I have been an avid Google user for the last few years. Everything I wanted to know came via Google, my mail was hosted by Google, my calendar was hosted by Google, my contacts were stored at Google, my documents were hosted by Google, I
chatted via Google and planned my journeys via Google. So Google knows everything about me, something I am not really comfortable with. The dutch organization Bits of Freedom introduced the idea of a Google Free Diet.
So that was the challenge for me too, albeit a week later. First of all I wanted an alternative for GMail, and that wasn’t really too hard to find, but I had a choice to make. Was I going to host it myself or was I going to find another provider for me to use. The one I was doubting to use was FastMail, but as I wanted to use mail on my own domain it would cost me E50 a year. I already had a server to host my mail on so that would cost me nothing extra so I made the choice to do that.
I have to warn you though, setting up a mailserver takes some time and patience. I used a guide from the Linode Library, even though my server isn’t hosted with them anymore, I like the guides. The guide I used was Host Email with Postfix, Dovecot and MySQL on Debian 6, and after a days work it was done, I was hosting my own email!
After this I was at a problem where I was before. How am I going to host a calendar? I can start a calendar locally in Thunderbird, but then it won’t sync with my Android phone. And, to be honest, I would love to have a web interface where I can check and add events. And then I found it, the perfect solution. That solution is ownCloud. OwnCloud is a php solution in which you can host your calendar, contacts and files. It is build as an alternative for the cloud based solution that is used regularly by a lot of people these days. It is extensible with apps and in active development.
The calendar and contacts can sync using CalDAV and CardDAV, which can be synced on multiple platforms. There are apps for android made by dmfs which sync the contacts to the Android internal calendar and contact stores. This means that you can use the apps you already use for your contacts and calendars but it is synced with ownCloud.
The last thing I wanted to replace was Google Talk. Talk is Google’s implementation of the xmpp protocol. You can connect to other Google Talk users using xmpp, so I set up my own XMPP server using eJabberd. For this I used another guide from the Linode Library Host Instant Messaging Services with ejabberd on Debian 5.
It is possible to go “Google Free” and it isn’t even that hard. You don’t lose connectivity with people who still use Google, accept for the fact that you can’t share calendar events easily. With a simple shared hosting plan that has email hosting you can roll your own cloud platform in a days work! Go for it!