It’s been around a year since my last post about moving away from Google software/services. I was thinking that I could edit my last post about this topic, but a lot of things have happened since the last time I wrote about it, believe it or not. Some projects have been abandoned and some new ones have shown up. I have also tested more solutions and read up on different related topics. I didn’t want to edit the last article to infinity, so I just let it stay as it is for archive and comparison purposes. That said, the structure of the article and a lot of the content will be similar to the last one. So, let’s go!
I don’t like the idea of Google world domination and I don’t want to identify myself to Google too much, for several reasons. Mainly privacy reasons. The good news is that there are good alternatives out there to Google services and software. I’ve been trying to move away from Google, more or less, for quite a while now, and it doesn’t hurt that much to be honest. Let me share some interesting Google alternatives with you that cares about your privacy. I’m aiming for projects that care about your privacy and that’s open source. That’s the goal of the alternatives listed below.
Before we start I have to say: These are my findings in my own search for good alternatives to Google services and software. The list may not be perfect and I can’t guarantee bullet proof privacy (obviously) using the listed alternatives. I may also be wrong on some statements, so please leave a comment if that’s so. And not every Google product or every alternative is listed below. That would just be too much and not all that helpful.
Google search engine
First, the most natural thing to figure out, an alternative search engine. Actually, this one is pretty simple. You have three valid alternatives here in my opinion (at least). These are DuckDuckGo, Startpage.com and Ixquick. I prefer DuckDuckGo for decent search results, some nice settings, neat keyboard shortcuts and a dark theme that’s easy on the eyes. If you aren’t happy with the DuckDuckGo search results, give Startpage.com or Ixquick a try! While Startpage fetches results from the Google search engine (but without handing Google your identifiable data), Ixquick is a metasearch engine.
If you want to read more about why you shouldn’t use Google as your search engine, check out this link about DuckDuckGo and privacy.
Easy one, just use Mozilla Firefox or the more libre/open version of it: GNU IceCat. The era of Iceweasel (which was mentioned in the last version of this article) is over (read more about that here). If you aren’t a fan of the Firefox family, you can try out GNOME Web for a GTK experience or QupZilla for a Qt experience.
Now over to some Gmail alternatives. The problem in this matter is that if you don’t pay for an email service, you might not get the proper privacy and ad-free alternative you want. Big email service providers often have their own data centers, and running them costs a lot of money. Donations isn’t always sufficient, so how can they make money? The answer is: By selling you/your data, showing you advertisement and tracking you. Information about you, your habits and interests are big business these days, you know. The new oil and all that. Big data, data mining, business intelligence, you name it.
Some valid alternatives to Gmail (and other PRISM friends) are Kolab Now and Runbox. Kolab Now had a design and feature overhaul not too long ago and is very appealing as an email and groupware solution. Their servers are located in Switzerland and they provide good privacy terms. Runbox is located in Norway which also can give you quite good privacy, as far as I know. Both Runbox and Kolab Now runs on renewable energy in their data centers. I have to add though, both these options cost money. They are not free and there is a reason for that. They treat your privacy and data differently than Google, Microsoft, etc.
I’m using Kolab Now myself and I recommend them instead of Runbox because of their support to the open source community and with nice people on-board. Other honorable mentions are Riseup and Autistici/Inventati, which are both politically colored. Beware that the Riseup server(s) are located in the US. At least their web server.
For file hosting/cloud storage there are also some good alternatives out there, if you do insist on putting your personal/private files on the Internet. Kolab Now is one solution you might want to have a look at. It’s probably not quite what you want perhaps, but it’s a nice groupware solution with email, cloud storage and more. If you aren’t up for that, check out the different providers of the open source cloud hosting solutions from Nextcloud and ownCloud. The Nextcloud overview is really good.
If you really care about your own data, setting up your own file hosting server using ownCloud or the fork of it called Nextcloud could be a good idea. It can be a fun project and you will learn new things if you are new to it all. You can use hardware you already own or buy a server that’s energy efficient and that doesn’t make too much noise for using in your own home. That way you can have it run pretty much painlessly. If this sounds like too much work and/or you don’t feel comfortable with it, you can do it the old school way, keeping your data in your own home on hard drives or other storage media. Encrypting it will help even further. It’s safer to keep your data offline, you know.
Syncthing is (somehow) an alternative to Google Drive, but Syncthing is only for decentralized file syncing. Google Drive is a centralized approach and has collaboration tools built in. That said, I like decentralized solutions and I do like Syncthing for what it is.
