Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Transitioning away from Google

Screenshot of Google's home page

In light of Google’s decision to shut down Google Reader – and yes, I’m still bitter – it’s fair to say that I’ve been re-assessing how much I rely on Google’s services. If Reader can be shut down, then what about their other products?

An article by Ben Brooks called You Can’t Quit, I Dare You, throws down the gauntlet, although it is also inspired by ‘Your favourite Thursday sandwich’ by Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, and this article by Om Malik. Not long after announcing the closure of Reader, Google announced a new note storage service called ‘Google Keep’, and Om’s argument is that he won’t sign up because he doesn’t trust Google to, erm, ‘keep’ the product running long into the future.

I’m starting to agree, even if I dismissed boycotting Google on purely ethical grounds last year. Is it worth looking at alternatives to Google’s products now, just in case Google kills off products that I rely on?

Google Search

Search was Google’s first product, and is still their most used. In February 2013, its market share was just shy of 90% and I am sure that there are many out there that think that Google is the internet, or at least its only gateway.

Geeky types like me know that it isn’t though, and there are alternatives. Yahoo! Search is still pretty ropey by all accounts, even if I can collect Nectar points from using it. Bing is better, and I actually used it for the research for this blog post rather than Google Search. I could probably live with Bing if I decided to kick Google into touch. I can’t see Google ever giving up on search but Bing seems like a good alternative if needed.

Gmail

Gmail launched nine years ago yesterday, and at the time offering 1 gigabyte of storage was so revolutionary that many thought that its April 1st 2004 launch was actually an April Fools joke – at the time Hotmail offered a mere 2 megabytes, or 500 times less.

Now Gmail is not my primary email account, and never has been. I was already using an email address attached to my domain name and that situation remains the same today. That way I can keep my address even when changing hosts.

But I do use Gmail. After all, I need some way of emailing my host when my web site is down. Again, Microsoft would be my main go-to here for an alternative, in the form of Outlook.com which recently replaced Hotmail. As well as offering quite a nice, simple interface, as an early adopter of Outlook.com I was able to blag quite a nice new email address, and have the embarrassing hotmail.com email address I chose aged 16 forward to it. The only annoyance is that Outlook.com doesn’t support IMAP, and only works over Exchange on mobile devices. On my Mac, I have to use POP3 which is a bit rubbish.

Google Chrome

I mentioned that some people think that Google is the internet and I think this is part of the reason why Google Chrome has recently overtaken Mozilla Firefox as the world’s second most popular web browser. That, and it’s fast, extensible and also tends to be bundled with many other programs.

Like Gmail, Chrome is my backup browser on the desktop. I’m still a Firefox user first and foremost but occasionally my over-zealous blocking of adverts, tracking scripts and insistence on using HTTPS as far as possible breaks web sites, so Chrome is my fallback. But, that could easily be replaced with another browser; Safari, Opera, or even Internet Explorer in its more recent incarnations.

On my iPhone, again I use Chrome as my main browser instead of Safari, but could easily go back, or try a different third-party web browser.

Google Calendar

My personal calendars are synchronised via Google, so I would need to find an alternative here. This would probably be Apple’s iCloud, which supports the open CalDAV standard (Google are actually moving away from CalDAV to their own proprietary protocol) and already integrates with my Mac and iPhone. Getting to work with Mozilla Thunderbird, through the Lightning extension, shouldn’t take much more.

The only major loss would be Sunrise, a third-party iOS calendar app that I use which, at present, only supports Google Calendar and Facebook. Until it supports either iCloud or the calendars stored locally on my iPhone, I’d have to go back to using the built-in Calendar app.

Google Contacts

To keep my contacts in sync between home, work and my phone, I use Google Contacts, which also makes them available in Gmail. My Mac and my iPhone both support Google Contact sync out of the box, and there are a couple of extensions – Zindus and Google Contacts – for Thunderbird.

Like with my calendar, iCloud would be the obvious choice here, as it supports the open CardDAV standard. Alas, whilst my Mac and iPhone are catered for, Thunderbird doesn’t support CardDAV. The SoGo Connector extension should enable this, although I’ve had problems with it in the past.

Google Drive

I experimented with Google Drive, mainly to compare it to SkyDrive and Dropbox, but have since stopped using it and have uninstalled the desktop clients. Dropbox suits my needs far better.

Google+

I rarely use Google+, mainly because nothing interesting seems to happen there. The friends that matter to me are all on Facebook and Twitter, and I doubt the 152 people who have circled me will miss me if I delete my account. It’s not like I post there much.

Google Talk

I’d almost forgotten that Google Talk exists. This XMPP-based instant messaging network integrates with Google+ and Gmail to allow you to chat with friends. But I rarely use it. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are better ways of getting hold of me and for voice chat I prefer Skype.

Picasa

Last year I stopped using Picasa and switched to iPhoto – and compared the two. I maybe over-exaggerated Picasa’s potential death in that article as the desktop program has recently had some updates, although these have been primarily bug fixes. Picasa Web Albums is under-used compared to Flickr, which has a recently re-invigorated community.

