De-Google

Published: Sunday, March 6th 2022
Tags: internet

Even though it’s practically impossible to use the Internet these days without touching a service provided by Google, I have to say it’s hard to deny that many of the services they offer are plain world-class!

But - since Google has long grown into a de-facto monopoly with revenues greater than most nations' GDP, thanks, in no small part, to omnipotent advertising and constant tracking of their users, I recently decided that it was enough for me and that it was high time to de-Google myself.

My criteria for replacing Google’s services were that they should, if possible, preferably be privacy-focused and free and open-source. This is my progress so far:

Search must be blazingly fast - and in order to be truly valuable for me, it should also provide decent results in Swedish. I’ve used DuckDuckGo from time to time and it’s just a really good, feature-rich, search engine with good results in Swedish - but - from where I live I find it a tad bit slow.

To the rescue is the German search engine Ecosia. Not only is it blazingly fast and provides great results in both English and Swedish, it’s run by a privacy respecting social enterprise that uses its revenues to fund reforestation projects. It’s now the search engine I use on all my devices.

Chrome

The one browser that is closest to my heart is Mozilla’s Firefox. It’s privacy-focused and run by a non-profit whose stated goal is ensuring the Internet remains a public resource that is open and accessible to all.

Unfortunately, for me, Firefox falls short on one small issue. After a while, it tends to use up too much CPU. It’s not that I really notice in terms of visible performance, but I can hear the fan spinning, and running htop I see it tends to hover around 20% which I find a bit annoying. Also, every now and then, it gets stuck consuming 100% CPU when locking the screen. Since I haven’t really been able to solve this minor annoyances, I’ve switched to the even more privacy and web3 focused browser Brave, and just like Chrome (being based on Chromium), it’s been extremely kind to the CPU.

My best guess is that the CPU issues I’m having are GPU related (I’m unfortunately on Nvidia’s proprietary X11 drivers), but since I can’t really change my circumstances unless I buy an expensive AMD card (which I have considered but so far decided against as my setup is almost brand new), I’ll just have to live with it.

Today I’m using Brave on both my computers and on Android and I can highly recommend it.

Gmail

After quite a bit of research, I’ve settled on the privacy-focused Belgian email operator Mailfence. Not only do they provide a great email service, they also support calendars and contacts.

I do not use their webmail, though. Even though, technically, it seems to be a good piece of software, it doesn’t seem to support any keyboard shortcuts - something that’s a deal-breaker for me. In a dream scenario it would have supported Gmail shortcuts, but that is unfortunately not the case.

Unlike Gmail, however, Mailfence offers a standards-based IMAP service along with CalDAV and CardDAV so that it’s possible to use both email, calendar and contacts with external apps without any special bells and whistles.

If you need your own domain (which I do), their cheapest plan is 2.50€ per month, a small amount I gladly pay.

On my computer I use neomutt for email, khal for calendar and khard for contacts. The latter two I sync with Mailfence servers using vdirsyncer.

On my Android phone, I use BlueMail for email, Slovakian based Simple Calendar Pro by Simple Mobile Tools for calendar and Samsung’s built-in contacts app for contacts. Calendar and contacts I sync using DAVx⁵.

Google Calendar

As mentioned above, calendar services are provided by Mailfence. On my computer I use khal together with vdirsyncer, and on my phone I use Simple Calendar Pro together with DAVx⁵.

Google Contacts

As mentioned above, contacts services are provided by Mailfence. On my computer I use khard together with vdirsyncer, and on my phone I use Samsung’s built-in contacts app together with DAVx⁵.

Google Drive

I’ve never really been a fan of Google Drive. It’s feels more like a byproduct of using Docs, Sheets or Slides. However, my non-Google service of choice for syncing and backing up files is Nextcloud. I currently host it myself on a DigitalOcean VPS and it works really, really well! They offer both desktop and mobile clients for most platforms.

Docs / Sheets / Slides

My non-Google and non-Microsoft office suite of choice is OnlyOffice. It’s possible to run both locally on your desktop or on your mobile, but it’s also possible to run online so that you can collaborate with friends or colleagues in real-time. My current favourite service for running OnlyOffice online is France based CryptPad which offers you 1 GB of document storage, completely free of charge.

Google Keep

My alternative to Google Keep is Nextcloud Notes. It seamlessly syncs with my Nextcloud account and offers support for Markdown documents. Works great with the mobile app, and on the computer I can use my text editor of choice which is great.

Authenticator

Google Authenticator provides 2FA capability for a vast number of services I use and for the time being I’ve decided to keep using it. It does one thing and it does it well!

YouTube

Although there are other video services out there, the vast amount of content provided by YouTube is just unmatched and I see no great problem in watching the actual videos provided there.

However, in order to get a bit more privacy when watching YouTube content, I’m currently experimenting with alternative client apps such as FreeTube on the desktop and NewPipe for Android.

Summary

Even though parts of my setup above might not be for everyone, all of the services mentioned are really easy to use. All you really have to do is not picking the default option provided by Google and in the process you might find some really nice alternatives and even support some local and / or socially minded business. There are so many mighty fine alternatives out there for you to find. Just go get them!