I Give Up on Google: Free is Too Expensive

I am really tired of things Google has done lately.

The most recent example being retiring Classic Maps. That’s a problem, because the current Maps mysteriously doesn’t show most of my saved (“starred”) places. Google has known about this since at least 2013. There are posts all over their forums about it going back to when what is now “regular” Google Maps was beta. Google employees even knew about it and did nothing. For someone that made heavy use of it, this was quite annoying.

But there have been plenty of others:

  • Removing My Places and My Maps from Maps for Android. Those features were used to, for instance, plan trips, highlight routes, add campground possibilities, etc. (They eventually brought this feature back months/years later, in limited form.)
  • Removed the 7-day and month views from Calendar for Android, claiming this was “better” for users. Finally re-added those views a few months later after many complaints. I even participated in a survey process with them where they were clearly struggling to understand why anybody wanted to see 7 days at once, when that feature had been there for years…
  • Removing the XMPP capabilities in Google Talk/Hangouts.
  • Picasaweb pretty much shut down, with very strong redirects to Google+ Photos. Which still to this day doesn’t have a handy feature for embedding in a blog post or anything that’s not, well, Google+.
  • General creeping crapification of everything they touch. It’s almost like Microsoft in the 90s all over again. All of a sudden my starred places stop showing up in Google Maps, but show up in Google Drive — shared with the whole world. What? I never wanted them in Google Drive to start with.
  • All the products that are all-but-dead — Google Groups and the sad state of the Deja News archives. Maybe Google+ itself goes on this list soon?
  • Looks like they’re trying to kill off Google Voice and merge it into hangouts, but I can’t send a text from the web with Hangouts.
  • And this massive list of discontinued services and products. Yeowch. Remember when Google Code was hot, and then they didn’t touch it at all for years?
  • And they still haven’t fixed some really basic things, such as letting people change their email address when they get married.
  • Dropping SIP from Grand Central, ActiveSync from Apps, etc.

I even used to use Flickr, then moved to Picasa when Yahoo stopped investing in Flickr. Now I’m back to Flickr, because Google stopped investing in Picasa.

The takeaway is that you can’t really rely on Google for anything. Counting on something being there for an upcoming trip and then having it be suddenly yanked away is a level of frustration that just makes the service not so useful. Never knowing when obvious things (7-day calendar view) will be removed means you just can’t depend on it.

So, are there good alternatives? Things I’m thinking of include:

  • Alternative calendar applications. Ideally it would support shared calendars for multiple people in a family, an Android app that lets you easily view some or all calendars, etc. I wonder if outlook.com is really the only competitor here? Last I looked — a few years ago — none of the Open Source options really worked well.
  • Alternative mapping applications. Must-haves include directions, navigation in the car, saving points of interest, and offline storage on Android. Nice-to-haves would include restaurant review integration, etc. Looks like Nokia (HERE.com) and Mapquest, plus a few OSM spinoffs, are the leading contenders here.
  • Email is easily enough found elsewhere, and I’ve never used Gmail much anyhow.

Anybody else moving off Google?

42 thoughts on “I Give Up on Google: Free is Too Expensive

  1. Congratulations on this move. I’ve stopped using Google almost 8 years ago and never looked back. The web is fresher when you have to look a bit more but end up finding stuff Google didn’t know you’re interested in.

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  2. I’m not sure, but I think the open source caldav servers work ok for workgroups or organizations. But I wonder how well they work for sharing with someone who isn’t on the same server

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    Paolo Redaelli Reply:

    As other people have already pointed out OwnCloud and Kolab are nice replacements for many Google services

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  3. for the calendars and contacts, try owncloud.
    i’ve used with the desktop client under gnome3/debian jessie and on android and windows phone.

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    John Goerzen Reply:

    This has been on my list for a long time. The owncloud.com/owncloud.org websites are very confusing about exactly what the thing is, what it does, and how it works, but yeah I will try it. Thanks!

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    John Goerzen Reply:

    The Owncloud calendar, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to support generating or replying to event invites — that’s a bit of a disappointment when I want to synchronize with family members, for instance.

