can add tags to your links, and share them using an RSS or ATOM feed. If you want to, you can make your bookmarks private.

What makes Shaarli interesting is that it doesn’t need a database—Shaarli stores all of your bookmarks in an encrypted file on your server. Installation and maintenance is a breeze. On the other hand, Shaarli isn’t the most attractive web app and there’s no way to change its look and feel.

Final thoughts

There are a number of alternatives to popular web apps. This article barely scratches the surface of those choices. If looking for other open source web apps, then check out, profiled earlier this year.

That idiot Scott Nesbitt ...
I'm a long-time user of free/open source software, and write various things for both fun and profit. I don't take myself all that seriously and I do all of my own stunts.


Nice to see Shaarli, wallabag and FreshRSS in the same list on :) Thanks!

For FreshRSS, can I ask you where you discovered it? Because I've never done a lot of communication on it (or it was in French) and I'm always surprised (positively) to see English people who know (and speak) about FreshRSS

To be honest, I don't remember where I learned about FreshRSS. It might have been in a French-language article that I was struggling to read (my French is horrible!), and when I saw FreshRSS I immediately liked it.

In reply to by Marien Fressinaud (not verified)

Good article. I have been using owncloud on my linux server for a couple of years now. It's the only one that I trust. Since the advent of Raspberry Pi B and now B+, I am looking to port it all over to my b+ currently in my garage. A garage cloud. How cool is that?

Another reading platform that doesn't get enough notice is the personal library management program, <a href=>Calibre</a>. Among other features, it can be set up to pull editions of hundreds of periodicals and newspapers from around the world, with more being added <a href=>every week</a>. Well worth a look just for that feature alone!

I 2nd calibre is super duper

In reply to by sgtrock (not verified)

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