Choosing a Home Automation Platform can be a really difficult decision and one that you will need to make when you begin your journey into the Home Automation world. It’s where all your smart devices will come together into a single unified experience and where you will be able to truly level up your smart home game with many additional features that you would never be able to dream of before.
However, there are a plethora of options out there from Home Assistant, OpenHAB, Domoticz, Hubitat and HomeSeer are just a couple of options available. So which one to choose?
Let’s jump right in!
Home Assistant vs OpenHAB – About these two platforms
These two platforms share much similarities. Both are open source and give you local control over your smart home, both can be run on pretty much any hardware, both aim to unify all your devices under one roof and amazingly both are free.
Of course you can support the projects in various ways and I encourage you to do so where possible.
OpenHAB, or Open Home Automation Bus, was founded in 2010 and is currently on release 2.5.7. It is written in Java, meaning that in theory it can run anywhere that JVM can.
Home Assistant was founded in 2013, is currently on release 0.114.0, and is written in python again meaning, in theory, it can run anywhere Python can.
These two are probably the biggest two Home Automation platforms out there right now, so that’s why we wanted to compare Home Assistant vs OpenHAB.
In order to pit these two platforms head to head, I’m going to break them out into 6 categories:
- Ease of Use
- Supported Devices
- Mobile Apps
I do want to mention that I am a long time Home Assistant user myself, however I will do my best to keep any bias completely out of this and be as fair as possible.
I also want to mention that I am comparing these two systems from the point of a new user coming into the Home Automation world.
Let’s start with the first part of any Home Automation platform, the installation!
Both OpenHAB and Home Assistant offer customised Raspberry Pi Images along with Docker images making them immediately available on a wide variety of platforms.
OpenHAB also has install options for all the major Linux distros through their package managers, as well as pre-compiled installs for Windows and MacOS.
However, Home Assistant offers VM images through VMDKs, VHDs, VDIs and OVA as well as a few additional images for other boards like oDroid and Intel NUC’s.
Overall, both are available on pretty much every OS out there in one way or another, which is excellent to see, you can probably get either of them going on any hardware you have around.
As far as the actual installations go, both are very easy on both and can be done without much trouble at all and once the install is done, both platforms will land you at their respective web UI’s to complete the setup.
Home Assistant will go through and ask you to create a user, set location, time and things like that, where as OpenHAB will ask you to make a few choices regarding which interface you want and what packages you want to install which as you will see later, I find a little frustrating. However setup and installations on both are very easy and no issues here.
I’ll give OpenHAB the very slight edge for installation, I like the fact they provide pre-compiled packages for Windows, Linux and MacOS as well as the other methods, but as I say, neither will cause you any issues on installation. Moving onwards in the next section of Home Assistant vs OpenHAB, one of the most important aspects.
Ease of Use
In terms of ease of use, I personally feel Home Assistant by far has the edge with regards to being a new user and the learning curve.
OpenHAB has quite a few key concepts that require the user to get familiar with like the difference between channels, items, bindings and things to name a few. I feel its unnecessarily over complicated, for example, to add a single integration you had to install it from the add-ons (OpenHAB defines add-ons as integrations) which is quick and easy, but after that things feel a little bit clunky to me.
You then have to go and add a thing which is like an entity in Home Assistant, then add a channel to the thing, then finally link your channel to your item before you can even have it appear on the dashboard.
Now there is an option in the configuration to have it do that last step and automatically link the channel to the item but this option is off by default if you choose the “recommended” option, but I do think its overly complicated for a new user.
Home Assistant isn’t without its complications for new users here either. In previous versions of Home Assistant, much of the devices and automations were done in the YAML config files, users were required to manually edit these files to add devices.
Much of that has now been added to the Lovelace interface which is excellent, but some devices can still only be added via the config files. This should get better as time goes on but as it stands, could be a bit confusing for new users.
In terms of adding devices, Home Assistant in general requires much less time and steps in order to get a device into the dashboard than OpenHAB does. Of course this is device specific, but in general I found this to be the case more times than not.
OpenHAB also ships with 4 interfaces that it asks you to chose out of the box, which I found pretty confusing.
One of them, HABPanel was self explanatory in that its designed for tablets or wall panels, but the other 3 give you more or less functionality depending which one you choose.
You can add or remove them as you see fit in the future but the whole concept of having different interfaces I found particularly to frustrating and probably the weakest point of OpenHAB.
For example, if you choose the PaperUI which is the recommended UI in the setup, there is no way to do any automations out of the box. However if you chose the Habmin interface, you have access to automations instantly. You can install the Rule Engine addon from the addon menu to give you the functionality in the PaperUI, but still I just found it particularly frustrating.
