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Google has become a part of everyday life, both for its now-ubiquitous search engine, as well as for its huge lineup of services. Whether it's Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, Picasa or the almighty Google Search, the company holds a large majority of users in the palm of its hand.
And there are good reasons why Google's services and products are so popular, but that doesn't mean that the competition isn’t pitting their own ideas against the internet giant. Other big-hitters like Yahoo and Microsoft are also vying for their stake in the market, and numerous smaller developers are attempting to offer comparable services that keep Google on its toes.
We’ve got a list of ten alternatives to the most commonly used Google services, followed by services from alternative developers to give you more information on the available alternatives. There are some cases where Google indeed has a superior offering to its competitors, but there are also instances where a particular user might favor an alternative product.
At the top of a dizzying list of competing email service providers, the biggest challengers to Gmail's reign are Yahoo! Mail, Windows Live Mail, and AOL Mail. Gmail was the first to hit the 1 GB point in email storage back when it was released in 2004, but now other email providers have caught up, and some even have an advantage over Google. AOL and Yahoo! both offer free unlimited space storage, and Hotmail’s 5 GB capacity nearly meets Gmail's 7 GB. Allowed attachment sizes are also comparable, with Windows Hotmail registering at 10 MB to the other services' 25 MB, and a lengthy list of features for each email service provider.
A far cry from the years when it was one of the only ways to connect to the internet, AOL Mail presents its traditionalinterfacewith AIM Messenger integration, drag-and-drop control within folders and a nifty feature that allows users to customize their domain names. The spam filter has some very simple options aimed at the beginning user, but lacks any highly-granular control.
Yahoo! Mail possesses a similar look and feel, but has some interesting differences from the other email providers. Yahoo! provides a registration-free way for users to attach up to 100 MB of files to emails using Drop.io, is integrated with Flickr for online photo editing and sharing, and has the option to set up dummy email accounts to use in spam-catching. PayPal is also integrated into the webmail client, which is certainly helpful if you use it frequently.
Windows Live Hotmail appears minimalistic by comparison, but its look and interface can be easily changed to the user's whims. The most recent update brought a suite of useful features: one-click spam clearing, storage (up to 25 GB) on its SkyDrive service, and integration with a host of Windows Live services. It is also quite easy to lump all your e-mail accounts into the Windows Live Hotmail interface, and another recent update now allows users to access their Hotmail account from a POP3 email client.
Most email users may never approach the 7 GB limit that Gmail imposes, and the conversation interface with threaded email chains leaves the inbox uncluttered and accessible. Ultimately each email service provider has their own list of features that some users will find more attractive than others.
There can be no argument that Google dominates the competition in the field of the web search, given that 'Google' has become synonymous in everyday vocabulary for web searches. With so many minds and resources behind its development, posing a serious challenge to Google Search is a tall order but that’s certainly not stopping anyone from trying.
Yahoo! has been around for longer than Google and holds a commanding second place. Yahoo! Search frequently returns more search results than either Google Search or Bing, but of course what’s important is the relevancy of the first few results. Yahoo! Search also allows users to narrow the range of their search results to popular sites, like Wikipedia or YouTube.
Bing is the newcomer to the search engine game, and it holds a number of interesting and useful capabilities. First and foremost, users can preview the search results by moving their mouse over the results and easily begin another search within that particular website. It also keeps a comprehensive search history, in case you've forgotten what you were looking for last night. Looking for an image or video is a cinch, as images all appear in one scrolling window and videos can be previewed by mousing over the video. Bing has some very useful features that make it worthwhile to explore if you want to try something new, even if 'Binging' isn’t quite as catchy as 'Googling.' While it'd be nearly impossible to beat Google at its own game, Yahoo!and Bing are trying to play their own. With Yahoo! being powered by Bing in the future, the search engine wars will move in an interesting direction.
You can have the best sense of direction in the whole world, but finding directions to that brand-new movie theater or restaurant can still be a hassle without the help of a mapping service like Google Maps. It beats the hell out of unfolding a city map or taking directions from your friend who thinks he knows a “shortcut”. Google Maps gives users the crucial features they're looking for in a mapping service, with intuitive basics like printable directions and maps and extra features like traffic updates and mass transit integration. Yet like everything else that Google brings to the table, it finds stiff competition from services like Bing Maps.
With a quick download, users can navigate Bing Maps in full 3D, providing a new perspective on getting around. Areas show up displaying 3D models of buildings and landmarks, although this feature seems to work mainly in more heavily-populated and urban areas . And if users really want to test the boundaries of other people's privacy, Bing also has the option to go to a pristine bird's eye view from satellite photos, which lets users test the boundaries of their neighbors privacy. An additional useful feature is the ability to send directions to your GPS device by way of MSN Direct or a USB key, in addition to the standard email and mobile device options.
Office productivity software isn't the most exciting topic, but using the right one can save you a great deal of time and effort. Google Docs gives users the advantage of not only having free access to a fully fleshed-out office suite, but also by doing so within the space of any modern web browser-which is helpful for anyone who's had to remember their PowerPoint presentation on a USB key, this accessibility cuts out a few steps and the possibility of forgetting your work at home. Nevertheless, other office suites are stepping up to Google Docs with the main contenders being OpenOffice, Zoho Office Suite , and Peepel.
OpenOffice is a standalone office suite, and while it’s not web browser-based, it deserves a fair look given its open standards for file formats, it’s competitive feature set and it’s price point of: free.. OpenOffice runs on just about any OS, supports more file types than you can shake a stick at, and is updated quite regularly for new features and bug fixes. While it's more of a replacement for Microsoft Office than anything else, OpenOffice is a solid choice for users who would rather stick to a more traditional way of typing up reports and crunching numbers on the desktop.
Zoho Office Suite does pretty much everything that Google Docs does and then some. The standard word processor, spreadsheet application, and presentation application are here, and are comparable and equally useful. However, Zoho does have a number of applications within the office suite that are handy for online collaboration and file sharing, such as chat, wiki and web conferencing tools. If anything, Zoho would be a suite more equipped for project managers and those who need some business planning tools in addition to the usual fare.
Peepel is an interesting alternative in the sense that it mimics the feel of a standalone office suite, with multiple windows running in the browser. The Peepel suite contains a word processor, spreadsheet application, and a workspace manager that lets you keep track of all opened documents and saves the configuration in case you want to keep things neat and tidy. The design certainly looks as though it's aimed toward beginners and younger users, but it's nice to be able to easily track and oraganize multiple documents , without losing any of the advantages of all the collaboration tools that one could expect to find in an online office suite.
Google Docs by comparison seems like a beginner's tool, albeit a practical one that works on the principles of simplicity and accessibility. Aside from it being a growing standard for many a student and upcoming professional, OpenOffice and Zoho are two perfectly good replacements for Google Docs and Peepel could fit the bill for users who want a very simple but intuitive set of tools.