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    Bjoern Reply:

    Yes, you are right. The ownCloud calendar doesn’t support invitations. But you can share the whole calendar with your family and/or a single event. This works quite nice for me. Every family member has his own calendar and shares it with everyone else read-only. Additionally we have one family calendar shared with everyone read-write. The family calendar holds events which are relevant for the whole family and the individual calendars hold the individual appointments. This way we never miss a appointment and I can easily plan a new appointment either for me or for the family without creating any conflicts with already existing appointments.

    To the general topic. I also try to avoid Google as much as possible. My mobile phone runs CyanogenMod without the Google Apps. For routing/maps I use osmAnd, pictures/videos I take with my mobile phone get uploaded directly to my ownCloud and synced automatically with my desktop systems. Calendar and Contacts get synced also with ownCloud. Spontaneously I use the ownCloud notes app to take notes and the ownCloud News app to read news. That’s all I need.

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    John Goerzen Reply:

    Yep, I’ve noticed the sharing features. My wife and I have been using sharing in somewhat that manner with Google Calendar — we can see each other’s calendars when we want. But if we are scheduling something for us both, we send invites so that the other person gets a notification of it. It seems to work pretty well.

    If you don’t use any of the Google Apps on Cyanogenmod, what do you use to view your calendar/generate reminders on the phone?

  4. I’ve been transitioning away from Google services over many years, and that accelerated after NSA/PRISM revelations. I don’t feel any more reliant on them, except to communicate with people that are still using their email service.

    Actions of US government aside, the substituion of software with SaaS is such a harmful trend, in much the same way proprietary software could have been the most harmful thing of the 90’s. Stallman’s talk at 31C3 really awoke me to that new angle.

    I even declined to interview for a Google job this year; I would ask anyone else to weigh carefully the benefits they offer, against the harm this company inflicts in the online (and increasingly the real) world. It only has that power due to the efforts of talented engineers working for them at 130%. Even though I struggle financially, I feel great for the time I get to spend working on free software instead alongside a casual IT dayjob.

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  5. I’ve been slowly moving away from Google services since October of last year.

    Email, Calendar, Tasks and notes have all been replaced by my own Kolab server. Email groupsl/lists are now handled through a personal mailman server. Cloud is done via a WD Cloud Drive (debian based OS) using WD’s app for my phone and sftp for my desktop.

    I’m still looking to move over to new social networks, I’m still on G+ and Twitter but Twitter is the clear winner there.

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    John Goerzen Reply:

    Is there a Debian package for the Kolab server? I see a bunch of Kolab-related stuff, but not the server. Thanks for the tip.

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    Garheade Reply:

    I don’t know if it’s in the repos. If not, you can grab the .deb here: http://obs.kolabsys.com/repositories/Kolab:/3.4/

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  6. I’ve never much used google (as I never used MS much – my first “office” was star-office… anyone ever heard of it?). But recently I got an android phone for work and was terrified how creepily google entangles your live. Deleted my account after installing skype from the playstore, but lollipop doesn’t even lets you save phone number then! Use now owncloud instance for calendar and contacts (ans files), and the apps I get from fdroid. Navigation works well for me with osmand. A bit of a hassle, but as you say, free has its price…

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  7. Hey, I use SOGo for webmail and calendar, works like a charm and there aren’t any G-features I’m missing :) Openstreetmap/Mapquest is very good for map/directions – for Android you can use Osmand, which also uses Openstreetmap. For search, I’m just loving DuckDuckGo lately. Don’t forget Newsblur (can be self-hosted) for RSS feeds. Also, personally I still have GMail as a password reset address, because the features required are very basic and I trust Google/NSA more than script kiddies that might kill my server, but that’s your choice :)

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    John Goerzen Reply:

    Appreciate all the tips (and DavDroid) — thanks!

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  8. Forgot to mention, SOGo doesn’t have an Android app but it supports CalDAV/CardDAV (for calendar and contacts syncing), so all you need is DavDroid and then you can sync it with your default Android calendar.

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  9. Anybody know of any truly free OS’s that will run usefully on tablets? Especially tablets that no longer support current android?
    Anything resembling the Linux systems we know and love?

