My journey in (almost completely) degoogling my life, part 3
Part 1 and Part 2 covered the mobile side of things, and in this final post I'll go through the cloud part of things and how I managed to keep my things “in the cloud” in a seamless experience, similar to what you would get from Google.
Google offers some nifty features with its photo storage, where you can just take a picture and rest assured that the photo is stored in the cloud and easily accessible from your desktop just by accessing photos.google.com. They also have google docs, which is awesome and easy to use, google calendar, gMail (of course), tasks, google keep (notes), google contacts and the list goes on and on. And it is free (free as in free beer, and only up to a certain level of usage). This kind of convenience is what we expect and have from Google, Apple and Microsoft. Some will say that this convenience is nothing more but pampering, just use a pen and paper to keep track of your events. Or that these small conveniences can take over your life and one should take a step back from all of it. They are right in saying that.
But, for those of us who need these conveniences or some of them and would like to have them available from a source which is not big tech and open, and free, what possible options can you have? Well, not many. But there are a few options. And it can be kind of mix and match. The main requirement after the obvious non big tech is open source. Nextcloud and Owncloud are options which fit the bill and are capable of covering many if not all of the features Google offers.
My choice was Nextcloud, simply because it seems to have more popularity than Owncloud, despite of it being a fork of Owncloud.
Nextcloud is an “on premises” solution to hosting your own content, apps and services. You can register for an account with a company which hosts nextcloud instances and provides nextcloud as a service, or host an instance of nextcloud yourself and use it from there. Nextcloud has contact management, calendar, notes, photo and document management, tasks and many other services which can be accessed and enabled on your nextcloud instance as an app.
On the Android side of things, there are apps which allow you to access nextcloud services, similarly to how Google's apps would work. The main Nextcloud app will handle syncing to your server and photo / document sync (so that when you take a picture it will be uploaded to the server just like Google's photos app does). The other apps will pick up on the sync settings set by the main app and will prompt you to use those setting when you first start them up. As a side note, for syncing contacts and calendar straight to Android use DAVx5.
Setting everything up on the Android side is a bit more involved than just buying a Google Android phone and start it up of course, but once everything is setup it's working just as well and seamless as Google.
Costs? To start off, I recommend just using one of the free Nextcloud providers. They will offer a limited suite of apps, but all the basics included. Try syncing with it from your phone and see how it works out for you. At first, I just synced my contacts and calendar to get a feel for it. If you then decide to commit to it, you will want to store your photos, videos and documents as well. The free nextcloud providers will offer you 8GB of data storage at best, which is nowhere close to enough for your average storage needs. So you will have to choose if you want to go for paying one of the nextcloud providers for a more complete service with more storage, or if you go the self hosting route. There are benefits and cons to either of them. Using a provider will make it so you don't have to worry with security, updates, and service stability. But then again, your data will not be in your hands, and it will be more expensive. For self hosting, you need some technical knowledge or willingness and time to learn. And you have to manage security and updates by yourself. But it will be cheaper and the data will reside in your hands.
I went for self hosting on a VPS, since I don't trust my home network with hosting a server. For hosting I went with Contabo, which is based in Germany but they have servers in the US as well (you will want to pick a provider who has servers which are geographically close to you) and has amazingly good starter deals. I am using on of the cheapest (if not the cheapest) options they have. I have a nextcloud server setup on the server, serving just my partner and I. It is by no means quick, but it works flawlessly, and I even have Collabora (a Google docs alternative) working on it. And it has 300GB of storage, which is enough for our storage needs when it comes to photos/videos and documents. This is for €4 / month. Compared to Google, who starts charging €2 / month once you hit 100GB on their photos storage, so I feel that Contabo's prices are more than reasonable. And the service is full root access, so you can set up any kind of server you want. Although if you are using the cheapest option as I am and already have a Nextcloud server on it, don't try putting anything else on there, it will bring it to a stop.
As a takeaway from all of this, it is important for us to know that there are options and alternatives to what big tech offers us for free. And in this journey, the most shocking realization I had was how cheap you can get a self hosting solution going. Running my own server is €4 / month, and I pay another ~ €20 / year for my own domain and email. That is all the financial cost you need to break free from having your data used for the profit of large companies, and many times used by large companies against your own interests. If you can afford the financial and time costs of not using these mainstream services, it is something you should be looking into.
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