For your social media needs you have two alternatives that I recommend at this given date. Both are microblogging services. Number one is Mastodon, a GNU Social-compatible microblogging server. As written on their GitHub page: “Mastodon is a free, open-source social network server. A decentralized solution to commercial platforms, it avoids the risks of a single company monopolizing your communication. Anyone can run Mastodon and participate in the social network seamlessly.” Mastodon is what’s on fire at the moment.
The other alternative is called Quitter. Quitter is an instance of GNU Social with a nice looking user interface. This one is also decentralized, like Mastodon. I have written an article about it here, so have a look!
An honorable mention is Diaspora*, another social network where decentralization and privacy is important. It may not have an insane user base like Facebook and Google+, but it’s actually a pretty good network of people. The development and hype around this seems to be lower than it was. This is closer to a Google+ alternative than Mastodon and Quitter, since they are microblogging services, or at least they feel that way.
Another easy one. In one word: WordPress. It’s what I’m using for this blog. You can host it yourself, or you can sign up and set up a free blog that way. Another alternative you can host yourself, among many others, is Ghost.
YouTube, ouch, this is a bit worse. You want to find videos related to your interests? Tons of them you say? You want to see all the viral videos your friends linked you? Well, YouTube is your best bet, but not the best bet for terms of service and privacy. Let’s be honest, a lot of people upload videos to YouTube and you often have to look there if you really are looking for a certain video. But a life without YouTube isn’t impossible, by all means. You won’t die by not using it, but it’s convenient to use it.
MediaGoblin may be a future alternative as it matures over time. It’s all about decentralized media sharing, hosting your own data. That might be the ideal future, both for privacy and security, by spreading the system load and personal data from different users over multiple nodes making data harder to monitor and giving the control and freedom back to the users. But a YouTube competitor/alternative in the near future? No way.
Piwik is said to be a solid alternative to Google Analytics. It’s an open source analytics platform that has been downloaded more than 3.1 million times at the time being. This is not my expert field, so I can’t say too much about this, even though I have been working briefly with web analytics.
So, you want to chat with your friends? And you are using Google Hangouts? This one is not that hard… if your friends really want to stay in contact with you.
In the previous article on Google alternatives I wrote the following:
“You can just use a XMPP account with Pidgin and the OTR-plugin (for encryption) and that way have increased privacy and security. You also have […] Mumble for voice communication, Firefox Hello for chatting, website sharing, video and voice, and Jitsi for various things, like video conversations and web conferences for example.”
On this field stuff has been happening. I have tried out new programs, Firefox Hello has been discontinued, and in general privacy and security have been easier to achieve for the layman. So my updated view is as follows:
Cryptocat: For chatting. Open source. Encrypted messaging. You receive messages even when you are offline. File sharing capabilities. Available for GNU/Linux, Windows and Mac.
Signal: You can use it for chatting, group chats and video calls. It’s easy to set up, easy to use and is developed by Open Whisper Systems. There are some drawbacks in my opinion though. It has a Google software dependency, but I manage to live without it installed on my phone (using CyanogenMod). The other drawback for me is that I can’t find the app on F-Droid. That’s not a deal breaker since I just get it as an APK package from APKpure or similar websites. You can get Signal for Android, iOS and for the desktop.
For communication and collaboration: Riot, a Slack alternative.
Riot is made for communication and collaboration in groups. You can use Riot in your browser or download a program for it for your desktop or mobile device. You can even make video calls using it.
For video calls: Jitsi Meet.
Now that Firefox Hello is discontinued you can go for the solid alternative called Jitsi Meet, which I’ve been using quite a lot to make video calls with my family, without much hassle. It’s for making video calls, video conferences, chatting, screen sharing and more. What I like is that it’s so simple to use and get up and going. I would like to add that I’ll much rather use the Jitsi Meet browser service over the Jitsi program itself. Mostly because of convenience and the experiences I’ve had trying both.
Watch out for Ring which is “free software for universal communication which respects freedoms and privacy of its users” as stated on their website. It’s still in beta, so that is why you might want to wait for it to hit the production kind of stable.
XMPP and the OTR plugin is too much work for the less technical of us, so I won’t mention that as a recommendation to others anymore, even though I kind of like it myself.
Mumble was mentioned in the quote above. Mumble is fine for voice communication and is often used for gaming.
This one is a bit tricky to replace. If you’re looking for digital translators that can translate sentences more or less properly, and on top on that also in less common languages, you might not be able to find anything even close to Google Translate. But if you’re fine with translating one word at a time (or popular short sentences), you might be in luck. I won’t post any links here for specific language translators, since it depends on what you want to translate and in what language.
