Google, I wish I knew how to quit you

A few weeks back, I made a big deal out of ditching Google as much as possible because a number of things they’ve done recently have made me uneasy about where the company’s priorities lie. The idea was to replace all the Google services I used with alternates from other ecosystems, open source and under my direct control if possible.

The results, while not an abject failure, fell well short of what I intended.

My plan was to ditch Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Contacts and Google Tasks for Microsoft’s Exchange 365. This didn’t work for me as well as I’d hoped. Part of it really wasn’t Microsoft’s fault (even though it was, really). My day job also uses Exchange 365–where I got the idea–and while Outlook 2010 can normally handle two different Exchange accounts (the first version of Outlook to do so), it can’t do so with Microsoft’s cloud-hosted Exchange. Or, more to the point, every time I tried to load my personal 365 account, Microsoft “helped” by automatically trying to log in for me behind the scenes, with the domain credentials I’d used to log on to my day job laptop. There is no way to make Microsoft less helpful and just use the gorram login credentials I gave it. So the biggest advantage I sought by switching to a Microsoft solution–having my work and personal email and PIM data in the same installation of Outlook–was a non-starter.

And frankly, the rest of the advantages of switching to Exchange weren’t that compelling. Gmail has better spam detection, by far. Gmail has more flexible, sophisticated rules for email filtering. Since I had to use a web app to access my account either way, Google Calendar and Gmail are more polished, more stable web apps (I kept getting errors trying to bring up Outlook Web settings and I couldn’t dismiss the modal dialog to try again, grr). So even though I still don’t trust Google as much as I used to, the benefits I get from them, for now, outweighs their potential skeeviness.

I considered moving my calendar and email data to Apple’s iCloud, but their web interface isn’t ready for prime time. More specifically, it isn’t ready to run on non-Safari browsers. Color me surprised.

I did manage to replace Google Drive/Docs with Evernote and Google Tasks with Remember the Milk, but how I got those two to work together (and why I had to bring in RTM to bolster my Evernote-based GTD system) is a topic for another post.

I ended up going back to Chrome as my browser on my Windows boxen because frankly, Firefox is becoming a second-class web citizen. All of the hot extensions are for Chrome first, Firefox if the devs get time. Web apps are written for the webkit engine in Chrome and Safari, with Firefox’s Gecko engine as an afterthought.

It’s not just the desktop, either. On my Galaxy Nexus, I tried to set it up like a Kindle Fire, using only Amazon’s app store on a build of CyanogenMod 9 without Google apps. This also proved to be unacceptably confining. Or put more simply, it sucked.

I have a lot of apps on the Amazon app store, too. Hundreds, and not all from their free app a day promotion. But there are too many missing titles, and the ones that do exist are far out of date.

Let me give you just two examples. I’ve recently become fond of CoinKeeper on iOS for my budget management. They recently released an Android app. But only on the Play Store. It doesn’t exist on Amazon. So without Google apps, I can’t run this app. (I’d be in the same boat if I owned a Kindle Fire.)

So let’s look at a more established, high profile app: Evernote. They just released version 4 of their Android app, a major rewrite designed for Android 4. Current version on Amazon? 3.61. So again, if I want up to date apps, I need Google’s Play Store for that, too.

My saving grace might be iOS. One of the big changes in upcoming iOS 6 is the further de-Googlification of iOS by ripping out Google Maps and replacing it with Apple’s own map/navigation engine. It’s easy to switch your default search engine to Bing on iOS, and Siri further abstracts Google out of search by directing relevant queries to Wolfram Alpha instead. If I did switch over to iCloud and ditched Google Voice for iMessage, I could, in theory, have a Google-free experience on my iPhone and iPad-to-be-named-later. And all I’d have to do is go all in with Apple.

Which one was the evil empire again?

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