By GreenNet 30 March 2020
This piece was originally published on the website of APC member organisation GreenNet. While it is largely aimed at users and potential users of GreenNet's ISP and hosting services, it offers a valuable overview of different tools that can be used for remote working, with a special emphasis on open-source tools that we believe makes it especially worth sharing.
In these difficult and weird times, many people and organisations are adjusting to situations of remote working and working from home. Even for groups who are accustomed to online communications, the switch to full remote working may be a challenge. GreenNet has always embraced flexible work practices and we have a couple of staff members who work remotely from outside the UK. Since the pandemic started, we've mostly shut our office, though we will be physically checking in there and at the data centre as needed, taking into account ISPA guidance on critical communications infrastructure.
Anyway, we have a few open source tools for secure group comms that we suggest might come in handy in this new reality. Hosting on GreenNet's renewably powered servers means that no-one else has access to your space, but you and your group can log in remotely from any internet connected device.
Secure files and folders sharing
Online document editing
Email client, chat, lots of plug-ins
App for your smartphone.
It's a fine replacement for well known corporate cloud offices!
Online chat and discussion
To keep it together working remotely day to day, you'll want to be checking in and discussing with colleagues and allies near and far. We recommend a couple of tools that can help keep group communications flowing.
Mattermost chat: Mattermost is another piece of GreenNet's online infrastructure, often described as a "Slack" clone – but open source, obviously. Chat in a stream with channels, which can be private or public, direct messages, masses of emojis :) If you are interested in having your own Mattermost messaging service, please contact us for pricing.
Discourse forum: Discourse discussion is a little more formal but not much! Compared to Mattermost, it's a bit more like a web forum. Discourse offers threaded chat, and also offers secure and private spaces. If you're interested in having your own Discourse installation from around £30 monthly hosting costs, let us know and we can talk though options and pricing.
The quest for a reliable open source over IP has been long! Skype and more recently Zoom are good for reliability (but not transparency!), their sound quality can vary and their free services may have various restrictions on call length or the number of people connected at once.
Internally, we have been using an open source tool called Mumble for voice chat, a system that was originally developed by gamers. Sound quality is really excellent, and it works fine for a conversation between 2 people or 100 people! To use Mumble, you'll need to install a Mumble client on your computer or device. Clients are available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. If you'd like to test Mumble, you can connect to our server, mumble.gn.apc.org.
If you'd like your own private channel on our Mumble server (for you and your friends, or for your organisation's use), with the ability to have up to 25 people connected at the same time, then that's something that we are now offering for £9 per month or £90 per year if billed annually (both inc. VAT).
If you are looking for a platform for an even bigger meeting or virtual conference with more than 25 people, just let us know and we can give you pricing for aprivate channel with even higher capacity.
And if you'd rather have your own dedicated Mumble server just for your organisation, with the ability to create as many 'channels' (separate conversations) as you want, just let us know and we can give you pricing for that option.
Our other favorite open source channels, though they can be a little temperamental, are:
Jitsi – run your own private video chat server.
Nextcloud chat – strictly speaking freemium, since to connect to more than a few users you'll probably need the premium version, but can do video.
There are all sorts of cunning ways to combine these different tools and functions and add on extra features. We can also host Wikis, GitLab, Moodle, PhpBB, even Joomla! and all sorts of other useful gadgets – if you have a particular requirement in mind or are interested to find out more, please get in touch.
All our broadband and online services are operating normally, though you might hear the odd domestic sound in the background if you give us a ring! Stay safe!