Open Source Alternatives to Google

Google has a vise-grip on the Web. Are there really open source alternatives to everything it offers?
Posted February 7, 2011

Matt Hartley

Matt Hartley

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Is it feasible to drop Google for a period of time in exchange for unfettered open source alternatives?

When I first pondered the notion of such an idea, I figured I must be losing my mind. Drop Google? The search giant, regardless of how well-intentioned it may be, has an octopus-like hold on the Internet – its tentacles are everywhere.

Oddly enough, though, it turned out to be easier than I expected. Let’s look at the mindset, software choices and habit changes needed to make this idea doable.

Dropping Google

Considering Google's contributions to the open source world, why would anyone want to stop supporting such a company? Well, the problem with Google is that despite their support of open source developers, their track record with privacy concerns is spotty.

Perhaps even worse, the fact is that we are becoming entirely too dependent on Google products over those from smaller vendors. Everything from document management to revenue generation is almost entirely tied to Google these days. Ask anyone using the Web regularly and the odds are huge they're using at least one Google product.

So when we think of dropping Google products, we're really saying that you're going to be changing your natural behavior when using your computer. Can open source software seriously meet this challenge head on?

It turns out that it really comes down to one thing: software.

The software lineup

Which specific tools and applications are viable options to replace their Google-powered counterparts? After much searching, I ended up with a compilation of known open source applications and one tool that is just another search engine.

Face it, just because we're trying to break the Google habit doesn't mean that starting a new search engine from scratch is in order. Instead let's use existing open source solutions and see if they have what it takes to replace their Google-based counterparts.

Chrome replacement: Initially I looked into Chromium, but found that it's still too much of a Google product. So clearly that wouldn't work. Finally after many hours hunting, I settled on Firefox from Mozilla. Yes, Firefox uses Google search by default. Luckily this can be remedied easily by simply switching to something else for handling search queries.

Google search replacement: Don't shoot the messenger folks – no, technically DuckDuckGo isn't an open source search engine.

But after looking into managing my own search engine, I decided that DuckDuckGo might be the best alternative to Google after all. In addition to offering a great API, DuckDuckGo does something very important that Google does not. DuckDuckGo doesn't track you. They also don't collect any privacy-harming "cookied data" on you, either.

Gmail replacement: I honestly thought I was out of luck finding a Gmail replacement. Luckily it turns out a trip to SourceForge was all that was needed. I found an open source Webmail solution called Roundcube.

Everything you could want from a webmail client from threaded email to multiple sender identities is available within this software package. The only thing I found missing was a list of hosting companies supporting Roundcube, and perhaps indications of spam filtering. Apart from these quibbles, Roundcube looks awesome.

Google Reader replacement: At first I figured I was going to be subjected to a desktop RSS client to replace Google Reader. It turns out that this wasn't going to be a problem at all. There's a Web app called NewsBlur that not only feels like a true Google Reader replacement, it's also open source and imports content from your existing Reader account. How's that for awesome functionality?

Google Talk replacement: Finding a replacement for Google Talk was brain-dead simple, I just needed to install Ekiga! Using Ekiga is a natural fit as it supports open protocols like SIP and will work on both Linux and Windows.

The only downside I could find is getting other people to install it. Without the second party making that installation happen, you'd be have only a number of short one-way conversations.

Google Docs replacement: This replacement was perhaps the most difficult so far. Sure, one could stick to the proprietary route and use one of the countless alternatives in the collaborative space. But the idea is to use open source software as the alternative. After extensive searching, I finally located something called the "TeamDrive extension" for Open Office.

The good news is that TeamDrive is supporting the open source office suite Open Office. It would also stand to reason this will be carried over to Libre Office in the future as well. The bad news is that the extension itself is freeware – it's not open source at all. Surely we can give kudos to the extension developers for selecting Open Office rather than Microsoft Office, right?

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Tags: open source, Linux, Google, Google Apps, Google Docs

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