Taking A Step Back From Google

I have been on this here internet for a good while. For the vast majority of that time, I have used a mixture of Google products, and historically, there have been few good reasons not to. Search was of course the big draw to get people using Google, but email, calendaring, and other services came along later as well. For a long time, Google’s search has arguably provided the highest quality results in general, and their style of email is usually either highly praised or adamantly disdained, with little room in between. Even more than the quality of their services, the real big draw for many is the price: free. Free, at least in terms of dollar value. It costs you nothing to do a search, send an email, or create a calendar event. Google’s goal is to create products that give the user value in exchange for you being the recipient of ads and ad tracking.

Up to this point I saw no reason to venture outside the Google walls. But, in my typical fashion, I thought it would be interesting to see what else was out there in the various arenas that Google was a part of. In years past, there really weren’t any alternatives that were on par with Google’s offerings; but that was then, and times are a bit different now.

As of yesterday, I was using a Google Apps account to host email, calendar, and contact data for my wife and I. Neither one of us were particularly in love with the overall solution, but it worked ok in a general sense. The event that triggered this Google cancellation was actually a switch in search providers. As I said earlier, Google had been my go-to in the area of search for a while, but that changed a couple weeks ago when I started using DuckDuckGo. This search provider is not new, and I have, in fact, used it in the past. Problem was, it was not available as a default provider within browsers in OS X or iOS, so using it was cumbersome. However, with Safari’s latest updates in both OS X and iOS, DuckDuckGo is now fully integrated, which meant I could finally give it a fair tryout. Somewhat long story short, I have now been using DuckDuckGo for a few weeks and am very happy with the service; it has completely replaced Google search for me. The removal of ads and tracking have been a welcome change, to say the least. I would, however, like to see some way for me to compensate DuckDuckGo to help ensure its resilience in this brutal marketplace.

Changing my search provider was the pebble that started the snowball that has become the diversification of my online life. After this small win, it was time to tackle “the personal service trifecta”: email, calendar, and contacts. Because I use OS X and iOS exclusively, Apple’s iCloud was a good place to start looking. I do, however, want to use a custom domain for my email, so I was only really looking at iCloud for calendars and contacts. The service works really well for those items, and I have not yet had any issues. Email tends to be the difficult one (if you want to use a custom domain). After trialing several solutions, I actually ended up with something I already had access to, but forgot about. I register new domains with Hover, and have moved all of my previous domains to them as well. Hover also has email services, and being that the domain is registered with them, adding email service to the domain was very easy.

In a nut shell, that’s it. I now use the below configuration of services and devices, and don’t rely on Google for anything. I am also now not being tracked or subjected to a barrage of ads through Google search. I have to be clear, I am not faulting Google, or accusing them of wrong doing. I simply do not find their business model to be in line with my best interests.

Service OverviewMail: Hover IMAPCalendar: iCloudContacts: iCloudSearch: DuckDuckGo

DevicesiMac, MacBook Pro, MacBook AirMail: Apple MailCalendar: Apple Calendar, FantasticalContacts: Apple ContactsBrowser/Search: Safari & DuckDuckGo

iPhone 6Mail: Apple MailCalendar: FantasticalContacts: Apple ContactsBrowser/Search: Safari & DuckDuckGo

iPad MiniMail: Apple MailCalendar: FantasticalContacts: Apple ContactsBrowser/Search: Safari & DuckDuckGo

Chromebook’d

We first heard about the Chromebook when it was launched in the form of the Cr-48 by Google toward the end of 2010. The premise was pretty simple: an entire laptop OS based on the Chrome browser alone. Not a computer replacement, but rather an extension of your curent computing environment. Like many of the things Google does, it was an experiment, and an interesting one at that. I unfortunately was not at any events during the laptop’s lifespan that allowed me to get my hands on one, but it wasn’t long before it was possible to Frankenstein your own Chromebook. In early 2011, I did exactly that and built a Chromebook using an older netbook that was collecting dust. The Chrome OS was still in its infancy and my primary computer at that time was a laptop, so a Chromebook didn’t really make a lot of sense for me personally at the time.

