Maybe I should stay with Google? Nah....

The other day I almost decided to stick with Google after all. Then I came to my senses.

Doubts? I had a few

When I stepped away from Google six months ago, I was in the middle of the annual contracts on both of my G Suite accounts (personal and work). As I explained in an earlier post ("How do I replace thee?"), I had no trouble finding very good replacements for the services I was paying Google for. Posthaven has turned out to be a great blogging platform, especially for the kind of thing I do. And ProtonMail for email has been a delight. Nevertheless, last week I started to wonder if abandoning Google isn't a mistake. It's not that I began to think I was wrong about the malign aspects of Google's influence. But the G Suite accounts provide a lot of services, some of them are good (especially Documents) and they are pretty inexpensive. I already quit Google once, two years ago, and then ended up coming back after I'd deleted my old accounts. Not the way to do it. And my accounts are set to renew (and charge my credit cards) in the next month, so it's decision time.

Sunday (two days ago) I reconnected my Google work account to my email, by editing the pertinent DNS records at Hover. Hover is fabulous and makes domain management as easy as possible (unlike, say, GoDaddy). And creating MX records is easy. The problem is that there are a couple other little tasks that need to be done, including verifying domain ownership. Should be easy, but wasn't. In fact, dealing with Google's help-system hell was a bit like trying to do my income taxes. You can get a glimpse of what I'm talking about here.

Hardly a sentence without a conditional clause and/or a link to another web page. At one point I had about a dozen pages open, some of them duplicates.

I did switch email for work back to Google, and used it all day yesterday. But last night when I started to switch my personal email out of ProtonMail and back over to Google, in the middle of the process, I realized that this was nuts. The Google accounts might be cheap, but I'd lost several billable hours fooling around with Google's absurdly complex instructions. This has always been Google's weakness. Getting help is a nightmare.

Back to the future

So I undid everything and went back to ProtonMail. This meant setting up ProtonMail again, more or less from scratch. Took me about fifteen minutes to do both accounts, and there was never a moment in the process when I wasn't confident about what I was supposed to do. One of the things that was a problem at Google is the fact that, in both of my Google accounts, I needed to use multiple email addresses. Setting this up in ProtonMail was simplicity itself. 

So I balked for a day, but I'm once again resolved and will be deleting my Google accounts permanently in the next week or two. I have already downloaded everything and archived it. I'm not sure what I'm doing to miss. Not much.

And the gold medal goes to ProtonMail

Of all the services provided in the G Suite, the most important to me by far is email. Email is a lot harder than you might think. Managing the servers is hard, but it's also very hard to build a great app. It's even harder when you're trying to tie email in with a full menu of other services. Dropbox tried and gave up on it. Apple, Yahoo and Microsoft keep trying but they don't do it well. Among the Giants, only Google does a decent job. That might explain why more people use Google for mail than any other service (20-25% of the users in the world!).

But of all the dedicated email services I've tried and used, ProtonMail is hands down the best. For starters, I'm pretty sure the Swiss gnomes who run ProtonMail are not reading my email. The web app too is very good, more modern than Gmail and less busy than Inbox, and the iOS app is good too. Finally, ProtonMail provides platinum standard security. Great security has benefits even for people who have nothing to hide (like me): it prevents your email from being hijacked or spoofed. ProtonMail isn't used as a gateway to other apps which also makes it a less tempting target.

You can get a free account from ProtonMail, and if you do sign up, tell 'em I sent you!

How can I replace thee? Let me count the ways

As I mentioned the other day, I've been aware for a good while the Google owns me. There are lots of other reasons to dump Google, but the one that is most urgent to me is the fact that I have been depending on them for about seventy-five percent of what I do with my computer.

So when I decided that I had to escape from Google, of course, that meant I had to find a way to replace all of the services that I've been getting from Google. A couple years ago when I tried this, I found it harder than I expected. This time, to my surprise, it's been easy. Well, not exactly easy, but definitely doable. Here are some notes on the process.

Getting my data out of Google's clutches

The process of dumping Google was simple and logical. 

First, I found and started using replacement services for the key things I did in Google. I identify those replacements below.  

Then I simply stopped using Google.

Finally after a week or more, I used Google's tools to download all of my data: email, contacts, calendar data, photos, documents, notes, bookmarks, and more. I will give Google credit for one thing: It is indeed possible to download all of your data. It's not easy, but it's possible. (I should perhaps add here, for those of you who might try this on your own, if you're going to delete your Google account sooner or later, make sure that you have well backed up all that data that you downloaded!)

Here is a list of the most important services that I've gotten from Google, along with the service I'm switching to.

1. I have replaced Gmail with Protonmail

I started using Protonmail full-time for all my email several months ago. The Protonmail web application's UI is attractive and brilliantly usable. I have only one serious complaint about Protonmail: no undo-send feature (yet). Otherwise, I don't miss Gmail (or Inbox, which I'd been using mainly in the last year or more) at all.

