Given Google’s willingness to abandoning major projects, with Google+ as potentially the latest victim, I’ve decided to abandon Google. I’m not doing this in a vacuum: since making a concerted effort to go entirely cross-platform, I’ve found that relying on Google properties makes things unecessarily difficulat, particularly on Windows Phone. And so, watching Google doing away with or dramatically altering yet another highly-touted service just makes my decision that much easier.
Around a year ago, I was almost all-in on Google. I used a Nexus 5 smartphone as my daily driver, a Nexus 10 as my tablet, and Chrome and everything Google on the desktop and notebook (both Windows and OS X). I used Google services for keeping everything in sync, including contacts, calendar, tasks, and RSS feeds, and Hangouts for instant messaging and video conferencing. Things worked for the most part, but various changes and uncertainties have made staying with Google a less attractive proposition.
And so, here’s where I’ve gone for most of my related computing needs. Your mileage may differ, of course; keep in mind that my principle goal is achieving the best possible cross-platform support, not necessarily committing to the absolute best-in-breed in any given category. I’ll keep using Google as a blogger, because of course billions of people use Google products even if I don’t. That said, I’ve found each of the following to be very good solutions overall for my own uses, and I don’t really feel like I’m missing much from when I used Google almost exclusively.
Browser: Internet Explorer and Safari
I’ve switched to Internet Explorer on my Windows machines, mainly because I’m not a fan of either Firefox or Safari. That’s been little more problematic lately, as I’ve run into issues in Windows 10 build 9926; I’ve actually reverted to Chrome on my Windows 10 machines because IE has become quite unstable. I’m using Safari on my Apple devices, and enjoy its nice integration across OS X and iOS (same for IE on Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone, incidentally).
I don’t miss Chrome, honestly, and would rather not be using it in Windows 10. It’s become something of a performance killer in general, and I’m looking forward to Spartan in (hopefully) the next Windows 10 build. Ultimately, I’d really love to see strong cross-platform support in a Microsoft browser.
Cloud Storage/Syncing: OneDrive
I have unlimited OneDrive storage via an Office 365 subscription, and that alone would be enough to push me to Microsoft’s cloud storage and syncing solution. However, I also simply like OneDrive, and find it simpler and easier to use and manage than some of its competitors. In fact, the only alternative that I’d consider is DropBox, which I do use for some purposes (e.g., backing up this blog).
In general, OneDrive is a strong part of Microsoft’s cross-platform push, and so it exists everywhere, and it works reliably. I back up photos and video from all of my devices to OneDrive, and access my important Office documents using the various cross-platform apps. It just works.
I know it’s not terribly popular (by some measures, Google still owns as much as roughly 75% of the search market), but I’ve found Bing a perfectly serviceable replacement. I get good results (in some cases, even better than Google), and I don’t feel like I lose anything on any platform. I still use Google Now on my Nexus devices, and so technically I’m still using Google search, but whenever I have a choice, Bing is what I choose.
RSS Feed Syncing: Feedly
Google Reader, which provided a solid RSS syncing backend, is another service that Google unceremoniously killed off. Feedly stepped into the gap, however, and provides at least as good of a service. It’s free unless you want certain premium features, and I use it without issue on all of my machines.
On Windows and Windows Phone, I use my favorite RSS reader of all time, NextGen Reader, to access Feedly. It’s a Universal app and so works roughly the same on both platforms, and it’s a joy to use, with strong OneNote integration. I use the Feedly apps on Android and iOS, which are completely usable except for weaker OneNote clipping.
I’ve switched myself and my family to Skype, replacing Hangouts, and we haven’t looked back. Microsoft has good Skype clients on every relevant platform, which can’t be said about Hangouts, and generally Skype is reliable and performs well enough for my needs. I can always run Hangouts if I’m part of a group that uses it, but for my individual needs Skype is more than good enough.
I’ve never really liked Gmail, or rather I’ve never used the features that made Gmail popular, such as labels, and so I’ve never developed a particular appreciation for it. In fact, I’m not even familiar with what makes Gmail unique or special–I’ve always simply used it like traditional email, accessing email from the inbox and organizing via folders. I’m sure that I could have spent some time to learn how to maximize Gmail’s functionality, but frankly I’ve just never gotten around to it. Even its superior integrated with other Google properties hasn’t been any great advantage, given how Google unpredictably adds and removes major services like Google+.
