I’ve been a heavy Google services user. I used on a daily basis Google Search, Gmail, Google Calendar, Picasa, Google Reader and Google Maps. And as I stated before, this dependency is not good, so eventually I got rid of it. On this post I want to explain the alternatives I’m currently using, and how happy I am with them. It could have been a “30 days without Google”, but it has been more than 30 days since I’ve been living with not-so-much-Google-in-my-life and I didn’t a detailed follow-up of the migration process, so it was a bit out for this title.
Alternative to Google Search
There is not much to explain here, as I’ve dedicated a whole post to this topic. The more I use Duck Duck Go, the happier I am with it. Particularly because it is quite easy to change between a world wide search or a local (country) search. I use the former for general queries like programming issues, info about books, etc., and the other when looking for restaurants, leisure activities, etc.
Alternative to Google Maps
This one is a bit tricky. I have to admit that Google Maps offers better search capabilities than its main competitors: Open Street Map, Yahoo! Maps, and Bing Maps. You can misspell the name of a business or just provide some keywords, and it will try to find the best match.
But (there is usually a but), I like quite much the “art” of Open Street Map, because it reminds me paper maps and some bonuses like detailing the exact position of the underground entrances (which Google doesn’t, just the approximate location of the station). So, sometimes I use one, and sometimes the other.
Alternative to Gmail
There was not much sense on switching to Hotmail, Yahoo or any other company if privacy was an issue. More or less they all share the same practices. So, the best solution was having my own mail server. I have a modest VPS on Linode, so I set-up the server as you can see on this guide. Therefore, I have an IMAP server which I can use with Thunderbird or when in roaming with the nice Roundcube webmail.
The only lacking functionality is server-side filtering, which I still have to set-up (if you know a way to extend a day to more than 24 hours, please tell me!). I could live with client-side filtering on Thunderbird, but I also want to enjoy it when using the webmail interface.
Alternative to Google Calendar
Having already a mail server, why do not have a calendar server? I took the same approach, and set-up a calendar server using CalendarServer which I can sync with Thunderbird and my iPhone. For even more functionality, I added a web interface with AgenDAV. This time, there is not any feature missing.
Alternative to Google Reader
I wanted to use my feed aggregator on several computers, so setting up a desktop client on each one and trying to get all of them synced was not a viable option. Therefore, I opted for an in-the-cloud solution with a web interface, as Google Reader is. And again, my server comes to rescue! I liked what I saw on Tiny Tiny RSS webpage, I installed it, and I’m very happy with how if works. Nothing to be jealous from Google Reader. It even have a mobile-optimized interface, so it’s not a hassle to check it from the phone.
Alternative to Picasa
To make it clear, I didn’t check the terms of service of Flickr and other providers. I suppose they’re good enough because they’re used by several artists, but I decided to choose the hard way: build my own web gallery. I found Piwigo, with all the features I was looking for and with enough eye-candy to please me. So, after one afternoon of work, I had it working on my server.
I realize that all the options I’m using are not an option for everybody, because of the simple fact that you need your own server and set it up. This simplify the issue to your priorities. If you want privacy and company-independence, learn how to do it or pay somebody to do it for you. If you don’t care, you can just keep using the free services.
Up to now, and after a heavy use of it, I’m very happy with the decision I’ve taken. It has also been useful to learn some new things, and as learning is fun, it has been a nice leisure activity. Mmm, maybe they’re right when they call me geek :P