Flash forward to today (2014). As mentioned here in a previous post, my current setup for the most part is a 27” iMac and an iPad Air. This is still the best combo for me, rather than just using a laptop. Every so often I find myself wanting to type more long form items, like this post for example, but the on screen keyboard of my iPad is not the answer. This got me thinking about Chromebooks again. An inexpensive keyboard and screen combo that lets me do research in the browser and write longer form entries in Evernote. Right about this same time, Woot had some Chromebooks, so I thought I would check out Chrome OS again. I got the coral 14” HP Chromebook, which has much better specs than earlier Chromebooks. It has a decent enough screen for browsing and writing, a fast enough processor, and enough RAM to handle what I wanted it for. Plus, as a bonus, it came with free 4G wireless data (200mb/month) from T-Mobile for the life of the device, and 100GB of Google Drive as well. A pretty awesome deal for $200.

I have to say, an HP Chromebook is NOT a MacBook Air in any way, shape, or form. But that is not what I bought it for, so it’s ok. Yes, it is kind of heavy, has a giant, gross power adapter, and is not made of aluminum. All that being said, it was purchased to be a third device, and it does an awesome job of it! Plus with all the bonus items it came with, I have no regrets and am very happy with the device.

Side Note: If you do not use Chrome as your main browser, a Chromebook is probably not the best idea for you, unless you really just want a blank web browser for your needs.

Chromebook Specs

From Gmail to Google Apps. #push

I signed up for a gmail account quite some time ago, 2004 to be exact. I don’t really need to go into the background of Gmail, you all know the history. I have not used Gmail exclusively since that time, but I have used it exclusively for about the last 2-3 years. Everything was pretty peachy until the great “Push Apocalypse”! I am referring to the the announcement Google made regarding removing Push (Exchange) support for Gmail users.

I feel there are 2 main reasons why this happened.
 – Use push as a “bonus” feature of using Android over other platforms.
 – Google must have been paying a fortune in licensing fees to Microsoft for Exchange Activesync.

So. Push. No big deal right? Completely Wrong! Push email is just the way it has to be, at least it is for me. Push is a little service that just happens without anyone bothering to thank it, or wonder how it even works. That is, until it stops and you wonder why you only get your emails in batches every 15, 30, or 60 minutes.

Now; try going out and looking for services, paid or free, that offer push and are a solid email service. Best of luck finding them! Valerie and I looked high and low. The general consensus was, if you want Push Email, getting a hosted Exchange account with some company was the way to go. I am by no means a “fan” of Exchange, or Microsoft’s offerings in general, but their Activesync offering works, and it works really well.

I really didn’t have any other reason to want to look elsewhere from Gmail, but I had to get Push back. After the previously mentioned searching, the idea of Google’s Apps for Business came up. When Google made the announcement concerning the cutoff for Push to Gmail, they did specifically mention that Google Apps for Business, Government, and Education would continue to enjoy this feature. Looking back now, this makes a little more sense to offer services that are costing you money to paying customers. I get that. In fact, I would have been more than happy to pay Google a little extra to upgrade my Gmail account to Activesync, but that unfortunately (at least at this time) is not an option. You also cannot migrate your “@gmail” account to a Google Apps Account. So began the process.

Since we were starting over effectively, we did get the option to have a unique domain name to use with Google Apps. After picking the domain, the setup of Google Apps is amazingly simple. Using the domain registrar that I used, I didn’t even have to setup MX records, Google Apps did it all for me! That is really all there is to say about the process, it was super fast and easy to setup and all our devices have push again!

I migrated all my email, calendars, and contacts from “@gmail” to the new email and everything was ready to go. I haven’t 100% made the full switch over, as it takes some time to get everything set and swapped over. I forward all email from “@gmail” to new email and handle all email in the new inbox and will slowly be getting everything tied to the old address to the new one.

Now comes the part that most people on the internet will scoff at, you have to pay for Google Apps for Business! “OMG what!? Everything in the world is free, how can this be. I am entitled to get everything I want for free. Period"  -Many Internet Users. Well, things in life are not free, and Google Apps for Business is no different, but it is super reasonably priced and I am fine with paying for services I really want. 

I still don’t think moving email addresses is anywhere near as easy as it should be, but we will get there. 

Feel free to ask me any questions about the process or leave comments about it.

