Still Replacing Google Services

I’ve been using the internet long enough to remember the wreck it was before Google came along.  Before Google came along, search engines only indexed meta data–and shady sites would lie in their meta data (description tag) causing the accidental opening of porn sites and other things that one would rather not see. Google’s indexing of entire sites was revolutionary and made the web a better place.

Then along came Gmail with its then whopping 1 GB of storage. Before this, webmail services offered a few MBs and it was necessary to delete mail as it came in to keep from exceeding your quota.  Adequate storage was an amazing idea and made the web a better place.

Over time Google released more services, many revolutionary, many amazing, many making the web a better place. I found myself using many of them…Android, Play Store, Search, Docs, Drive, Voice, Reader, Chrome, Music, News, Maps, Calendar, Sites, Books, Picasa, Youtube,…

Then, at about the same time, three events occurred that caused me to re-think my relationship with Google and its services. First there was Google Now, a fairly amazing predictive assistant for Android. Then Google Plus, an attempt by Google to compete with Facebook. And thirdly, Larry Page replaced Eric Schmidt as CEO of Google. Let’s take each of these in order before continuing.

When Google Now was released I quickly enabled it on my phone.  And like many Google services, it was amazing. Within a few days it was offering up suggestions and it quickly became apparent that Google had amassed a huge amount of data about me. They knew when and where I worked, they knew where I went, where I wanted to go (maps searches), who I talked to, intimate details of my life (calendar), and much much more. Appalled, I turned off Google Now and began re-thinking my relationship to Google.

Google saw Facebook eating the internet and cobbled together Google Plus to compete. Not deterred by no one using it, Google forced integration into its other services to push up the user base.  Picasa web was diminished as photo features were pushed to Plus, Youtube comments need a Plus account to use, you can not review an app on the Play Store without having a Plus account, and many more. As it spread, Plus also became more and more intrusive. And since no one uses Plus, there was no added value to this increasingly intrusive activity.

Eric Schmidt was always creepy, but when he turned the reigns of Google over to co-founder Larry Page, the don’t do evil thing seems to have fallen by the wayside. He seems mostly to blame for the ever increasing encroachment of Plus into everything while coming off as Machiavellian to a dangerous degree. From ending popular services to creating a dystopian future, Google has become a much worse public citizen since his return.

These three events, along with the Snowden leaks, have led me to reconsider my relationship with Google. There is no guarantee that Google is a decent steward of my data, even the fact that the accumulated data exists at all, makes it a target for NSA snooping or other nefarious access. The question I had to ask was, “do I trust an ad agency to know the most intimate details of my life?” Despite all the services that it offers, Google remains an advertising agency and amassing a portfolio on each of its users is its main objective. There is an old saw that states that “when a company is giving away its services, the product is you.” This could not be truer of Google, they do not offer these amazing services out of an altruistic leaning. The product is you.

With the decision made to start decreasing my reliance on Google’s many services, the question became how to begin? Particularly when the company has become synonymous with the internet? The rest of this post illustrates my personal pulling back (or is that pushing out?) from Google’s many services, finding alternatives and shuffling data to make things work in a cohesive fashion. My journey will not translate to your path, I only offer it here as one possibility, as they say: “Your mileage may vary.”

Before breaking down the challenges of switching various services, one other point must be brought to light. Integration. Google is huge and its reach is both long and wide, the integration of its various services is perhaps the largest hurdle to leaving it behind. Add a contact to Gmail and it automatically changes on your Android device and on Voice. And since no single service can replace Google (there would be no point in switching if it did) some of this convenience will surely be lost.

With the preamble out of the way, lets jump into switching services, we’ll start with the big one: Search. Google has become synonymous with search to the point that we actually use it as a verb. They are also very good at it, this makes it difficult to find a decent alternative. Two privacy focused alternatives are available; DuckDuckGo and IXQuick. Each of these services had major road blocks preventing me from switching to them as replacements to Google search. DuckDuckGo while offering quality results without tracking cookies does not allow one to filter for recent documents, a feature that I am dependent on for finding things. IXQuick pulls and integrates results from other services giving good results, it allows filtering for recent documents, but its ads are not easily distinguishable from the results. Either of these services may meet your needs, but I decided to go with Bing for the majority of my search needs. Occasionally I still fallback to Google to find that hard to find item, but overall Bing offers a compelling alternative. While Microsoft may be as bad as Google in many respects, using a single service does not allow them to gain as much of my data as Google has acquired.