To me, the term “UI” or “User Interface” should mean a different look or feel to displaying the same information with all the same settings accessible regardless of the UI chosen.
Having different settings and controls only be available in different user interfaces is an odd choice to me.
I totally get that the PaperUI is meant to be simple and functional without being confusing to the user, but I think a toggle switch that shows or hides functionality would be a much better way of doing things, then you have consistent functionality across the interface, with the only thing that changes being the look and feel.
I do however appreciate the ability to customise and install different UI’s to suit your taste, and I do also appreciate PaperUI’s simplicity which is intended to be just a simple place to control your devices quickly.
Home Assistant, by contrast, only ships single interface called Lovelace.
However, just because there is “only” 1 interface doesn’t mean its not customisable.
Lovelace is incredibly customisable, with themes allowing you to totally change the look and feel, a wide range of “cards” allowing you to change the way your devices are displayed, and it will play nice with virtually any display you can put it on.
Both OpenHAB and Home Assistant also have “discovery” options which will attempt to automatically discover and add devices on your network, this can be super useful for saving time when adding loads of devices.
I wasn’t able to test OpenHAB’s implementation of this on my network because nothing showed up, that could be just that I didn’t have any compatible devices or perhaps because of the way my network is structured but the option is there and the documentation indicates it should work.
One small feature I did appreciate in OpenHAB was the ability to click on an addon and it will directly take you to the description page with all the options on the OpenHAB site.
Winner: Home Assistant
I definitely have to give the ease of use section to Home Assistant, I think in OpenHAB’s attempt to make things simpler by providing basic or simple UI’s and more advanced UI’s has actually made things more difficult than simpler unfortunately. Even adding devices to OpenHAB is much more complicated than I feel it needs to be.
For those keeping score in our Home Assistant vs OpenHAB battle, its now 1 point each.
Having a nice looking and easy to use Home Automation platform is all well and good however, if the platform doesn’t support any popular devices, what good is it?
Fortunately, both OpenHAB and Home Assistant have huge amounts of supported devices, with all the big names supported.
Home Assistant calls these devices integrations and publishes the number of supported integrations right on the website and even breaks them down into categories for us. At the time of filming, there are currently 1632 official integrations, I say official because there are large numbers of community add-ons available that probably takes this number up to roughly around 2000.
Remember, add-ons in Home Assistant are not classed the same as add-ons in OpenHAB.
OpenHAB, by contrasts, numbers are a little more tricky to work out, but according to their site there is currently 2004 bindings, with again all the major platforms supported from what I could tell.
All in all, great to see such a huge range of supported devices, everyone benefits from this.
I’ll give this one a tie, both platforms support everything you could want and are adding more and more all the time.
Next up, lets talk native Mobile Apps. Mobile apps are a huge part of the Home Automation experience, and both Home Assistant and OpenHAB provide both Android and iOS apps.
I’d like to preface this by saying that in this instance, I am discussing the native or official mobile apps offered by both Home Assistant and OpenHAB. I do understand that some of the things I will mention are available by using 3rd party apps, but I’d like to focus solely on the official experience offered.
Anyways, both apps will allow you to connect, view and control your platform remotely as well as send notifications and use voice control. After that, there is some noticeable differences.
Let’s start with a couple of additional features that the Home Assistant app has that OpenHAB doesn’t, the first one being location tracking.
Location tracking allows your device to periodically update its GPS location directly to Home Assistant, which is incredibly useful for using with automations.
OpenHAB can support GPS trackers, but only, as far as I can tell, with a 3rd party app like OwnTracks.
Home Assistant also supports actionable notifications, allowing the user to make a choice directly from the notification which the Home Assistant server will then act on depending on the input, again this can be incredibly useful when coupled with automations.
Finally, because of Home Assistant’s Lovelace interface that we discussed earlier, you have access to fully configure Home Assistant just as you would if you were on the desktop.
You can add devices, configure automations and scripts, change and edit dashboards straight from the app which I personally find really useful to just make quick edits on the go.
As far as I could tell, and please feel free to correct me, you cannot do this from the OpenHAB mobile app.
The only additional major feature I personally found that the OpenHAB app has that Home Assistant doesn’t have was the ability to use NFC tags.
Using NFC tags within OpenHAB allows you to quickly and easy assign NFC tags to have certain functions, like control devices. Simply tap and hold the device you want to control, a menu will pop up and you simply scan the NFC tag. After that you can scan the tag to control any device, a really excellent addition to the app!
Winner: Home Assistant
I definitely have to give the win to Home Assistant when it comes to the official mobile apps, the additional functionality it commands and the far superior customisation in terms of layout it has pushes it far ahead in this aspect.
Automations are becoming more and more important with these Home Automation platforms and it’s easy to see why they are such a more component, why do something yourself when you can just have it happen automatically?
