Looking back on Larry Page’s tenure as CEO, I don’t know if it’s a coincidence but it seems reasonable to believe that, unlike Eric Schmidt, Page does not believe in open standards or an open Internet. Google has, in just a few short months, dropped support for open standards en masse, including RSS, XMPP, iCal/CalDav, and Podcasts (Listen). Additionally, other services are being forcefully “integrated” into Google+, which has no complete public API and no interoperability with other systems. Google, is, in other words, the new AOL: A silo separate from the open web, with very limited interoperability.
As each property has been closed off from the open web, I’ve been making arrangements elsewhere. After much trial and error, here are some worthy alternatives to popular Google services. Where possible, I’m trying to pick services that are not bound too tightly to any given service provider and where there’s a clear and predictable business relationship between me and the provider. Moving, for example, from Google Calendar to Yahoo Calendar solves very little in the long run, because Yahoo’s business interests are exactly the same as Google’s: advertising and consumer lock-in.
With that in mind…
For email, I recommend using your own domain and hosting its email on fastmail.fm. Fastmail is owned by Opera Software and operates both
free cheap and more expensive tiers of service. Remarkably, Fastmail is the only webmail provider which not only matches gmail in terms of features and polish, but exceeds it. Fastmail’s web GUI combines features you find in desktop clients like Geary and Sparrow with the best of Gmail. Best of all, Fastmail has very advanced filtering options, dropbox integration, and even XMPP support (though to use XMPP on your own domain, you’ll need a business/family account). I can’t go into it here, but the sheer volume of incredibly powerful features in Fastmail is breath-taking. Its main downside is the lack of calendar/contact syncing. There’s a read-only LDAP server for contacts, and that’s it.
OwnCloud looked like an ace in the hole for contact/calendar synchronization, until I tried using it. Astonishingly, if I added an event at 8:00 AM in Denver time, OwnCloud stores it as 8:00am UTC. Then if I add an event for 10 AM CDT, OwnCloud stores it as 10:00 AM UTC. OwnCloud’s CalDav implementation literally pretends that timezones do not exist, which is of course a show-stopper. And in general, OwnCloud seems very immature, even today — the GUI doesn’t always resize with your browser, widgets sometimes draw wrong, and upgrades are not transparent.
For a hosted alternative, I recommend Fruux. It’s a service with a paid tier, but unfortunately provides no web GUI. If you’re willing to host your own, Radicale is a good but more challenging choice. Once Fruux offers a web GUI, it should be a no brainer.
Chat/Google Talk alternative
Google started by dropping XMPP invites under the questionable guise of spam protection. Shortly thereafter, we learned at 2013 Google IO that their real motive was to drop XMPP entirely and move to a closed platform. I’m sure that timeline is a coincidence. No really.
Like with gmail, this is painful because it means your old address will no longer work. Worse yet, you can’t forward XMPP. Still, I took the plunge and switched to hosted.im on my own domain. Hosted.im is a commercial jabber service provider, but small domains are free and incredibly easy to set up. No complaints.
As an alternative, many email providers offer XMPP services on their domains, including Fastmail and Lavabit. Even DuckDuckGo offers Jabber services now, though I recommend using your own domain, so you won’t be locked in again.
Google Reader alternative
I went with NewsBlur. It’s affordable, has a slick GUI, an Android app, and best of all, the project is Open Source so if the service is ever acquired and destroyed, you could even start it back up yourself. On the downside, NewsBlur is somewhat more tricky to use than Reader, and its unpaid tier has some serious limits.
Google Voice and other dead ends
Unfortunately, there are no good alternatives to some Google properties. Maps, Voice, and Search are all the best in their field. SendHub is probably a suitable alternative for Voice in many ways, but its prices seem appropriate only if they actually provide you with cellular service. For VoIP, anything over $10/mo is insulting. Maps and Search, of course, have no suitable alternatives but at the same time, I have no reason to stop using them yet.
That’s as far as I’ve gone in separating myself from America OnGoogle (AOG). I still have an Android phone, I’m still forwarding my old gmail address, and I still use Google Maps. It seems probable that Voice will either be sunsetted or “integrated” into Google+ sooner or later, so that’s my next target for migration.