Protonmail is secure and private in ways Google doesn't even want to be. My email is encrypted end-to-end, and it's easy for me to send password-protected emails for an extra level of security. (If you want to try Protonmail, please use me as a reference. I think we might both get a small break if you do.) With Protonmail (even with the free account) I never see those creepy ads that Google shows you after you mention something that might tie in with one of its "sponsors". I mainly get my email on a computer but Protonmail has an excellent iPhone app, too.

The big problem created when you want to change email services isn't finding a new one. The big problem is what to do with your old email. Some services will allow you to import email, but many don't, or make it hard enough that it's not possible as a matter of practicality. I imported my old Google email messages into Apple Mail. I hate Apple Mail but I use it now only as a tool for searching old email messages. And truth is, I don't have to do that often.

Note: Back in spring 2015, I wrote a long article entitled, "Searched for something better than Gmail. Didn't find it." You don't have to read it. The title says it all. But that was then and this is now. I definitely think Protonmail is better than Gmail now, in the ways that matter most to me.

2. I have replaced Blogger with Posthaven

This one was a bit tricky. I'm not a full-time writer, certainly not a full-time blogger. So I don't need a blogging platform that's designed for commerce. I want something that is easy to use, pleasant to write in, and that publishes my articles in a clean and attractive format. Doesn't sound like a lot to ask, right? Well, you'd be surprised how very few platforms actually met my requirements.

I had been using Google's Blogger. For years I have felt that Google did not have its heart in Blogger the way it had its heart in other projects like email, documents, or stalking its customers on the Web. I've used occasionally but I don't care for its limitations. The real power with Wordpress comes when you get the software and run it on your own server, and I simply don't want to do that. So I had to look father afield. In the end, after I'd tried out more than a dozen blogging platforms, Posthaven was the easy winner.

From a design perspective, Posthaven is not as sexy as Wordpress. Only a handful of ready-made themes. Posthaven does allow you to create your own themes and fifteen years ago when I was doing web development and working with CSS regularly, I might have accepted the challenge. But I don't want to work that hard now. So I've accepted Posthaven's limitations here and try to view this limited menu of visual options as a blessing, which it truly is. One of the problems I had with Wordpress was that I was tempted to try every new template that appeared.

Good display of images is important to me and Posthaven handles images just fine. But my blogging is and has always been mostly text. Posthaven handles the kind of writing I do much better than, say, Tumblr. I'd be a little happier with Posthaven if it supported Markdown, but otherwise, Posthaven is terrific. It promises to be here "forever". That's good enough for me. I plan to stick with it.

3. I'm replacing Google Photos with Flickr and ImageShack

I've used Flickr for about as long as I had used Gmail, and although I had a lot of photos in Google Photos, the truth is, this isn't such a big deal. Flickr is vastly superior to Google Photos. It displays my photos beautifully, allows me to control access to my photos and my copyright, and equally important, provides a social environment where I can share my best pictures with others in a variety of interest groups. I'll have to figure out what photos that I'd like to display online are missing from Flickr and upload them there, but dropping Google Photos isn't such a big deal.

ImageShack on the other hand is something new for me. I'm liking it so far. Not sure how I'll end up using it. I do think I'll be storing there images that I use in blog articles. 

4. Moving my word processing to Dropbox Paper (among others)

I stopped needing Microsoft Word years ago. Even editors at the publications I was writing for started using Google Documents. It's a good app, but I am finding Paper, the writing and editing app from Dropbox, meets all my needs beautifully. If I need anything fancier, I can crank up Pages.

5. I'm replacing Google Voice with Skype

This one was easy. I have used Google Voice for business for a couple of years. Before that I'd used Skype. Skype has gotten better, and Google Voice hasn't. There are other VOIP services that sound excellent and I might end up with one of those if I'm not happy with Skype. But I'm familiar with it and it seems to be all I need for now. I won't miss Google Voice. 

6. I'm replacing Google Calendar with my own Works & Days app

This hasn't been a problem at all, since it's been a year or two since I made much use of Google Calendar. I've now moved to my own app for calendar and task management. My app interfaces with macOS Reminders, so I can quickly set up reminders as I need to.

7. I was already using DuckDuckGo for search, for the last couple of years

Of course, I don't use Google for web searching and you shouldn't either, unless for some odd reason you like the idea that Google is tracking your every move. I've also made a personal effort not to use "Google" as a verb meaning "search the Internet."

8. I've dumped Chrome for Safari, Opera and (in Windows 10) Edge

I don't use Chrome now either. Since I updated the other day to macOS X v10.13 "High Sierra", Apple's Safari appears to be the best browser for macOS, and in Windows, I have started using Microsoft Edge as my default since they recently started supporting 1Password. But I keep Opera in the mix, too, especially for the built-in VPN. I used to have very high hopes for Brave, but after a year and a half, it's still not quite ready for prime time, so I use it now and then, but I cannot see it becoming my default browser.


I don't think I'm saving money, indeed, it's possible that I'm spending a little more now than I was when everything was included in my $5/month Google account. But I'm now able to pick the app I want for each of my needs. I'm in charge of my own data once again. It's very liberating.