Google’s Gmail webmail is another best of breed service.  After googling searching the web for good alternatives I tested three services, any of which could be a good replacement. GMX, Zoho, and Microsoft’s Outlook (formerly Hotmail or Live). Both Zoho and Outlook offer contacts and calendar integration and both sync with Android. If these services and integration are important to you you may want to consider one of them.  I decided to go with Zoho Mail (although I do not use their contacts and calendar–see below.)  After setting up a Zoho account, I logged into both Gmail and Zoho through the Thunderbird email client using IMAP, I was then able to drag my Gmail archive into Zoho where it was uploaded allowing me to have continuity. I then forwarded my Gmail to Zoho giving me plenty of time to get my email changed with friends, associates, and services. I use my own domain with Zoho which is free and easy to set up.

Some of the Google services that I was using I found to be superfluous and unnecessary.  So while seeking alternatives, I found that I didn’t really need one, I simply dropped the service. These unneeded services included Google Music, Youtube, and Google Now. I have a large local collection of music and really did not need Google’s Music service. If you stream music you might consider a service like Pandora or Spotify; for buying digital music I use Amazon mp3 store. Since my online video needs are limited, I found Vimeo to be a solid replacement for Youtube. Google Now was simply dumped as not necessary to my needs.

Maps is a hard to do service that Google has done a great job with, finding a replacement was difficult. Two online services which come close to matching Google are Bing Maps and Nokia’s Here Maps. I went with Here Maps and find it perfectly adequate for my needs. It gives good directions, it is fast and fluid, and it is easy to use. Unfortunately, there are no Here Maps for Android. I decided on a paid map app that gives good results, is available 100% offline and has turn-by-turn navigation; OsmAnd+Maps and Navigation, it costs $8 and uses Open Street Maps as a data source.

Google shut-down its RSS Reader making a switch easy.  With the demise of Google Reader many services sprang up to take its place. The Old Reader and Feedly came closest to meeting my needs, they are both very good services. In the end, I decided to go with a self hosted service called Tiny Tiny RSS. Self hosting is not for everyone, but either of the above listed services are good alternatives. TT-RSS was easy to set up on my Raspberry Pi and is fast with a nice interface and keyboard shortcuts.

Google’s web browser, Chrome, was an easy one to replace. I simply reverted to Firefox. Firefox is cross platform on the desktop and also runs on Android. If you quit using Firefox long ago because it was slow, give it another try, it is faster and uses less RAM than ever. Also Mozilla, the makers of Firefox, are one of the best internet citizens.

Contacts/Calendar, if you decided to go with Zoho mail above, then you are all set, these are included and sync with Android using Exchange.  Microsoft’s Outlook service also has contacts and calendar baked in and it, too, seamlessly syncs with Android. Either of these two services are more than adequate replacements for those of Google. Once again, I went with a self-hosted solution called OwnCloud. As stated above, self-hosting is not for everyone, but if you are up for it, OwnCloud is a feature rich web service running on your own server. Since it uses industry standards to sync data, your contacts and calendar are available wherever you need them (although in a vain attempt to protect its own technologies, Microsoft is slow to adopt these standards).

For many, Google’s online documents editor (Docs) and cloud storage (Drive) are indispensable.  I was heavily invested in Docs but since Drive was so late to the game, and lacked a Linux client, I never really used it.  My needs for cloud document editing are quite limited, I use an Android app from Zoho called Writer to edit documents stored on Dropbox which are then synced to my desktop. Zoho also offers online document editing as does Microsoft on its Skydrive storage service. For cloud storage with desktop sync there are numerous alternatives to Drive, besides Dropbox and Skydrive, there is also Box, Copy, and numerous others (Wuala, SpiderOak, etc…); most of these have a mobile application. I would be remiss not to mention that the self-hosted OwnCloud also has online storage with a desktop and mobile client.

The Google Play Books is unique among book services in that it allows you to upload your own books and then makes them available on all your devices. This makes it superior to its main rivals, with Kindel being the main one. Since I only read digital books on my Android tablet, I went with an Android app to replace Google Books.  I chose to go with Moon+ Reader which integrates with the desktop client Calibre and also with Dropbox to load books and synchronize reading position between devices.