At the same time, while Gmail has always performed just fine both sending and receiving email, and its spam filtering is as good as anybody’s, I admit to being just a little concerned about Google’s mining my email to serve up ads. I know that Google’s not alone in this, and I don’t necessarily believe that Google will do anything truly nefarious with my personal information. But if I can avoid extra exposure to privacy concerns without giving up anything important, I don’t see why I should stay with a system that makes me even remotely uncomfortable.
I’ve also used a Yahoo! email account for over a decade, but recently developed some serious issues accessing the account from various email clients. For example, no Outlook client will successfully connect via either POP3 or IMAP starting a few months ago, including Outlook 2013 and the recent Outlook previews for iOS and Android. It’s bizarre, but nobody can determine a cause. Every client that will connect, such as Android’s Gmail app and the stock iOS Mail app, periodically disconnects and complains of an invalid password (that certainly isn’t). Yahoo! also mines email to target ads, and their Web app has turned into a hot mess. And so, the choice to move away from Yahoo! has been an easy one.
I’ve made a significant investment in the Microsoft platform in general, and am enjoying the cross-platform work they’re doing with products like Office, Skype, and OneDrive. Their product integration also makes a great deal of sense to me, with Office 365 online offering tremendous value. Therefore, it makes some sense to choose Outlook.com as my primary email provider, and I’ve been transitioning to my Outlook.com address for the past few weeks.
It’s been a significant effort, requiring updating the default email for all of the different services I use. I’ll need to maintain access to both the Gmail and Yahoo! accounts in case I miss something, but so far I’ve found Outlook.com at least as good for my purposes as any other options I’ve run across. At least according to Microsoft, I can also rest more easily that my email isn’t being used to target me for advertising–making me a Microsoft email customer and not its product.
I’ve used Google Calendar as my background syncing solution for quite some time. There’s no real advantage to using Google here, and so I’m switching to Outlook.com as soon as I can get my family to play along. Outlook.com has the added benefit of working natively with Outlook 2013, something that Google themselves abandoned years ago.
Google Tasks confused me. First, they were integrated into the Google Calendar. Then they were separated out, but it took some time before it was perfectly clear to me which Tasks I was actually using. I used a few apps that synced with Google Tasks, but was uncomfortable without a solid cross-platform solution.
After trying a few alternatives, Wunderlist has emerged as the single best solution, with just the right combination of features and with solid apps on every platform. Syncing is generally very good (although I’m having an issue with iOS apps not syncing reminders, but I think I’m an outlier here). I’m particularly impressed with Wunderlist’s support of Windows 8.X and Windows Phone; not many tasks apps have reliable options outside of iOS and Android.
My contacts are a mess. Over the years, I’ve saved contacts in Yahoo!, Gmail, Outlook 2013 (and hence unsynced, since I’ve stopped investing in third-party syncing tools), Facebook, LinkedIn, and Outlook.com. I’m going to consolidate all of my own contacts in Outlook.com once I sort everything out, while maintaining my links to Facebook and LinkedIn. Google will be the most challenging to transfer over, given that it’s a bit confusing (that word again) to sort through Gmail vs. Google+ contacts, but I’m getting used to Google being the pain point. I’m sure I’ll muddle through.
Social Media: Everything but Google+
Yes, Google is abandoning Google+, splitting it out into Photos, Hangouts, and Streams. I don’t know what this will look like or the value that it will bring, but I guarantee that I’ll not be spending any more time on Google’s social media efforts. They’ve been a mess from the outset, and I don’t think they’ve ever brought value to anyone. I’m just relieved that I didn’t spend much time building a presence on Google+.
Microsoft has Xbox Music. Google has Google Music. Apple has iTunes. Amazon has Amazon Music. Going cross-platform with music has been a real challenge, with no service offering feature-complete native clients for every platform. And so, for now, I’m using whatever works, which means Xbox Music on Windows and Windows Phone, Google Music on Android, and iTunes and Amazon Music on iOS. I’m hoping that Microsoft will take Xbox Music cross-platform, perhaps once Windows 10 is released with the
rumored OneDrive music locker (Update: Microsoft just enabled the music locker via OneDrive on 3/18/2015).
Conclusion: I Don’t Miss Google a Bit
So far, I can’t point to one thing that makes me miss Google. Indeed, for the most part, things are working better than ever. Microsoft has a great deal to do with this–being able to run Office, Skype, and OneDrive on every device I own makes going cross-platform possible, let alone easy. I know that I’m a bit of a special case, and that most people do just fine with Google. But I do wonder at Google’s long-term prospects when it’s surprisingly easy to live life without using (almost) any of their services.