Beginners Guide To Ubuntu One Personal Cloud
Desktop - Ubuntu


Ubuntu, the leading desktop Linux distribution, has been looking at ways to add value to its offering for a while. The maturing Ubuntu One personal cloud service is just such an enhancement – but is it any good?

Ubuntu One

Ubuntu, the leading desktop Linux distribution, has been looking at ways to add value to its offering for a while. The maturing Ubuntu One personal cloud service is just such an enhancement – but is it any good?

Ubuntu One comes installed by default on recent Ubuntu releases. After launching the app, creating your Ubuntu One account is as simple as entering an email address for your username and picking a suitable password.

You can then select one or more folders to synchronize with the cloud (a bunch of servers Canonical has in a server room somewhere).

It does a lot more than that, though.

Once your files are in the cloud, there's a web interface to log onto to share them with others (you can't do this directly from the Ubuntu One application – only from the website).

There's more to Ubuntu One than just Ubuntu. Canonical have created apps for Apple's iOS and Android, plus there's software for Windows too, with a Mac version in Beta. Plus you can stream music to a variety of devices.


Synchronizing your files with the cloud

Ubuntu One comes with 5GB free storage. For $2.99 a month or $29.99 a year you can boost that up by 20GB. Need more than that? Just buy additional 20GB chunks for the same price. You can upgrade you storage at any time, and there are various deals and offers available to tempt you.

Selecting folders to synchronize is a simple matter – just watch out that the total size of the files you have in those folders isn't greater than your cloud storage space, or it's not going to work they way you want it to.


iPhone and Android apps

Ubuntu One


The Ubuntu One app is widely available for free on mobile devices (e.g. on Google Play for Android and the Apple app store).

The iPhone app allows you to access all your synchronized files and upload your camera roll. That can be a one-off upload or an ongoing automatic upload (it's clever enough to allow you to specify upload on wireless only, for those who don't want to blow their data plans out of the water).

The Android app works slightly differently – and not especially intuitively! It doesn't allow you to select a folder to sync, but you can create new folder inside an existing synchronized one and then add in files, photographs, video and audio.

You can sort of sync a folder from your Android device, but Canonical have taken great pains to hide the option away and limit it. Go into settings, auto upload settings and select folders to upload and you can choose from a small selection of your folders that might contain photos. After all, no-one could possibly want to create a folder with pdf documents and spreadsheets on their Android tablet and keep it in sync with their laptop, could they?


Streaming music

Both Apple and Android have an Ubuntu One Music app if that's what floats your boat. For $3.99 a month or $39.99 a year you can have music streaming to your devices of choice with an extra 20GB cloud storage thrown into the bargain.

Ubuntu One


Ubuntu One allows you to share your files with others, though it's a long way from being the most sophisticated setup on the market.

You can't share anything from your desktop or mobile device directly – you need to log into the website ( Once logged in, you can share a folder (by navigating into it and clicking on the share icon) or you can publish an individual file.

Both amount to much the same thing: a URL is created which you email to people. Clicking on the URL takes them to the Ubuntu One site and they can login or create an account to access your folder or file. The share this folder option will send the email for you.

It's not great. If someone has the URL, they can access your files and folders. You can unshare or unpublish material, but there's no way to restrict access other than hoping the URL doesn't fall into the wrong hands. James Bond this isn't. There's also no way to publish to the wider world without each person requiring a logon. Want a hundred people to access your amazing photo? They're all going to have to logon to the site if you share it with Ubuntu One.


Ubuntu One for Windows

The Ubuntu One for Windows software is pretty much identical to the native Ubuntu version, and seems to work perfectly well.


A lack of polish

Using Ubuntu One, you can't help but be struck by how basic it is. In true open source fashion, it does the job, but little more. Everything seems to be bargain basement, from the two-colour app icons to the web interface. Given how simple the iPhone and Android apps are, they ought to be a good deal more intuitive and better at performing the few functions they do.

Take the Android app. When you launch it, there's a list of folders. If you've different devices, you'd better hope that the folder name makes clear which device it's from, because you're not going to be given any other clues. Tapping on a folder sets the app off on a lengthy wait for the file information to make its way down from the cloud. You might not even notice the + symbol on the top right. When you do, and click on it, you get told to select a folder first and it takes a while to figure out what you're meant to do.

You might reasonably point out that this is open source, after all: a tradition that's always put creating a tool that does the job well above looks. That sort of thing's for Apple fanbois, not dedicated free software fans.

You might also tell me I'm lucky to get a half-way decent graphical interface at all, and remind me that a few years ago I'd have been pointed to rsync or some equally esoteric tool and told to RTFM if I'd dared to ask any but the most obscure question. That's all true, but not really the point. With Ubuntu, Canonical is trying to attract the general, non-technical user and their actually doing a pretty good job. For look and feel, and ease of use, Ubuntu scores highly.

So for Ubuntu One I'd hoped for something more. I would have liked apps that didn't feel like a college student's summer project and a web interface that didn't look like I'd fallen through a wormhole and emerged blinking into 2004.

It isn't there yet, but perhaps it will be before too long.



If you're an Ubuntu user, Ubuntu One is a perfectly decent and straightforward tool that allows you to keep key folders synchronised between different Ubuntu, Windows, iPhone, iPad, Android and Apple Mac devices. It gives you an easy way to automatically grab photos from your mobile devices and some basic sharing capabilities with other Ubuntu One users. For a small fee, you can even use it to stream music (including tunes bought from the Ubuntu One Music Store, which Canonical would dearly like you to sign up to).

If you're not already an Ubuntu user, Ubuntu One is some way from being the killer app that's going to persuade you to switch. There are plenty of other products on the market that cover very similar functionality and, in many cases, do it a good deal better.


Sharing your files