Picasa web photo albums used to be a great service, but with the advent of Google Plus it has gone steadily downhill.  Since Yahoo has recently started showing Flickr some update love the decision to move back to Flickr was an easy one. Since Flickr now offers a full terabyte of data storage, the choice was an easy one.

For free web hosting I switched from Google Sites to Zoho Sites, while it has ads, they are fairly inconspicuous.

Google Voice used to be best of breed for online telephony, but it has not been updated in a long time (years?). I ended up porting my number to RingTo and have not regretted the switch. RingTo does number forwarding and has online voicemail as well as an Android app.

I still use Google News regularly and have not found an adequate replacement.

A special note on Android: I am pretty much an Android fanboy. However, I have a love hate relationship with the carriers. To rectify this, I root my devices and install an alternative version of Android based on the Android Open Source Project called Cyanogenmod. Since I have a monetary investment in apps from the Google Play Store, I continue to use this service. However, I keep my usage to a minimum be also relying on two other app stores: F-Droid has only free open source apps while Amazon App Store has paid apps and even gives away a free one every day.

So, with the exception of News and the Android app store, I have completely weened myself of Google’s services. While this does not stop the NSA from accessing all of my data, it at least makes it less convenient than the one stop shop of Google.

What about you, are you re-thinking your relationship with Google? If so, how is it going? When I first started this adventure over 6 months ago it seemed like an insurmountable challenge but turned out to be fairly easy with hardly any inconvenience.


Getting Serious About Dumping Google

For some time I have been concerned about what Google was learning about me and how quickly they are willing to turn said data over to governmental officials.  Being an Android fan really gives Google an insider look into my personal life.  With the release of Google Now I also went ahead and enabled search and location history.

Some time (months) ago I made a list of all of the google services that I used.  Then I listed alternatives and the reasons that I prefer the google services.  The plan at the time was to dump some services and attempt to cut google’s appetite for my personal information.  At the time I dumped Google Plus and switched back to Firefox from Chrome…the rest seemed insurmountable.  Reader, Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, Voice, Maps, News, Sites, Picasa…not to mention search and the Play Store all seemed best of class.  Sure they are collecting all my personal data…but damn it is convenient.  And the integration with Android seemed unbeatable.

Recently I redoubled my efforts; focusing on mail, calendar, and contacts.  Much research led me to GMX, a European service.  I transferred years of mail (using IMAP and Thunderbird), imported my contacts and calendar; but was unable to make it mesh with Android.  GMX was too broken, contacts would not sync and the mobile login was broken.  Back to the drawing board after several wasted hours.

I seriously gave hotmail a thought…but Microsoft has crippled its service to protect its Outlook brand (no IMAP, lack of Android support for Calendar, etc…).

Finally I settled on Zoho.  It had a few things going for it that other services lacked: a complete package of mail, calendar, contacts, and more; it used active sync to mesh with Android (push mail!); the web interface is slick and ajaxy.  Once again I fired up IMAP in Thunderbird and transferred my email, exported calendar and and contacts from Google.  Zoho seemed to work flawlessly.  I set up active sync on my phone and tablet, removed gmail, and now had contacts, calendar, and mail that synced with the web.  And just like that, I am off of 3 google services.

Of course I can not just walk away from gmail.  I’ve been using it for years, it is my login ID at numerous sites, and I have business cards with that address.  So even though I have switched to Zoho, gmail will remain part of my life for some time to come.  I set up a forwarder in gmail to send all mail to Zoho, so no more logging in to gmail.

Feeling like I was on a role, I forged ahead to see what other google services I could replace.  I’ve been using Google Reader as an RSS reader for many years, still it was quite simple to switch to Feedly.  Feedly has a nice Android app and a simple web interface, it pulled in my feeds quite easily.

Nokia recently released Here Maps for Android.  There is minimal integration between the web version and the mobile version, but it has the major features that I need (except turn by turn navigation on Android).  I went ahead and switched but retain the right to switch back should it prove inadequate at some point.

I put a fair effort into replacing Google News but have so far been unsuccessful.  Nothing else comes close.

I dumped Google Now, no replacement required.  It seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

So here is where I am at now: I had previously dumped Google Plus, replaced Drive with Dropbox, and replaced
Chrome with Firefox.  In this round I replaced Gmail Calendar and Contacts with Zoho, partially replaced search with Duckduckgo, replaced Reader with Feedly, replaced Maps with Here, and dumped Now.  I would still like to replace News and Picasa if I can find good alternatives; and I will continue to use Voice, Music, and Sites for the foreseeable future.  Plus I deleted all the history (web and location) that Google was collecting.

