Face it: Google runs your life. The search giant turned web ecosystem owns your email, calendar and even your voicemails. Your most important data lives on Google’s servers. What you may not realise is that, despite the quality of Google’s products, someone else is doing it better — and placing all your eggs in Google’s basket isn’t necessarily the best thing. Here’s a look at alternative services you can use in place of Google’s web apps.
You might want to move away from Google entirely, whether you’re tired of things like the Google Plus-ification of your search results or the fact that Google’s mining ridiculous amounts of data and selling you to advertisers, or maybe you’re just plain tired of Google creating services it doesn’t actually improve over time. You may scoff at the idea of using Bing or other less popular competitors, but they’re quite good — sometimes even better — than Google. We’ve just become too entrenched to notice.
If you want to take a serious look at the alternatives, we did some digging and a lot of experimentation to find the best alternatives to Google’s most popular services. Most of these services are still from big companies, like Microsoft or Yahoo!, but we’ve tried to include a few services off the beaten path as well. The fact of the matter is just that the highest quality services around are going to be from the companies with the most resources. Below, we’ve listed the best Google alternatives in each category, as well as a few runners-up we think are worth checking out.
The Best Search Alternative: DuckDuckGo
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Of course, DuckDuckGo falls short in a few areas. For all the engine’s cool features, it still doesn’t have some of the basic features other popular search engines will give you, like the ability to narrow your search down by date. If you find that DuckDuckGo isn’t giving you what you need, you can try one of the more traditional search engine alternatives below.
Other Alternatives: Bing, which offers related searches and your search history in the sidebar; Yahoo!, which offers links to the cached version of a page; and Ask, which can answer a lot of other questions without the need to sift through results (such as release dates for movies and video games). Of course, you could also try choosing your search engine based on what you’re searching for.
The Best Gmail Alternative: Hotmail
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Other Alternatives: Yahoo! Mail, which requires a paid account for things like POP access or email forwarding; iCloud for seamless syncing with your iPhone; or Zoho Mail, which is ad-free and has a more desktop client-like interface but doesn’t support saved searches or advanced filters.
The Best Google Calendar Alternative: Zoho Calendar
That said, we want to give a shout out to our other favourite: simple pen and paper calendars. When we asked you guys what your favourite Google alternatives are, many of you noted that you’d use a paper planner over Google Calendar, and we don’t blame you. Paper calendars are about as quick and simple as they come: it’s easy to add events, and it’s super quick to browse through your months (even easier than digital calendars, really). Alternatively, if you still want a digital calendar, you can always just use a calendar app on your phone and store it locally. There’s no reason you have to sync it to the web if you always have your phone with you.
Other Alternatives: Hotmail Calendar, which has a beautiful interface and Hotmail integration but doesn’t have a search feature (seriously); AOL Calendar, which surprisingly has a nice interface and a fair amount of features, and 1Calendar, which is light on advanced features like sharing but has a very nice interface, Facebook integration and an upcoming mobile app. Yahoo! Calendar is not really worth your time due to its frustratingly bad interface.
The Best Google Maps Alternative: Bing Maps
Other Alternatives: Mapquest, which has a cool “MQ Vibe” feature that helps you find the best restaurants, shopping and other activities in a specific area (but only works in the US); OpenStreetMap, which is community-driven and has lots of plugins for things like directions and 3D views; and Yahoo! Maps, which frankly isn’t worth your time compared to other service, and lacks in a lot of basic features like public transit directions and saving your home location.
The Best Google Reader Alternative: NetVibes
Other Alternatives: There aren’t a ton of good, browser-based online RSS services out there, but you can always store your RSS feeds locally on your desktop or phone instead. Feedly is a very popular service worth mentioning, but it does sync with Google, so you aren’t truly escaping Google by using it.
The Best Picasa Web Alternative: Flickr
Other Alternatives: SmugMug, which provides a beautiful, customisable interface for viewing your photo collection, though lacks the community that makes Flickr so strong; and Dropbox, which is not only a dead simple way to get your photos in the cloud, but also offers a barebones album view for showing them to your friends.
The Best Google Docs Alternative: Zoho Docs
It’s worth mentioning that Office 365 from Microsoft is just as good, if not better than Zoho Docs — but with the addition of a $US6/month subscription price. That said, if you want full compatibility with Microsoft Office, Office 365 might be worth the cost, though we recommend checking out Zoho Docs first. After you do, you won’t be sad you switched away from Google.
This is far from a comprehensive list of Google’s services or the alternatives out there, but these were our favourites after lots of testing. We wish there had been a few more independent services worth featuring, but they’re surprisingly hard to find (that is, if you care about a good feature set). Share your own favourite alternatives in the comments below.