You have to be biting your tongue awfully hard to shoot off "Google is, in other words, the new AOL." He admits all of the services are not complete alternatives, save for maybe RSS readers. In other words, either 99% of users can't manage to use these non-alternatives for reasons like calendar and contacts not syncing, or they already don't use the product like RSS, or they definitely won't be able to run their own server.
Not to mention, I would tip my hat to Google for forcing every one of these "alternatives" to be better, because before Google, these services sucked. AOL sucked. MS sucked. OSS sucked. Firefox sucked -- thanks Chrome.
These are not the alternatives you're looking for. People should definitely care about their privacy, and they should definitely live on platforms that encourage interop. However, these articles focus far too much on trying to frame Google as some evil actor, when we could be championing everything Google has done well and how their competitors -- alternatives -- should be doing better.
I'm not suggesting that Google is evil. What I am saying is, these products don't work for me and the reason they don't work is that they aren't interoperable with my own desktop software, or the rest of the Internet. I actually do use desktop calendaring software which will stop working this summer. I communicate with people via XMPP who are not on Talk. I used to use Listen and Reader. I'm only looking to migrate off Voice because it's not going to be available. I was pretty perturbed when all of a sudden, anyone I ever emailed appeared as a pre-approved contact on Talk.
So, it isn't about Google being evil or not. Google has a responsibility to its shareholders to make money, and I trust that they're trying to fulfill that mandate as well as possible. In doing so, they've shifted their portfolio of properties into a closed ecosystem that does not appeal to me as a consumer.
At this point, I imagine most alternatives suck because there's really no point in going up against free and awesome. Case in point: Reader. Reader really was awesome, and it had no competitors because no one would bother competing with it.
I imagine that as Google does offend more of its users, some competition might heat up, but I'm well aware that for most people, none of this matters in the slightest. It's a narrow cross section of geeks who notice or understand any of this.
> I actually do use desktop calendaring software which will stop working this summer.
What's the software? Google CalDAV support isn't actually going away, it's just switching to a whitelist, so depending on your client, it should be fine. I don't know how that's going to work exactly (is it just an API key? how will that work with open source calendaring software like Lightning?), but if it's even moderately actively maintained software, it's likely that they've already applied for access.
> Google started by dropping XMPP invites under the questionable guise of spam protection (from the article)
Just FYI, they turned federation back on shortly afterwards. Of course, it's being dropped for the new chat system, but it's worth getting that right.
> Fastmail is owned by Opera Software and operates both free and paid tiers of service
As others have pointed out, there is no free tier, just a free trial. And if you're going to pay for it, I don't really see the difference between that and going full Google Apps, but that's just me. (edit: ah, apparently there used to be a free tier, but no longer)
Regardless, paying for the services you use is a good thing, both for getting better guarantees for service, and for teaching the market that ad-supported services aren't the end-all be-all, that we can have other business models, and maybe even a diverse market of them to support different uses and different requirements.
Speaking as someone who uses Google Apps for personal email, it sucks. I hate having a google apps managed account under my personal email address (my primary google account is a gmail address), I hate the limited filtering options that Gmail provides, I hate the faux-IMAP layer that Gmail has, I hate the fact that every time I switch networks with my laptop I get a "too many simultaneous connections" error from the Gmail IMAP server, and I hate many more things about this.
So many thanks to Ken for finding what appears to be a good alternative. Time to convince my family to switch email providers.
The software is KDE (Akonadi), Thunderbird (Lightning), and a few small utilities. It seems probable, though not guaranteed that Lightning will keep working. But I don't want to bed the farm on that, I doubt KDE will be supported, and I'd really rather just use a calendar that faithfully implements the standard instead of whitelisting the standard for certain clients.
In terms of XMPP, I checked yesterday. After updating the Android Talk app to Hangouts, all of my XMPP contacts disappeared.
In terms of email, using Google Apps on a custom domain would avoid lockin and actually not be a bad choice, at least for now. I went with Fastmail anyway, and I think it's just a better service.
I have to disagree on the whitelisting as breaking an implementation of a standard; nothing in a standard like that requires it be universally accessible...you're already authenticating to get the CalDAV data in the first place, for instance. Whitelisting clients is not really different and is quite common, though I'm not sure if Google ever gave an explanation other than "our API is totally awesome", which is not much of one. I definitely do understand reluctance to depend on future support because of reasoning like that, however.
For XMPP, it's the Hangouts app that I was referring to as the "new chat system". Federation for regular google talk was turned back on, but you'll need a third party XMPP client now, I guess. Fortunately they're quite common.
> I actually do use desktop calendaring software which
> will stop working this summer.
Which software is that? If it's currently working with Gmail's CalDAV support, then it ought to continue working into the future. Google is not dropping support for CalDAV.
> I communicate with people via XMPP who are not on Talk.
This also ought to continue working. Talk is still based on XMPP, and server federation is still working.