Taking a look at the way OpenHAB does automations, you have a couple of options.
If using the PaperUI you can use the rules engine add-on to create automations. As discussed before, I don’t know why this isn’t part of the UI to start with, but that aside, the rules engine is really easy to use and allows you to create basic automations really quickly.
You can create automations with a trigger, a condition and an action, so all the main things you would need really. Home Assistant has a really similar setup where you can create automations really easily and quickly from Lovelace, with triggers, conditions and actions too, nice!
Home Assistant does edge it out here in my opinion because it has slightly more options for triggers, more granular control over conditions by being able to chain conditions together using AND/OR or NOT where on OpenHAB, all conditions must be satisfied, and finally slightly more actions.
But again, both impressive options when it comes to this style of automations.
For people who prefer, both also have the ability to create automations through text editors/config files and for those of us who are visual kind of people, both also have the ability to create automations through drag and drop editors – Node RED on the Home Assistant side and HabMIN on the OpenHAB front.
Both are pretty similar, and offer drag and drop, flow style editor for creating automations that makes it really easy to understand. This is entirely subjective but I personally find NodeRED a little bit more intuitive with its linking system, having said that I was able to create a simple automation in HabMIN without looking at any documentation at all showing how easy it is, so your mileage may vary for which one you prefer.
Winner: Home Assistant
I’m going to give Home Assistant the win for the automation category due to it having a bit more customisation and granular control in my opinion, however both have excellent interfaces and options for creating automations so I’m sure you won’t be disappointed with either.
Moving into the final category, the score in the Home Assistant vs OpenHAB, the score is 4 points to 2!
Moving into the final category, let’s take a look at Community, Update Cycle and Stability.
Both OpenHAB and Home Assistant have very large and active communities, which I love to see.
Looking on the official OpenHAB forum, there is currently around 120 new topics created every week, certainly a very active community.
Home Assistant by contrast, has 530 new topics per week which is incredible.
Taking a look through both forums, I am very confident that any issues you have will be answered by both communities very quickly.
In terms of updates, again both update very frequently, looking at the last couple of releases, Home Assistant releases a new “major” update around every 3 weeks or so currently, with minor bug fixes in between that, and OpenHAB currently releases a new version every 4 weeks going by the last few versions.
Both very active and thriving as you can see!
The final one is stability – I’d like to jump in quickly and mention that I have not tested the long-term stability of OpenHAB since I don’t use it as a daily driver currently, so it wouldn’t be right for me to make judgement there, however I did run into a couple of very minor issues during my testing, most of them were just minor niggles and nothing deal breaking, but still thought I’d let you know.
The first one was this kind of annoying UI bug when installing add-ons, the spiny circle would sit there for ages and never stop spinning yet refreshing the page would clearly show the add-on as successfully installed.
There were a few other instances of UI issues I ran into also, running the mobile app in demo mode sometimes the elements would become all squashed together and overlapping, making it entirely un-usable.
A couple of other bugs I ran into would generate error messages with nothing helpful in them, like this one where I created a rule in HabMIN, then when I went to go back into it I couldn’t delete it or edit it and it would just give me this generic message in the bottom corner.
Not big deals at all and perhaps I just got unlucky with the particular version I happened to install so I won’t harp on about this too much.
In stark contrast, I’ve been running my particular instance of Home Assistant for about 1.5 years so far, and it’s been upgraded to almost every single version in that time. The only stability issue I can ever remember running into was where everything kind of stopped working, but that was self-inflicted because I ran the VM out of disk space.
Again, both have excellent communities, are very well maintained and updated so I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in that regard.
Winner: Home Assistant
Once again they are very close and I am disregarding the stability aspect since I haven’t been able to test OpenHAB long term yet but Home Assistant slightly wins in this category with the larger community.
Home Assistant vs OpenHAB – Which one should you choose?
With all the information we’ve ran through today, which home automation platform should you choose as your daily driver? Who comes out on top in this battle of Home Assistant vs OpenHAB?
For me, Home Assistant wins hands down when it comes to choosing between these two.
OpenHAB’s unnecessary complexity in some areas like the UI ends up being its downfall for me personally, having said that, I think it is definitely something that can be improved on and it’s opened my eyes to what else is out there, I do want to keep checking in on the OpenHAB project to see how it improves and develops.
Whilst I do think Home Assistant is the superior choice right now, I do highly recommend that you check both out and see what both have to offer you, given how easy both are to install and get up and running.
That about does it for this battle of Home Assistant vs OpenHAB!
Speaking of Home Assistant, be sure to check out the Getting Started with Home Assistant series where I walk you through everything you need to know!
But which one gets your vote? Be sure to let me know in the comments down below!