On June 24th, I set a challenge for myself – to completely remove Google services and software from my life within 30 days. I am currently just a hair over the half-way point, with only two weeks remaining, and I still have quite a few Google services left to replace with non-Google counterparts.
Now, as of today, I have completely gotten rid Google Drive, Google Docs, Slides and Sheets. And, I tell you, it was actually a pretty easy transition.
Replacing Google Drive with a non-Google file backup service is a simple thing. I could have simply moved those files over to Dropbox and declared the entire process complete; this would have, certainly, satisfied the core goal of my "No Google" challenge. But I didn't want to simply trade reliance on Google with reliance on Dropbox without getting any improvements in functionality, flexibility, and privacy in the process.
So, I directed my attention to OwnCloud.
Think of OwnCloud like an Open Source version of Dropbox – one that you can install on your own server and which has a boat load of web apps for doing everything from editing documents to managing calendars and browsing photo galleries. This, combined with the fact that I know some of the people behind OwnCloud – and to say they are good, freedom-loving, Open Source and privacy preaching people would be an accurate description – gave me a pretty high level of confidence that this was the solution I was looking for.
See also: A Linux user tries out Windows 10
About 30 minutes after deciding I would try to use OwnCloud, I had set up my own virtual private server (I opted to use NQHost for this server, but any host that'll give you a complete Linux system will do the job nicely) and had installed the latest version of OwnCloud on it. Packages are hosted over on the openSUSE Build Service, and installation was literally a simple "zypper install owncloud" (or "apt-get install owncloud" for your Debian/Ubuntu systems).
I then proceeded to install the OwnCloud desktop client for Linux (Windows and Mac clients are there, as well, for those who haven't yet switched over to Linux). Again. Simple process.
At this point, with significantly less than one hour spent getting things installed and configured, I had a dedicated, private installation of OwnCloud on my server and file syncing applications installed on my two main computers.
Beyond handling my file sync/backup functionality, the myriad of web apps available for OwnCloud extend the functionality in pretty exceptional ways – which allowed me to use the "Documents" app to completely replace my dependence on Google Docs.
See Part 4: How I replaced Gmail
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a viable web-based replacement for Google Sheets or Slides within OwnCloud…but by using LibreOffice, combined with storing all of my files on my OwnCloud drive, I was able to accomplish the same tasks. Which isn't really a surprise as I was using LibreOffice (or OpenOffice) prior to becoming completely reliant on Google's web-based alternatives anyway.
Now, at this point I have invested a relatively small amount of money (roughly $30 USD per month for a nice, beefy server) and a very small amount of time (a bit over two hours if you include the time I spent installing and playing around with the various apps available for OwnCloud). And, as a result, I have removed my reliance on Google Drive for storing my data while, at the same time, increasing the available functionality and improving my privacy (as my data is now stored on my personal server… not one of the Google data farms).
But there is a downside to this approach – I now need to administer my OwnCloud server. While this won't be quite as daunting of a task as, say, running my own email server…I still need to make sure I configure things correctly and keep the security patches up to date. This seems like a worthwhile trade-off for the added power and privacy to me, but I can see how this wouldn't be an ideal scenario to many.
Luckily, there is a whole slew of OwnCloud service providers out there, a number of which provide pretty significant storage for only a few dollars per month. I'm going to stop myself short of recommending any specific providers as I simply do not know enough about each of them to make an informed recommendation. But I will say that I tried a few of them and they seemed to offer a quick setup and all of the core OwnCloud apps that make this a viable replacement for Google Drive.
I'm including the estimated pricing for using an OwnCloud service provider in the time/cost chart below, as I think people are more likely to go that route as opposed to running and administering their own server (which will both be more time-consuming and more costly).
All in all, things are going pretty smoothly. I don't miss Gmail, Drive, or Docs. Not even a little. Though, if I'm being honest, I do miss Android quite a bit (and many of the Android apps and games). But, for the most part, I feel positive about the move away from Google services.
But you and I are both thinking it – the truly hard changes still lie ahead. Google Voice and Hangouts (which handle all of my voice phone services), YouTube (where my videos tend to go) and Google Plus (where thousands and thousands of people get notifications of these very articles) are going to be a bit more challenging to remove entirely. Oh, and Maps! I haven't even started to think about Maps yet.
Oh, jeeze. The next few weeks are going to be rough.