Google Maps

I do like Google Maps, and I installed Google’s third party Maps app on my iPhone as soon as it came out. That said, I’ve generally found Apple’s Maps on iOS 6 to be okay. Its point of interest database leaves something to be desired (probably because not many people use Yelp in the UK) but its street coverage seems reasonably complete and the address lookup works okay. I also find its vector-based maps a bit faster and smoother than Google’s,

On the desktop Google Maps is currently my favourite choice, but there are also Bing Maps (the successor to Multimap) which includes support for the detailed Ordnance Survey maps, and OpenStreetMap.

Google Earth and Street View

There aren’t really many alternatives here. I don’t really use Google Earth on the desktop though. As for Street View, Google is one of the few companies with the resources to go out and photograph every street in the world. But it’s not something I’d use every day.

YouTube

Here’s where I’d really struggle. Of course I could delete my YouTube account and the two essentially worthless videos that are on my channel, but I wouldn’t be able to stop visiting. Barely a day goes by when I don’t watch at least one YouTube video. I doubt that will change.

Google Reader

I already mentioned that I’m looking into Feedly as my Google Reader alternative. As much as I’d hoped for a reprieve from Google, I doubt that Reader will be still going in July.

Google Authenticator

I use the Google Authenticator app on my iPhone quite a bit to enable two-factor authentication, not just on my Google account, but on Dropbox, app.net and also this blog. I’m not sure what alternatives exist, and this Quora question on the subject is awaiting an answer.

Google Adsense

I don’t pay Google any money for any of the services I’ve listed above. But the inverse is true here, and Google does pay me for the privilege of showing its advertising on my site. That being said, it’s not as much as I used to get so maybe it’s high time for a change, and a quick Bing search found a list of 10 alternatives. I shall have to look into these.

Google Webmaster Tools

If you have a web site, you need to sign up to Google Webmaster Tools. For as long as Google dominates the search engine market, you will need to make sure that it is indexing your site correctly. And its reports showing 404 errors is very useful for diagnosing site problems. Bing Webmaster Tools exists, but it’s not quite as good.

So can I give up Google?

I think that these are all of the Google services I use – and no, I hadn’t realised just how many there were. In all cases there is an alternative, and I may have to investigate some of them. Unfortunately, some are better than others and in a few cases what Google offers is clearly better than elsewhere.

Of course, by moving away from Google I’m mostly taking my data to Microsoft and Apple – from one big corporation to another, and each one isn’t averse to killing off products. Apple discontinued MobileMe last year, and although some features survive in iCloud, others, like iDisk and Keychain Sync were switched off without replacements. And iCloud is known for reliability problems, although the problems cited in that article are in the APIs that third-party developers use and not in its Calendar and Contact sync services. Microsoft also ‘sunsetted’ several of its Windows Live products recently – Windows Live Messenger being the most famous of these.

I am going to try giving up some Google services though (as did this ex-Microsoft blogger). I’ve removed the Google apps from my Mac and iPhone and switched my default search engine to Bing. I’ll share how I get over the next few weeks.

4 Comments

  1. Google Authenticator: At least with this, Google have followed “Open Standards” (HMAC based One Time Pads). There is nothing really special about Google’s version: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Authenticator gives a few alternatives you can try.

    Google Talk: IIRC, “to reduce spam” Google has recently blocked “external” services from checking the status of people on GTalk: making it slightly more awkward for people to use. I suspect it won’t be around in a few years time.

    Google Search: I’ve heard some things about DuckDuckGo (which is the default search engine in Mint). Have you tried it yet?

    As a user of Gmail (and through the company I work for/at/”own”) a Google Apps Authorised Reseller, recent moves by Google (such as the new Gmail compose window, closing of Reader etc) does get me concerned. However, when the choice is Google or Microsoft: I do (still) prefer Google. [all speaking personally]

  2. I’ve said it to several people and I’ll say it again; Google has massively underestimated the amount of damage it’s done to itself by shuttering Reader. Suddenly, a huge proportion of the world’s geeks have been alienated and no longer trust Google.

    Their trust may have been sliding gradually in recent years, but most of us were happy (or complacent) enough. This has caused a big change though. Quite a few people I know are now much more actively reassessing their reliance on Google and other hosted web services in general.

    Marco wrote an article in 2011 about owning your identity. It’s a good read.

    You gain nothing by moving from Gmail to Outlook.com. What happens when Microsoft shuts down Outlook.com? Time to move email providers again. You should consider using your own domain name for your email address rather than simply moving to another webmail service.

  3. Also rather bitter at the Google Reader shutdown. I already use Firefox as my browser and DuckDuckGo to search. Gmail though. That’s going to be tough to give up.

  4. RE. Google Search, I think the reason it’s the most popular is because by far it is the most sophisticated and accurate search engine available.
    At work we were given a picture if Castle Hill Hotel in Huddersfield and within 30secs using only the words “Castle Hill Huddersfield” we found same picture. Using Bing we gave up because we couldn’t even find a picture of the building let alone the same picture (from the Huddersfield local paper – not exactly an obscure source)

    Again I know you pointed this out already but I don’t see the point in quitting Google to go to Microsoft, a company that once dominated everything technology but lost it and Apple, a company that try to dominate everything technology. I would even argue that Apple are more unethical than Google.