Not a bad start.

None of this is meant to unfairly malign Google.  They are certainly no worse than any other giant tech company and better than most.  However, just as in politics, the lesser of two evils is still evil.

I am open to suggestions on a good replacement for Google News.

Android Gingerbread, Ho Hum…

As a Nexus One owner, I’ve been looking forward to the next iteration of Android, 2.3 “Gingerbread”.  What were the rumors?  Complete UI overhaul making SenseUI and Motoblur obsolete; new Market ala AppBrain; OTA music store; and those were the official rumors, most originating with Rubin as far back as the Eclair release.

Gingerbread brings some nice optimizations, but feature wise it is a dud.  But wait, I thought Froyo was the optimization release?  It was too, apparently Android was in such pitiful condition that it required multiple optimization releases after becoming (mostly) feature complete.  Now we are assured that it is fast…having been assured of the same with multiple releases, I guess I am supposed to believe them now.

And what is up with keeping the features secret until they can be announced at release with much fanfare and celebration (but no dancing monkeys)?  Android is touted as being open, but there is more to the concept of open than an after-the-fact code drop.  The lack of an open development process, even while meeting the base requirements of open source, does not an open platform make.  I offer Mozilla’s Firefox as an example of an open platform.

With that out of the way, what does Gingerbread offer?  Faster with better battery life, improved app management, a UI refresh, a new keyboard (meh..I just spent two bucks on one), better cut and paste (the crappy PITA way to do it now is barely usable), and a download manager with improved file management.

Of course there are new technologies for future phones/  Near Field Communication, SIP, a host of new sensors, large screen support, easier game development, and new codecs.

Google can (and apparently did) release 100 Youtube videos showing these changes in minute detail, but it remains an under-whelming release.

And I guess we can roll our expectations into version next (currently Honeycomb)…and start the whole process over again.  Google is acting increasingly Apple like in these releases.  It is lame when Apple does it, it is lamer for Google with their projections of “openness”.  Put an end to the dog and pony shows and put the effort into making Android a better product, you will get a more loyal user base in return.

Apple: Suing is Easier than Innovating

Have we been here before?  Is this a case of electronic deja vu all over again?  Apple, already embroiled in a patent war with Nokia, has now opened a second front in its rear guard action to maintain (mind share) dominance in the smart phone sector.

Too cowardly to confront Google head on, Apple chooses a war by proxy by going after HTC.

Three years ago Steve Jobs unveiled the iphone to collective oohs and ahs.  It was cutting edge and innovative.  Now, three years have passed and many have caught up to and even surpassed the iphone in features, looks, and functionality.  Does Jobs continue to innovate?  Does he choose to take Apple into new endeavors?  No, and nope.  Instead, Apple breaks out the lawyers…hey it is cheaper than R&D on improvements.

This should come as no surprise, Jobs has been threatening law suits since he introduced the jesus phone.  He made blanket threats against any and all at the unveiling, last year he specifically called out a threat to Palm.  Is this what passes for innovation in Cupertino?

Apple’s corporate lawyers must think HTC is the weak link in the chain (and Android has become the main threat to beat back).  It will be interesting if they ever go to war with Palm, Palm has been in this business much longer than Apple and has a major patent portfolio that Apple infringes on.  So we probably won’t see a move against Palm–the cowardly always bully the weak, it is pretty much the definition of bully.  It remains to be seen how deep HTC’s patents run, but they do have Google in their corner.  And make no mistake, this action is all about Google.

Android is a much better platform than the jesus phone.  I make this assertion after reading the various lists of reasons to jailbreak your iphone, and realize that I do not need to root my Nexus One to achieve any of those.  It is the difference between open tech and a locked down proprietary piece of kitsch.  So Apple is up against a superior competitor, this must be the case or they would let the court of customer decision making run its course.  Instead of letting the best phone win, they break out the lawyers.  Yep, been here before…and we all know how that turned out.  I expect no difference this time around.