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    Romane Reply:

    Thought of other ROMs? Quite a number now putting out 5.1.1 (CyanogenMod, for example) and with Tablet versions. Actually running 5.1.1 Lollipop on a Samsung S3 (way obsolete, now at s6pple), and removed all the bloat. Plus runs better, better battery etc.

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  10. Another vote for owncloud here. A few years ago it sucked hard but i stuck with it.

    Now i can use an android phone without google apps installed (f-droid instead). With davdroid i can sync contacts 2-ways and my calendar is up to date with an ical address so you can share it with others.

    On cyanogenmod the default apps are really great right now.

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  11. Mapping. Have been using HERE for a few months now. Good app, but can be frustrating as many things done differently to Google or Navigon. Still, a happy and satisfied user.

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  12. So, I’ve tried hard not to move to Google in the first place.

    This has started when GMail has been released and their TOS was clearly showing that they were going to systematically eavesdrop their users.

    I’m *heavily* relying on calendars for my day to day life (I can barely remember of taking my pills in the morning, so think how I’d remember anniversary, meetings and stupid things, like getting the garbage out the door without having a proper calendar handy) and before the smartphone era, I’ve been mostly using the calendars available on standalone devices.

    Things have changed and now having all your device on sync has become almost mandatory so I’ve switched to Zimbra around 3 years ago. To have the full outlook (and activesync) plugin, I even got to the commercial version (150$/yr) which fulfil all of my needs.

    I’ve barely been using Zimbra for the Calendar syncing thing although I could be doing way more with it. I could also share the subscription I have with somebody else (hey if you want a free trial john…) as I have around 25 mailboxes included into the license which I’ll never be using.

    Google is/was really an awesome company and it does a lot of good to the community, too. How have I been living without Google translate at one click away all my life? How many contributions to open-sources project have they been making? How many open-source project are they releasing? — I don’t think Google is voluntary evil, it’s just that it’s too easy not to be evil when you’re in their position..

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  13. Concerning maps, OSMAnd+ is a real killer app. It has everything Maps ever had, including a secure alternative to that Latitude thing, plus quite a lot of features that Google Maps lacks, starting with full offline vector maps including hillshade and the like. The UI looks a bit tricky at first, but you get used to it very fast.

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    martin Reply:

    OSM have *far* better data than Google does, and not having curated search results integrated might seem inconvenient but actually means you get to go to cafes or take your other business to places that have not sucked up to Google yet, which are often quite worth it.

    However, I thoroughly disagree with you on the UI of OSMAnd+: it’s horrific and hard to use even for a hardcore geek. Just setting up directions, or the fact that you have to fill in a form to search for an address is painful. And then once you identify a landmark, just try to get more information about it! There’s much, uh, potential for a better UI to the OSM data…

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    r. c. r. Reply:

    I agree, osmand is quite a headache to use! I use it quite frequently and still struggle everytime to get basic things done, because it’s so not intuitive… having said that, if one figures out how to use it, it works amazingly well. And does so offline, perfect for travelling!

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  14. > Anybody else moving off Google?

    Besides using ownCloud to have syncing of my family’s contacts under ownCloud along with our calendars – everything with the help of org-mode’s apps (org-caldav, org-vcard), I’d say that even more important would be to stop using Google for searching, at least by using things like StartPage, DuckDuckGo & co.

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    John Goerzen Reply:

    A brief glance at the Calendar app shows it doesn’t seem to support sending invites, or am I missing something?

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    William Reichard Reply:

    +1 for DDG.

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  15. Hi John, I’ve been using Navit for navigation, as distributed through F-droid. It relies on (offline) openstreetmap data and works fine for me as a navigation tool for both car and bike runs. It does allow you to save points of interest, but I’m not sure if (or how) they can be displayed on the map.

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  16. Maps: I’m using OSM exclusively (I’m also contributing here and there a little bit). On my Android (CM) phone I’m using OSMAnd from F-Droid.org, which is pretty cool.

    IM: Prosody is a nice XMPP server, very simple to set up on Debian. On Android I’m using Xabber (I don’t like the new version much, however), on Debian Empathy as client.