Google Reader

Google reader is being killed. There is backlash against Google around every corner of every blog, website, social network, and possibly even people yelling in the streets. Google gives a lot of stuff away for free, and just as easily can take it away. Google is a great company, but people lose sight of their objective. Google is not around to make users happy; that it a byproduct of their main objective: doing what is best for Google. Google Reader was not achieving the goal that they wanted it to, so it was time to cut losses and move resources elsewhere. (My guess is people were not seeing nearly the amount of ads that they “should be”)

I said on Twitter shortly after the announcement that I thought it was a good thing they were shutting Google Reader down. Let’s not forget to make the distinction between Google Reader and RSS. Shutting down Reader does not break RSS, it was simply a client to house your OMPL feed. So why do I think it is good that Google shuttered Reader? Simply put, it opens the door for creative developers to change the game. RSS has basically remained unchanged as to what it accomplishes; it’s how we access the feeds that has changed. The simple “inbox” style of Reader is outdated and broken in my opinion. It is not uncommon in my daily (usually multiple times per day) routine of reading my RSS, to see the same articles over and over. Why not be more intelligent with our feeds?

Google Reader started dying when they took away the ability to share two years ago due to Google+. Google+ is not where I want my RSS news to be funneled.

I think we got complacent with how Google Reader worked and just figured there must not be any better way to do it. Otherwise, wouldn’t Google give it to me? This shutdown will hopefully – and I believe it will – give us a new look at how we consume news, which I very much look forward to. There will be clones of Google Reader by the dozens starting any day now to help those who want things to stay the same.

Secondarily, I hope this move will wake the internet up to the BS notion of “everything should be free for me forever.” No it shouldn’t. Free doesn’t work forever, and hopefully this will open some eyes.

I applaud them for doing the right thing and giving everyone an easy out with their data and plenty of time to try other options out to find what fits their need. I really like that.

Everything is going to be just fine, and I really think we will come out of this happier and more content than how we went in. 🙂

Agree? Disagree? Would love to hear your input!

Nexus Yes!

It has been a rough year for me in the cell phone area. Throughout this year I was on three or four different platforms across six or so handsets. It was definitely a year of swapping. I started out the year with a Motorola Droid that replaced my iPhone in October of 2009. From there I migrated to the Palm WebOS platform with a Palm Pre Plus handset. After that phone was dropped and left with a cracked screen, I moved to a Palm Pixi Plus, still on WebOS.The Pixi Plus was a super awesome little phone with a hardware keyboard that was a dream to use. When Microsoft Windows Phone 7 was announced I was (surprising) intrigued with what I saw. The phone that caught my attention was the HTC HD7. I went to see the phone in person and 30 minutes later walked out of the store with one in hand. Everything with the HD7 was going along nicely until December 16th came along. The release of the Google Nexus S. I looked at it online. I saw it in person. I ordered it online via express shipping! Why did I drop Windows Phone 7 so soon? Simple answer; google services. I use a ton of Google services everyday and the simple fact is that Windows Phone 7 does not integrate with Google services well at all (surprise!).

After a week of use, I am honestly completely blown away with this device / OS. The Nexus S is absolutely fantastic in the hardware and software departments. The Nexus is running the latest version of Android, 2.3 Gingerbread. A big plus to the Nexus S is that it runs a build of Android that is completely untouched by carriers or manufactures, just pure Google. When it comes to hardware, it feels like what I have been wanting in a phone for a very long time. Solid quality, great look, and not a lot of extra unnecessary crap.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still a huge fan of Palm/HP WebOS! The problem is that I personally can’t sit around and wait for things to shake out in the Palm/HP universe. And to be honest the drama that was pouring out of the community lately was starting to really bug me. I would love for WebOS 2.x to come out and make me switch right back. I am totally rooting for them, excellent group of people over there at Palm!

Windows Phone 7 is most definitely going to be a major contender as we head into 2011. Other players in this market are going to have to take notice quickly if they haven’t already. Unfortunately, as much as I like the OS, it will most likely never been what I need as long as I use a mac and a ton of Google services. I am however, VERY happy that there is a new contender in the phone OS war. Competition is what we need to move ahead!

As always this could change at any second, but I am calling the Nexus S the bar that all new phones must at least reach in order for me to even acknowledge. It is official, the Nexus S is the best phone I have ever used as of December 26th, 2010.

PROS:

  • Beautiful screen
  • Great build quality
  • Comfortable to hold and talk on
  • Doesn’t get hot when talking on the phone
  • Gingerbread (Android 2.3) is brilliant
  • “Anti-fingerprint screen coating” seems to actually be real!
  • The power button is in the correct place (not on top)

CONS:

  • No notification light / indicator
  • No dedicated camera shutter button
  • Very slippery

SIDENOTES:

  • Haven’t been able to try the front facing camera on a video call yet
  • Haven’t had the opportunity to try the NFC (Near Field Communication) anywhere