How to say goodbye to Google*

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After many years of dependence reliance on Google, I have decided that it’s time to say goodbye – or at least bring some distance between me and the US based company. The reasons behind this change will have to be discussed in a separate post. Today I will just review which parts of the Google universe are easier to escape from and which harder. This post can be considered a follow up to my original move from a personal Gmail account to Google Apps for Business about three years ago. A few things have changed since then, several services are no longer important to me and will not be migrated. At the same time, the scope of work has been expanded due to the fact that I want to leave most of Google behind me instead of just moving from the consumer section to the business department. So let’s have a look at Google’s various offerings and the alternatives I have chosen.

Google’s universe

Search: If you hear Google, search is what comes to mind first. This is what made Google big because it’s what Google is really good at. In specific segments or markets, other search engines have caught up with Google and might even return better results. However, averaging across all fields of public search, Google still delivers the best performance in my opinion. This doesn’t mean that the search engine with the fancy doodles cannot be replaced in everyday life though. Most of the times, it’s not necessary to get the best performance and alternative search engines perform good enough. One such alternative is DuckDuckGo – launched in September 2008, it was designed with privacy and quality results in mind and takes a different approach to search than Google. Even though the company has received venture capital funding, it seems less focused on making money and hence will eventually deliver better results. With the inclusion of !bang shortcuts, Google (and other) searches can be executed directly through DuckDuckGo, which is very convenient. I jumped ship and switched to DuckDuckGo when Apple introduced the option to set it as a default search engine with iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. After several months of usage I’m still very happy with this choice.

Email: Originally I expected this to be the most difficult part of the migration, but it turned out to be quite easy. I have used an email address with my own domain name for many years now, so I didn’t actually have to hand out a new email address to my contacts due to this change. Instead, all I had to do was to set up my addresses on a server running dovecot that I already rent, change the configuration in my mail clients and finally tell the internet about my declaration of independence by changing the MX server. That happened 10 days ago and I haven’t received a single email at Google ever since. All that’s left now is to move my email archive like I did last time. While I miss the Gmail web interface, Apple Mail for Mac OS X & iOS fulfill my needs and the roundcube web interface is a sufficient backup, should I ever not be close to one of my devices.

[Update 2015-03-28] As server admin Henrik correctly points out, dovecot alone wouldn’t be enough to get email away from Google. The server also runs Postfix (and other mail related services), all neatly stitched together by iRedMail [/Update]

Contacts & Calendar: Very closely connected to email, those two services were easy to migrate, because Google offers good exporting functions. My address book and calendar are now hosted on the same server as email with ownCloud in the backend. The major disadvantage of this solution is that roundcube and ownCloud are not linked, which means that I don’t have access to my contacts from within the webmail interface. On a day to day basis, this is a minor problem, because I mainly use mobile & desktop email clients that are connected to both services and bridge the gap.

Hangouts: This is one of the major problems of this migration, because with the move from Talk to Hangouts Google created lock-in effects by deactivating XMPP server-to-server federation. As a result, leaving Google is a much bigger headache for instant messaging than for email – even though the number of affected communication partners is much, much smaller. And due to the fact that basically all (mainstream) popular IM protocols and clients are designed to generate lock-in effects, I expect this problem to arise at least a few more times during my lifetime. For video calls, I think Skype will be my short term alternative, while hoping that WebRTC will eventually be supported by Apple.

Maps: Another strong asset of Google’s portfolio is Maps so I will probably keep on using it for some time. However, even in this field alternatives exist. First, there is OpenStreetMaps, which has made huge improvements over the last years. A quick test revealed that Dubai – including building names and points of interest – is mapped out very well. With MAPS.ME the maps are available offline and the app also provides navigation, which I yet have to test. Next in line for a proper review is Nokia Here, which was recently released for iOS. Apple Maps is still beyond useless and won’t be of any help in this transition.

Chrome: I can’t remember when I stopped using Chrome on the mobile. When I switched to the Mac in November, I also started using Safari as my default browser on the desktop. During this switch, I also migrated some passwords and my essential bookmarks. There are only very few websites that I have visited in Chrome recently and those almost entirely belong to the Google universe. That way, I could avoid being logged into my Google account in Safari – which conveniently limits Google’s tracking and profiling capabilities to some extend.

Youtube: I visit the world’s most popular video sharing platform almost entirely only to consume content, which still works without being logged in. Should I ever feel the need to publish a video, the platform of my choice will probably be vimeo, mainly because I hate most forms of ads.

Docs / Drive: Since I left university, I have hardly used Google Docs. I have reviewed the documents that I have access to and decided not to migrate them. Most of them are no longer relevant and for the remainder, I have a local copy. Should the need for collaborative document editing arise in the future, I can use ownCloud as well. File sharing is part of ownCloud’s job as well.

Picasa: All my photos are also stored locally, so leaving Picasa will not result in any loss of data memories for me. However, some of the posts in this blog link to Picasa galleries, hence I will have to migrate those and update the links. The destination will once again be ownCloud.

Web history: When I switched to Google Apps for Business, Google didn’t offer this service to business customers. Somewhere along the way it changed and this feature is available now. However, in the last months I have drastically reduced my Chrome usage, so that the history is basically empty and mainly contains Google Maps searches. I didn’t use the history in recent years, so I don’t think I will miss it.

Google+: Well, yeah. Nothing to see here. If you actually use Google+, you’re not part of the target audience of this post.

Android apps: I have my Android times well behind me – else this migration would be a much bigger headache.

Reader: In July 2013, so shortly after my migration to Google Apps, the company closed down Reader. I have since migrated to feedly, which I’m mostly happy with.

*So what’s the asterisk in the title for?

While there are alternatives for many of Google’s offerings, leaving Google completely would be very complicated, I think. And there’s no reason to do it anyway – if a service is good, it’s perfectly fine to use it. What worried me personally, was the extend to which I relied on the products of a single company – hence I tried to diversify my vendors a little bit. In my personal life, this worked very well, even though there will be occasional Search, Maps & Youtube exceptions.

Google doesn’t have to be too sad though, as they will still be able to track me at least 40 hours a week. Lexmark, my current employer, uses Google Apps for Business and hence there’s still plenty of Gmail, Google Drive, Searches & Chrome in my life. Finding a new job to get further away from Google seemed to be a bit of an overkill to me.

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