If Google actually does shut down support for either of these open protocols, feel free to object as much as possible. I'll be right there beside you. But right now you're jumping from "Google might possibly drop support at some indeterminate point in the future" to "Google will definitely drop support in a month", which is not supported by evidence.
> In some ways, they already have. To the best of my
> knowledge, you can no longer obtain the Google Talk
> Android app from the Play Store anymore. It has been
> replaced by the Hangouts app.
That's not the same as shutting down support. The Gmail app doesn't use IMAP, but you can still connect to Gmail with any IMAP client.
> Sure, you can use a third party XMPP client on Android,
> but the writing is on the wall here.
That's like saying that google.com is going to drop support for HTTP because Chrome has support for SPDY.
You're complaining about Google doing something bad before Google has announced any intention to do it. If Google actually does drop support for XMPP -- that is, if they announce one day that people will no longer be able to chat with federated servers from a standalone XMPP client -- then go wild.
I think you're under the impression that I am more emotionally-involved here than I actually am. I'm not particularly upset about Google's actions. It is what it is.
My last sentence kind of expresses my whole point: "the writing is on the wall". I think that what's left of their XMPP support will be phased out sooner rather than later as everyone jumps ship to the new platform.
That they terminated their app (Google Talk) on their leading platform speaks volumes about where XMPP is going.
To add fuel to the fire, I think Google Voice as we know it is going away, too. :) I can't see how they're generating worthwhile profits on it.
Thanks for the post. What're you doing about Listen? I've been happily using it even after they've discontinued it. But I assume it'll stop working for good once Reader is shut down. I've seen other Podcast apps on my friends' phones who weren't "grandfathered" into Listen, and I'm not impressed.
This is not going to be a popular view, but here goes anyway...
Depends. I've been using Outlook Web Access since it was first released. Granted, you need Exchange, but these days Outlook.com provides similar functionality (or so I'm told - I use Exchange Online now).
That said, the most useful calendar I've found is Family Room on Windows Phone. I share it with my girlfriend, who has an iPhone, and it works insanely well for us.
I have to use Gmail at work, and find it to be the most obtuse email UX I've ever encountered.
Buy and run a server, Windows Server, Exchange, IIS, in 2003? Did you just tell me to go fuck myself?  I think MS has made up a lot of ground and is comparable to Google, for online services, in a lot of ways, but they're not better and would probably be on the same end of the stick, if they commanded the same lead Google does for these services.
I had MSDN and TechNet subscriptions, and because I was doing a lot of work from home had an old desktop set up as a server anyway, so the cost was low. DynDNS made it easy to host out of my house.
Microsoft's online services are better than Google's. I could list a million and one reasons ranging from being ad-free, document fidelity in Office and the fact that I can't sort my Gmail inbox by sender. And while it has its faults, I have not found a better email client (UX and functional breadth) than Outlook. Here.com is better than Google Maps (true offline being a big deal for me), and Here.com's Transit app is the best public transport app I've found. I don't know how SkyDrive stacks up against competitors, because SkyDrive is good enough for me.
Why exactly do you think Google is better?
 It amused me to see Google's transit implementation in Google Maps - it's a horizontal version of the vertically oriented Windows Phone app from Nokia, which's excellent and has been around for ages.
That's probably partially true, but that's not really true on HN. Every thread on "Google shutters product X" has at least one person asking for alternatives to gmail et al.
I almost wish we could pin a story like this just to cut some of those comments.
There are days when there will be multiple stories on the front page at the same time with comments asking, "what are the alternatives to gmail?" with the inevitable, "well, fastmail is a good choice" and then someone will bring up running your own server, and then someone else will respond about spam and blacklisting and downtime, and someone else will say something about they've been doing it for 5 years and it's not that hard, etc etc etc
No, it's not evil to make or ask for money to use your product; it's not evil to discontinue services, especially not with 6-24 month advanced warning; and it's not evil to literally want to be the omnipresent center of everyone's lives. How exactly is Google evil?
Their resources have not stopped lesser alternatives from doing business, even with a core product (eg. search) of their's, so it's not that. DuckDuckGo is doing quite well with search; those conversations usually talk about quality and speed of results, not on how Google is the new Altavista and how you should switch before Google deprecates HTTP for GTTP.
Well, there's an account out there with my real name tied to it that I never wanted to happen and to this day have no idea how it got there. I don't have a Google + account. Probably there was something that I clicked when I was tying my mobile phone to my Google account or something. I can't find any way to delete it either.
My YouTube account keeps telling me I should use my real name there as well....
Basically they try to make you give them things - they're an invasive presence. Does this make them evil? I don't know, I don't care. People who want to argue about good and evil are often avoiding arguing about the real issues, like whether someone's a nasty piece of work, or whether they're being abusive. When someone behaves like a scoundrel you know what sort of person they are, whether you can call them evil or not. What I do know is that my next phone is not going to be an android phone - and, when it isn't, I'll delete my google account entirely. I don't want people who treat me like that in my life. They make me feel dirty for associating with them.