You could use the two solutions listed above or go old school using a dictionary book, but if you really want something similar to the quality tool from Google, there might not be a good alternative to it, to this date.
OpenStreetMap is my favorite alternative for Google Maps. Quoted from their website: “OpenStreetMap is a map of the world, created by people like you and free to use under an open license.” This is a really important project, so if you can help out with it, that would be a good deed.
You also have Google Earth, but I kind of categorize it as a map application, so I would still recommend OpenStreetMap.
Android and Google Play
With Firefox OS and Ubuntu Touch abandoned, what are the alternatives to stock Android these days? Even Windows have a hard time at the smartphone OS marked, and let’s not forget what happened to Jolla while we are at it. Oh, and wait, I forgot the security scandal of Tizen, which is another mobile OS based on Linux.
LineageOS is a fork of CyanogenMod, which is now discontinued. Do not worry. In my eyes LineageOS sounds like a healthier project than CyanogenMod.
I use CyanogenMod (even though it’s outdated at this point) and have been happy with that for a while now. I’m just too lazy to change over to LineageOS at the moment. The following information also applies to LineageOS, so that’s why I’ll mention it. I don’t have the core Google apps installed. No Google Play, no Gmail, no Google Maps, no Google Translate, and so on. Instead I use F-Droid to install and update my apps. That’s a place where I have found many quality apps that’s free software. If I do need an app from Google Play I just download it from somewhere else, without touching Google Play itself. For that you can use APKPure.com, for example, even though I can’t tell you how safe it is.
If you want to go a step further down the free software road, have a look at Replicant. But beware, this operating system can lack support for some of your functionality on your smartphone, for example your camera, so do read up on all that before considering putting it on your phone (if it even exists for your phone model).
There’s also Plasma Mobile from KDE, but I can’t really tell how well that OS works. I haven’t tried it or even read that much about it, and the project is still fairly young as far as adoption from users goes. So I can’t recommend it at this point. I don’t think the user interface looks that good either, but that might change.
If you want to read a more technical take on the freedom and privacy/security issues on smartphones and tablets, have a lot at this neat text from the Replicant website.
The first thing that comes to my mind here is Collabora Online, which is a LibreOffice-based office suite for online use. It supports collaborative editing and has good document format support. This is good and all, but it’s for integrating into existing software solutions and for setting up yourself, if I understand it correctly. So what can one use instead that’s ready to go? The answer is most likely not what you want to hear, since the solution is fragmented between different software. I use LibreOffice for my documents and put it online with a cloud solution if I want to, or just send the documents to those who need them. If I do want to collaborate with other people live in the documents, I go for Etherpad for text and EtherCalc for spreadsheet work. You can set it up yourself or make use of any of the instances of it that is already available online.
For storing and sharing documents with each other I really recommend using ownCloud or Nextcloud solutions, which can have extended functionality using some nice plugins/addons. With Collabora Online mentioned above you can get the Google Docs/Sheets/Slides functionality in Nextcloud. Read more about it here. I haven’t yet found a good provider for this or even tried it myself, so I can’t point you in a certain direction on this one.
So far I haven’t researched what to use instead of Google Forms. I might update this part about Google Docs/Slides/Sheets/Forms to fill you in on it at a later time.
Google Public DNS
PRISM Break writes the following about Google Public DNS:
Google Public DNS permanently logs your ISP and location information for analysis. Your ip-address is also stored for 24 hours.
To sum it up…
As you have seen, there are a lot of good alternatives to some of the services and software from Google. You might suffer quite a bit if you’re a Google addict and suddenly quit using all the Google products, but most people should be able to live just fine without using Google that much. Change your habits and it might actually be fun and feel like an inspiring adventure and project. At least give it a try if you care about your personal data and privacy. If you cut down on your use of Google services you do at least give them less data to screw around with compared with what you did before. That alone should be a valid point.
I have managed to steer away from Google these days, more or less. I’m an active user of Kolab Now which helps me get away from Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, and Google Keep. I try to use DuckDuckGo and Startpage.com instead of Google.com, and OpenStreetMap instead of Google Maps. The real “problems” seem to be alternatives to YouTube, Google Translate and Google Docs/Sheets/Slides/Forms, but things may change in the future, hopefully.
If you are having problems finding alternatives to certain services or programs, have a look at AlternativeTo which is a “crowdsourced software recommendations”-website. It can be really helpful, and you can categorize applications based on platform and type of license. Another good website for open source and privacy aware programs and services is PRISM Break.
Good luck on your journey! 🙂