It is time to treat Apple as the pariah that they are.  Shun them as a threat to our collective well being.  Media Monkey is a better iPod manager than the steaming pile of poo known as itunes.  Safari is becoming nothing more than a rip-off of Chrome but still lacking many basic features.  Quicktime is a historical relic, no need to install it as it harkens back to a darker time in tech.  Nope, there really remains no reason to use any of Apple’s software for anything.  They are a technological pariah, and deserve to be–and should be–shunned.

Edit: More reasons to dump Apple.    Remember when the (max)Ipad was revealed?  Apple conspired with the publishers to put an end to Amazon’s $9.99 cap on best sellers.  And it worked, to at least some degree.  Now the asshats are at it again, this time with music.  Ars is reporting that Apple is now pressuring the labels to end Amazon’s Daily Deal promotions.  There is nothing for Apple to gain, they are simply being dickweeds for the sake of being dickweeds.

For whatever reason, Apple does not seem able, or willing,  to compete on their merits, they have to use this sort of back room dealing to keep their position.

There is a dead person in Tennessee who died because he/she could not get a liver because Steve Jobs bought it.

Last time Apple suffered major setbacks, there were people there to mourn…who will be there next time?

Edit 2:  So where does Google sit in all of this.  They are not mentioned in the suits, but are certainly at the center of it.  Does Google sit back and watch HTC get dinged by crApple?  Then what, is Motorola next?  And if HTC gets dinged, who will be the next company to release an Android phone?  If HTC loses, Google loses…there can be no doubt about that.  HTC is Google’s number one Android partner, they can not throw them under the bus.

I am going to assume that HTC does not have a deep patent portfolio…they’ve spent most of their existence building other folks’ products.  I would guess that their patents run more to the manufacturing process type.  It also seems clear that Apple isn’t interested in making money off of a licensing deal, they are out to shut down competitive phones.

This will take some time to play out.  In the meantime….has anyone registered (that was rhetorical, of course they have…)

Why is Google Using IE 6?

We’ve all heard about Google getting hacked by the Chinese government, and their (Google’s) subsequent pulling out of the Chinese market.  It was big news.  Google even hacked the Taiwanese based servers used in the attack to trace it back to China.  Big news, common knowledge.

But now, the attack code has been released.  And lo and behold, it leverages a flaw in IE6.  Google, the makers of Chrome, are running IE 6 on their corporate desktops.  Here is a quote from Cnet:

Microsoft issued a warning on Thursday about the new hole and said it was working on a patch. The vulnerability affects IE 6, 7 and 8 on all the modern versions of Windows, including Windows 7, according to Microsoft’s advisory. Microsoft said IE 6 was the browser version being used on the computers that were targeted in the attacks.

WTF?  The same people who think it is important to get the rest of the world off of IE 6 are using it themselves.  This is fail of epic proportions.

Chrome OS, first thoughts

The collective woosh you heard yesterday as Google unveiled its OS, Chrome, was the sound of every MS executive exhaling together.  I am sure that when Chrome OS was first announced, the Redmond elite were worried.  After yesterday’s overview, I am sure they are relieved.

Chrome OS seems more like something that belongs on a phone than on a PC.  The whole no native apps things make it more of a toy than a PC replacement.  I guess netbooks are going to get smaller and less powerful as time goes on and Google will be there with an OS.  But if all it runs is web apps, then it is nothing short of premier adware.

I would think it would be better to do some work on Android and use it, why should the phone OS be more powerful than one designed for netbooks?

While Chrome OS has some interesting engineering being put into it, its crippled nature will prevent any but the most superfluous of adoption.  I was excited before the release, now my only response is, “Yawn…”  After the announcement I was not even left with the curiosity to download the vmware image.

Google, what’s up?

googleCapture, originally uploaded by foggytown1.

I can’t search google this morning.

Every search result on is showing that “This site may harm your computer.”

Even when you search for “google” and click on, you get routed to google’s malware warning.

I can’t find info about the problem anywhere online. I have verified the issue on Firefox, Chrome, and Firefox all on Vista.

After I make this post I will reboot into Win7 to see if it is the same.

Edit: I verified it with Win7, it is the same.  I did find that if you refresh the results the malware link goes away.

What is going on?

Edit 2: The issue seems to be fixed now.  But I have found something far more ominous with this issue.  When I first found the problem I searched google news for “google malware” in an attempt to find what was wrong.  There were no results that were pertinent to the issue.  But, as soon as the issue was resolved there were lots of items…this smacks of news censorship on google’s part…is it time to begin moving my data off google’s servers?