This isn't really a constructive observation. When MS was dominant, plenty of people still used Office. It didn't mean they didn't recognize that MS acted like a monopolist in a lot of ways. And it didn't mean that every aspect of MS was the same.
I don't know yet. Neither of those companies, (I believe? - might be wrong), has active social strategies. So, they're unlikely to use my data in ways that would increase my public risk by much. Either of them would be an improvement from that perspective. Neither are they likely to be particularly pushy when it comes to other services simply because I don't use much else that's made by them.
In terms of private risk - well, bam. They're OS manufacturers. If they want to screw you, you're screwed. Do either of them seem to be in the habit of screwing their customers? I don't think so. Again, I might be wrong.
I think, in terms of private vulnerability, if you're seriously concerned with that, then you have to start off with the assumption that your device is a traitor. I remember back when we were playing around with using phones microphones to eavesdrop on people even when the phone was turned off. You've got a snitch in your pocket - if you want to do something private from the people who made it, leave it at home.
All that being, from my point of view, more or less equal then - (and I'm open to feedback on any of this since I'm not religiously tied to either option.) I'm currently leaning towards Windows Phone. It looks like it has a really nicely thought out interface.
A lot of it will depend on which keyboard is better. That was the reason I opted for an android for my first phone - that it had the ability to change keyboard if I didn't like it.
Windows Phone's weakest points are probably the designs of its handsets and the app availability. But I don't use many apps anyway, and the hardware, IMO, isn't worse than iphone, it's just not as good as the best of android.
The things that might lean me more towards iphone is that I want to get a tablet at some point - and I've not seen any good Windows 8 Tablets. If I'm going to be curling up in bed for some reading, I don't really want something that's heavy and hot. It's gonna be easier if my tablet and my phone are both on the same system.
It's far from a perfect solution, whatever I choose. Android has, it seems to me, the best overall experience across tablets and phones, but the pushiness of Google's a deal killer. Windows has the best phone of the two remaining (and according to some of my girlfriends the best phone experience overall anyway) and Apple seem to have the best tablet of the remaining two.
I'm not strongly tied to any option at the moment though. I might even end up getting a Linux device - though the fact that they run on Android hardware which ties back to google is troubling.
Google used to support openness, and now it is being less open, and therefore less "good". A step in a direction that is less "good" is a step towards "evil". It's not unreasonable to say that Google is being more evil.
It's not a stretch to say that Google can't be trusted not to be evil if they've moved in a more evil (or less good) direction.
I think you're applying a a value judgement to a technical issue. "Open" pertains to the nature of certain software and standard. It's not inherently good or evil; you're just choosing to assign that value based on how it correlates with the world you'd like to see. I'd prefer things be more open too, but I don't agree that being less open is somehow inherently "more evil." You can have an entirely non-open company that's totally "good" - good/evil is about the actions of the company, not the wording of its license.
I don't consider closed-source software to be inherently evil. I do consider openness, transparency, et al to be inherently good, however, as these things are beneficial to the world at large. That doesn't mean that all alternatives are instantly evil or that openness is the One True Path.
I do consider a shift toward less openness to be inherently less good. I don't consider Google to suddenly be this evil company.
Google is, however, to be a very powerful company (and therefore a very dangerous company by nature), and a moral regression in policy is certainly an unnerving thing to see. I love a lot of things Google has done. I love a lot of their products, projects, practices, etc. I just can't consider Google to be a safe place.
It's a way of framing an argument that discourages rational discussion of the actual merits of each side. It's not whether or not I agree with that value judgement that matters; it's that assigning those kinds of judgement is often a way to preclude any deeper or more nuanced discussion.
Google supports openness just fine and not statistically less than yesterday or n-days ago: https://code.google.com/hosting/search?q=label:google. Regardless, I'm dubious to believe having closed software makes one evil; just the same for discontinuing a product. Three steps forward; one step backwards; not evil, even by your ridiculous terms.
Honestly my greatest fear is that my account would be shut down for some obscure infraction and their support would be so terrible I'd never get it back. What would be the recourse then? Storming into their offices and demanding an answer?
Tabs in the title bar is a better UI decision. The URL box belongs to the tab, so it should be part of the tab. Your objection here seems to be 'Firefox mimicked Chrome and this is a bad thing', rather than these things being objectively bad.
Tabs in a treeview is better again, and is not possible with Chrome.
I also object to the lack of a menu bar, for bookmarks in particular. I have an extension that emulates it, but nothing that can properly emulate treeview tabs - I can't imagine ever going to a browser without this.
What operative system are you using? On GNU/Linux
- http / https are visible in the url bar
- tabs are under the url bar (and under any other bar you activated)
- menu is still there
- status bar can be toggled on/off
> Not to mention, I would tip my hat to Google for forcing every one of these "alternatives" to be better, because before Google, these services sucked. AOL sucked. MS sucked. OSS sucked. Firefox sucked -- thanks Chrome.
Opera was pretty awesome before Google turned up and release Chrome.