Breaking Up with the Big G: Alternatives to 9 Google Services

Amber Bouman

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.

Gmail

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.

AOL Mail

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

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

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.

Google Search

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! Search

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

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.

Google Maps

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.

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.

Google Docs

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

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

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

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.

YouTube

It would be hard to find someone you know who hasn't seen some viral video or recollected a favorite movie scene from the ubiquitously YouTube. Popular as hell even before Google bought it years ago, YouTube single-highhandedly kicked off video-sharing on the web and in no small part brought about the phenomenon of the internet celebrity. Of course, as this is a  pie that everyone wants a slice of,  a number of aspiring video hubs have popped up since then.

Hulu

One service that's caught everyone's eye and interest starting with  its big marketing blitz during Super Bowl XLIII is Hulu, where the biggest draw is the option to not only watch clips of their favorite TV shows and movies, but entire episodes and full-length films. . Advertisements are a constant presence, though a necessity as well, but it's the best legal way to watch old and new TV shows for free while avoiding cable. . Add to this the ability to stream Hulu to your TV through your Xbox 360, PS3 or other DLNA-compatible device  - along with the upcoming Hulu Plus premium service, and there's a good argument for getting rid of your cable or satellite TV bill.

Vimeo

HD quality video is on the rise and few services are as advanced on this as Vimeo, which is made up exclusively of user-created content and was the first video sharing site to support consumer HD video. Unlike YouTube where you'll find dozens of copies of the same video trickling through the site, Vimeo allows users to only upload content that they've created themselves and filters out excess content that makes it hard to navigate . What users are left with is a video sharing site that's chock full of creative and independent videos with stunning visual quality, which will undoubtedly appeal to those with an artistic sense.

If there's a viral music video that you simply have to find, then YouTube is still going to be your best bet in finding it. Like many things that Google touches, it's hard to compete with them on their own terms, but there's more than enough room for users to have a choice in what online videos they want to kill time with. For those who are looking to replace their TV with their computer or getting tired of the usual internet video fare, Hulu and Vimeo are the best places to turn to.

Picasa

Google's Picasa is certainly an intuitive and well thought out program for basic photo editing and web album management, but it's hardly the only choice available. Picasa does have a desktop application for offline organizing and editing, but alternatives to it are mostly web browser-based services, namely Flickr and Photobucket.

Irfanview

Ifranview is technically an image viewer and lightweight media player, but it does these things exceptionally. Irfanview's been around and kicking for well on fifteen years and can open just about any media file you throw at it, despite the fact that it uses only 1200 kB of space. There are some very handy features present here that can't be found in Picasa, like on-the-fly image editing, batch editing,  file converting, and  a host of plug-ins for even more utility making it attractive to professionals and beginners alike.

Flickr

It's difficult to think of online photo albums and not think of Flickr at the same time. There was some conflict about whether to include it, since their online photo editor is basically a stripped-down version of Picnik, which itself was recently acquired by Google. However, the final call was that Flickr  itself is entirely separate from the big G. The interface is clean-cut and easy to navigate, it's a cinch to organize your photos using tags and a well-designed hierarchical system, and there are a great deal of options to share your photos via e-mail, social sites, blogs and of course, within Flickr itself. While the free version only gets you about 100 MB and 2 videos to work with each month, the Pro upgrade is a relatively inexpensive upgrade to unlimited traffic.

Photobucket

Photobucket presents yet another viable alternative to storing your personal photos online, with 500 MB available to free accounts and a plethora of photo sharing features. Photobucket connects with most social networking sites and provides options to send your photos around with a single click, while functionally it's not too different from Flickr or Picasa, some users might like the organization of the site more than Picasa or Flickr. However, Photobucket does an exceptional job of allowing users to edit their photos with a click or two, with most of the available tools being within easy reach of the image viewer screen. .

Though there is a limited amount of space to take into account, Flickr and Photobucket are two perfectly good routes to take in place of Picasa. Users can avoid the hassle of negotiating with Picasa’s editor and the plethora of sharing options also gives these two services a clear advantage over Picasa, so if you've got photos of adorable kittens or a wild night out that you simply must announce to your network of friends and family, try Flickr or Photobucket.

Google Calender

What's there really to say about calendars? They sit on your desk or wall collecting dust, probably displaying a few  months back because you've forgotten all about it. Web calendars however are a different story, for reasons of practicality and accessibility. Google Calendar is a simple yet important feature  for many users to manage their busy schedules and get reminders on important deadlines and dates. Given the relative simplicity of such a tool, it shouldn't be hard to find a ton of these little applications, right? It's actually a good deal harder to find innovative or unique alternatives, though there are a few that manage to distinguish themselves.

