Friday, August 23, 2013

Giving up Google

For a while now I've been mulling over quitting Google. I started to think about trying out Yahoo Mail for its tabbed interface, which I quite like; Gmail is starting to look dated. But more than that I felt like a bit of a hypocrite, I don't like Google (especially now they've killed off the Location History API), I often bitch about them, and yet I was using many of their products virtually every hour of every day.

Products and services of Googles that I use include search, email, maps, location recording, mobile OS, calendar, blogging (oh the irony), price finding, Keep (their mobile notes app), YouTube, I even use Google for my SMTP server from home, although in practice that's only data from RSS feeds. The only one of their big products that I don't use is their browser, Chrome, I've always thought giving them that extra bit of control over my life a step too far.

Switching email providers was easy for me as I've always used my domain registrar to forward my mail to Google, so switching to a Yahoo address was easy. If you don't want to lose your Gmail address you can use their pop/imap service with any other email service/client of your choice. While this won't stop Google from reading scanning your mail, or sharing it with the NSA, it will remove one of their ad revenue streams and can allow you to gradually migrate, slowly changing your address with third parties. Of course, moving to Yahoo won't completely stop the NSA, but it might help a bit, and I feel happier spreading my eggs between many different baskets.

I used Yahoo Mail for a bit, but was then pointed in the direction of FastMail.FM, and haven't looked back since. It feels a lot more professional than Yahoo Mail and offers threading, but doesn't offer the same inbox configuration options. But that's about the only configuration option that FastMail.FM doesn't offer, the configuration pages are labyrinthine, the Alternative Login options being a particular gem. The domain options are good too, similar to Google Apps I suppose. I've left what I originally wrote about Yahoo Mail at the bottom of this post, in case you're interested.

FastMail's privacy policy is written in plain English and is worth a read.

There are a few options for search, I've been using DuckDuckGo and StartPage. StartPage feels like cheating a bit as it uses Google's results, but using DuckDuckGo I became paranoid that I was missing the best results. DuckDuckGo does seem to return decent results, but I do feel that you need to craft your queries slightly differently, adding a subject or context which you might not have had to do with Google search, and I do occasionally check Google results if DDG hasn't returned the solution I was looking for.

I am still using an Android mobile phone currently (my cursed HTC One), but I plan to get a Lumia 1020, just as soon as they are out in the UK. And become affordable. And Three pay out, which they have promised to do.

Maps and calendar are two things that I am not only not too bothered about, but will also probably be forced to migrate once I switch to Windows Mobile.

Google+... only joking.

Google products that I am left using fall onto a scale of so important, frequently used and/or apparently irreplaceable that I can't move away from them, such as Google Talk for chatting to my friends who I can't force to move to another medium (at home I use the third party client Pidgin, but at work I seem to have to use the Google app to get past the firewall), image search and location history, which is invaluable to me for geo-tagging photos, to not really that bothered about and don't use very often, but easily replaceable, such as Blogger, Drive and Docs and YouTube.

Of course the elephant in the room is Facebook. I've tried to minimise the amount of stuff that Facebook knows about me, lying about my date of birth, removing all my employment and educational details. Although none of that will help when the tabloids want to find an incriminating picture of me.

UPDATE: I have just received my Nokia Lumia 1020 and can report that Windows Phone 8 is definitely usable. My only complaint so far being that the keyboard takes up half the screen, doesn't do any numbers/symbols as long presses and doesn't support Swyping.

Yahoo have updated their mail interface making the following even more redundant. I haven't looked in detail but the update seems to include threading, and making the preview setting sync between settings.

Having used Yahoo Mail for a few weeks I can report that it is definitely usable, though it does lack many features (threading's a biggie*, I now understand why people top-quote) and many options (you can't configure your inbox** or sending format for example). However the Android app is fine, and I got used to the niggles quickly. One issue that concerned me, spam filtering, turned out not to be an issue. A couple of spam messages have got through, but hopefully with training they will trail off. Yahoo Mail even has some advantages over Gmail, including the fact that the orientation of the preview pane is specific to each local machine, so my work PC with its portrait monitor can remain different to my home PC in landscape, with Gmail I stopped using the preview pane due to having to constantly switch.

* If you're missing threading, I might point out Yahoo Mail has a feature to mitigate this. When you hover over the subject of a message in the inbox a magnifying glass appears next to it. Click this and Yahoo Mail will show you all messages with the same subject line. The same can be done with senders too.

** Not being able to configure my inbox to default to showing unread messages first has made me rethink how I manage my emails, which in the long run might be a good thing.

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