So I was recently asked why I prefer to use free and open source software over more conventional and popular proprietary software and services.
A few years ago I was an avid Google user. I was deeply embedded in the Google ecosystem and used their products everywhere. I used Gmail for email, Google Calendar and Contacts for PIM, YouTube for entertainment, Google Newsstand for news, Android for mobile, and Chrome as my web browser.
I would upload all of my family photos to Google Photos and all of my personal documents to Google Drive (which were all in Google Docs format). I used Google Domains to register my domain names for websites where I would keep track of my users using Google Analytics and monetize them using Google AdSense.
I used Google Hangouts (one of Google’s previous messaging plays) to communicate with friends and family and Google Wallet (with debit card) to buy things online and in-store.
My home is covered with Google Homes (1 in my office, 1 in my bedroom, 1 in the main living area) which I would use to play music on my Google Play Music subscription and podcasts from Google Podcasts.
I have easily invested thousands of dollars into my Google account to buy movies, TV shows, apps, and Google hardware devices. This was truly the Google life.
Then one day, I received an email from Google that changed everything.
“Your account has been suspended”
I nearly had a heart attack, until I saw that the Google account that had been suspended was in fact not my main personal Google account, but a throwaway Gmail account that I created years prior for a project. I hadn’t touched the other account since creation and forgot it existed. Apparently my personal Gmail was listed as the recovery address for the throwaway account and that’s why I received the termination email.
Although I was able to breathe a sigh of relief this time, the email was wake up call. I was forced to critically reevaluate my dependence on a single company for all the tech products and services in my life.
I found myself to be a frog in a heating pot of water and I made the decision that I was going to jump out.
The first Google service I decided to drop was Gmail, the heart of my online identity. I migrated to Fastmail with my own domain in case I needed to move again (hint: glad I did, now I self host my email). Fastmail also provided calendar and contacts solutions so that took care of leaving Google Calendar and Contacts.
Here are some other alternatives that I moved to:
- Gmail → Fastmail → Self-hosted (via Cloudron)
- Google Contacts → Fastmail → Nextcloud Contacts
- Google Calendar → Fastmail → Nextcloud Calendar
- Google Search → Bing → DuckDuckGo
- Google Maps → Bing Maps → OpenStreetMaps and OsmAnd
- Google Analytics → Matomo Analytics
- Google Drive → Nextcloud Files
- Google Photos → Nextcloud Files/Gallery
- Google Docs → Collabora Office (Nextcloud integration) and LibreOffice
- Google Play Music → Spotify / Plex → Spotify / Jellyfin
- Google Play Movies/TV → Plex → Jellyfin
- Google Play Audiobooks/Books → Audible/Kindle
- Google Play Store (apps) → F-Droid / Aurora Store
- Google Android → Lineage OS → Ubuntu Touch on PinePhone (coming soon?)
- Google’s Android Apps → Simple Mobile Tools
- Google Chrome → Mozilla Firefox
- Google Domains → Hover
- Google Hangouts → Matrix and Nextcloud Talk
- Google Allo → Signal
- Google Podcasts → PocketCasts → AntennaPod
- Google Newsstand → RSS
- Google Wallet → PayPal and Cash App
- Google Voice →Ting Mobile
Migrating away from Google was not a fast or easy process. It took years to get where I am now and there are still several Google services that I depend on: YouTube and Google Home.
Eventually, my Google Home’s will grow old and become unsupported at which point hopefully the Mycroft devices have matured and become available for purchase. YouTube may never be replaced (although I do hope for projects like PeerTube to succeed) but I find the compromise of using only one or two Google services to be acceptable.
At this point losing my Google account due to a mistake in their machine learning would largely be inconsequential and my focus has shifted to leaving Amazon which I use for most of my shopping and cloud services.
The reason that I moved to mostly FOSS applications is that it seems to be the only software ecosystem where everything works seamlessly together and I don’t have to cede control to any single company. Alternatively I could have simply split my service usage up evenly across Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple but I don’t feel that they would have worked as nicely together.
Overall I’m very happy with the open source ecosystem. I use Ubuntu with KDE on all of my computers and Android (no GApps) on my mobile phone. I’ve ordered the PinePhone “Brave Heart” and hope to one day be able to use it or one of its successors as a daily driver with Ubuntu Touch or Plasma Mobile.