Remember the Milk

The creatively titled Remember the Milk (RTM) lets users manage their tasks and deadlines from offline with a small desktop shortcut built on the Gears software. Changing your tasks or calendar events offline will lead to RTM automatically syncing these changes with the online data as well with your next log-in.  In addition to the number of other services it's integrated with, (Google Calendar, Twitter and Microsoft Outlook) you can also share  tasks and events with other uses.

30 Boxes

30 Boxes is very minimalistic at first glance, but within all this white space lays an intriguing calendar system. Rather than having to set every parameter of an event or deadline, users can simply type in something like 'Boring meeting with boss, this Friday, 3pm, the office', and 30 Boxes automatically figures out the time, place and location. Add to this the choice of adding applets from Google Search and Mail, integration with a number of blog services and social networks, and you've got an especially complex little application that is well masked by an innately simple design and look.

Both of these alternatives seem to acknowledge the pervasive presence of Google Calendars by their  integration with it, but 30 Boxes and RTM are just as usable on their own. Either way, these tools will certainly help the unwitting slackers keep time management in mind.

Google Reader

Browsing the internet for all your favorite webcomics, blogs, news sites and whatnot is definitely a fun way to take up time, but it can be troublesome to visit so many places on a mobile device or with a limited time frame. . News aggregators are perfect to this particular task, and Google has its own service to collect Atom and RSS feeds in Google Reader. The dozens of websites you visit on a daily basis are lumped into one page and you can simply pick and choose what to read from there. But surely there's a better way to do this outside of the Google spectrum, right?

Netvibes

Netvibes, for example, is a personalized web portal which holds any number of RSS feeds, widgets and integrated services and would be the first thing that users would see before navigating elsewhere. Navigating and customizing Netvibes at first can be daunting and cluttered, but it cleans up nicely and makes adding new widgets and news feeds an effortless task. Tabbed browsing and customizable windows allows users to tinker and toy around to their heart's content, and the number of integrated services and available widgets  is staggering. There's email, social networking, to-do lists, Flickr, an audio player, calendars and so on.

Bloglines

Bloglines takes a decidedly more traditional approach as a news aggregator, but that's hardly a bad thing. Whether you're reading twenty different feeds or looking for a particular podcast session, it's easy to navigate through, not cluttered at all and generally serves its purpose well. As its name might imply, there are even tools available for users to make their own public or private blog with Bloglines. You can then start posting your feeds to your spanking-new blog, or you can save particular articles in the 'Clippings' folder for later reading.

The two choices here are quite different from one another in that Netvibes lets you do and see a relatively large chunk of the internet from your home page, while Bloglines devotes itself purely to feeding your news and data addiction. Users should keep this distinction in mind when choosing which place to gather all their news sites, but both are solid and useful alternatives to somewhat less-refined service that Google has available.

Google Blogger

Everyone's got something they'd like to tell everyone else. As anonymity on the internet has proven, even the meekest and quietest fellow can become especially bellicose and heavy-handed given the right conditions. For those of you who'd like a less flame-ridden method of recording your thoughts and experiences, blogs are one of the better ways to go and Google accommodates this need as well. Blogger, like a number of the services that Google has acquired during its ascension to the top, was one of the first in its field and is helped propel the popularity of blogs forward. That was long ago however, and since then the other choices have become anything but underdogs in the fight for your online journals.

Wordpress

Wordpress is a particularly notable to look at when considering creating your first blog or simply in moving  to something more contemporary. It’s one of the more popular blog software around today, and for a good reason - the ease of installation and set up.. Wordpress is perfect for amateurs to pick up right away, and functional enough for advanced users to sink their teeth into. A vast range of plug-ins and widgets also exist to help users better create and manage their blogs, whether it's done through by hand-coding or through the editor that Wordpress.com provides.

Movable Type

Movable Type is another veteran to the blog scene, and has seen a fair number of updates in recent times that have brought it up to speed with its rivals. Movable Type provides the ability to create multiple blogs easily, a feature that Wordpress only just introduced, and is also a fairly easy and intuitive blog hosting to use, though it can cost a pretty penny to add any commercial features if you're planning on trying to run a business from it.

While this is hardly a comprehensive guide to the number of services available through Google and their differing options,  it's a good start for anyone who wants to try out something different . Google has made its reach felt and known throughout the internet in the services and products it acquires and creates, but that doesn't mean that its reign is completely without opposition. The best advice in the end is to give some of these alternate services a run through and see what fits your needs best instead of picking the most popular service around. While some of these alternatives do have features that beat out Google's offerings, it ultimately depends on what you're looking for in a calendar, email provider or video-sharing site. If you have opinions or suggestions of your own, hit the comments and let’s us know what we’re missing!

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