    Calendar: I’m using Radicale as server, but I still have problems with DAVdroid and Radicale. Maybe I should look into owncloud or SOGo…

    E-Mail: I’m with the same non-commercial provider since before Google has even been founded.

    Note, that I’m not against Google or critizise them for whatever. I just happened to use certain things before Google offered them and was to lazy to switch.

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    Bram Reply:

    On Android I use CalDAV-sync and CardDAV-sync to sync with my radicale instance. These are not free (around €2,50 each), but I found them to be the only working sync tools for Android, haven’t had a single issue with them.
    Note that these tools only sync, they don’t provide a calendar / contacts GUI. You can still use the app of your apps of your choice as long as they work with the Android calendar API (such as the pre-installed apps).

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  17. Social Network: I used G+ shortly, when it was very new (you had to have an inviation) and probably it was too early to benefit, so I dropped out. I’m on Pump.io now. It’s not the same thing, of course, but OK for me.

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  18. I wiped my Gmail account about 4 years ago, and have never made more than occasional use of any other Google services.

    Google is a business, not a public service agency. It’s not obligated to any of us to sustain some service if it decides not to. (We do like to pretend the services we use will be around forever. They won’t.)

    Ditto any other business whose products and services we use. Stuff happens. Google is just more noticeable.

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  19. The killer aspect of Google for me is the web application side. I use a *lot* of mailing lists, on multiple PCs and a tablet, at least one of which is behind a firewall that won’t allow POP/IMAP/NNTP. Gmail is the only webmail service I’ve found with a tolerable UI and a sufficiently aggressive spam filter. Google Groups is awful, but any other NNTP service (e.g. gmane) needs a client and can’t share state between machines (gmane’s web UI is dreadful, even worse than Google Groups).

    So much as I’d like to move off Google, finding something else that actually meets my requirements remains the biggest issue :-(

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    Steven C. Reply:

    But any of those killer apps could be gone (like their RSS reader), or made in some way useless to you at any time. It may seem okay to make use something so long as it’s there and free to use, but if you start to put data into something or really invest time in it, then it certainly becomes a liability.

    I think it’s usually in their business interest to leverage that and vary the conditions of your access to a service or do things with your data you’re not entirely okay with, because you’re clinging to some investment you’ve now made in it.

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  20. I agree with most of what you said, although I still use the Calendar (wasn’t that hard to downgrade on Android) and XMPP. Google+ has been great disappointment, especially as they continue to merge previously working services into it.

    Their maps, on the other hand, have been largely unusable for years. A lot of people here suggest using OsmAnd so I thought I’d add another one to the list: Locus. I’ve been using it for all my mapping needs (tourist/cycle maps, track recording with HRM, Strava upload, route planning, voice navigation, geocaching, note taking, etc.) for a few months and I can honestly recommend that thing.

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  21. Owncloud, although you really need your own server to make good use of it (I’ve had bad luck with hosted versions). ArkOS aims to be a personal cloud.

    I’m so with you on this post. It’s such a waste of time. Let’s settle on some underlying standards and technologies and actually build on them for a while.

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  22. http://mailbox.org

    It’s a small (maybe 30 people?) company from Berlin / Germany. They continuously win in mailing services comparissions. They are dedicated to free software and Snowden-Era security. And they rock.

    The boss is Peer Heinlein. He’s the author of the book on dovecot and a book on LPI certification. He’s also the organizer of a popular mailing server conference.

    They use OpenXchange which is kind-of free software. I hope the people at OpenXchange learn that there is more to it than dumpint tar.gz files…

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  23. Hi,

    In case any of these is useful for you…

    – OpenStreetMap instead of Google Maps
    – OpenMailbox (includes a Calendar via OwnCloud) instead of Gmail
    – Pump instead of Buzz or Twitter
    – Diaspora instead of Google+
    – Bloglines and Akgregator instead of Google Reader
    – XMPP instead of hangouts (partially, some people just don’t want to leave Hangouts)
    – My own portable hard disk instead of Picasa or other.

    Just my 0.02.

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