The slow and painful act of ungoogling yourself, part 3: Maps

This is just a short article to let you know that life without Google’s mapping and navigation systems is possible.

For mapping, I now use OpenStreetMap on the PC and OsmAnd on Android. For navigation, I also use OsmAnd on Android and Yournavigation on PC. So far, everything worked really, really well. I just have to use my eyes a bit more often and actually read what’s written on the map instead of relying on some weird additional overlay to take care of that for me.

Update: After writing this, I also found these for routing on the PC: MapQuest Open and OSRM.

The slow and painful act of ungoogling yourself part 2

I’ve written about getting rid of Google before, and that was before the whole NSA/PRISM shitstorm. I’m sure people today find even more reasons to get Google out of their lives.

I wasn’t just doing nothing all this time either. Since the last post, the following has happened:

  • My contacts are synced with my own CardDAV server instead of to Google, so Google won’t get their hands on my friends’, colleagues’ and family’s personal data through me anymore.
  • My calendar goes to my own CalDAV server, so Google no longer knows what I’m doing when, where and with whom.
  • DuckDuckGo has improved so much as a search engine that I don’t feel like I’m missing something by not searching on Google anymore.

One problem still remains: I use an Android device, so you never know what else Google might be collecting through there. I’m watching Jolla and Sailfish as well as Firefox OS to see if and when there is some way to get a truly independent mobile device. That is the only piece of the puzzle still missing, and Google Play is the only way Google still gets at my stuff.

I have installed the Amazon Appstore and SAM next to Google Play, but the former is just swapping out one evil for another while the latter sometimes doesn’t have the app I’m looking for.

But it already feels much better to be the master of my own data again. I don’t know how Google entranced all of us nerds in the first place. Sure, Gmail was a much sexier email system than any of us had ever seen, back then. But nowadays, with decent Free Software alternatives and Google turning more and more into a closed social network and advertisement agency like Facebook, hosting our stuff ourselves seems like a hot idea again.

Also: decentralization. It’s one of the cornerstones of this whole Internet thing. Why should we give that up and entrust very few, very large companies with our data in a centralized fashion instead of creating a robust, decentralized system?

Cracking the DRM on Kindle ebooks

I recently bought a book through Amazon because their price was ridiculously cheaper than the competition’s.

Of course their crazy DRM prevented me from using the book on my open and friendly Boox reader, but then I found Alf the Apprentice’s tools on his blog.

I used Calibre, Wine and the Windows version of Kindle’s reader software, and ten minutes of fiddling later I could actually read the book I bought.

Google no longer supporting XMPP/Jabber

Update: Just like XMPP is slowly dying, Swissjabber has also kicked the bucket. Rest in peace, my friend.

If you’re Swiss and need to have a Google Talk alternative for your XMPP-based chat needs, consider Swissjabber.

I’ve created an account there and discontinued my Google Talk one, so if you want to contact me via XMPP, add

The slow and painful act of ungoogling yourself

With Google’s questionable treatment of privacy, you might want to gain some distance from that company.

I’ve done that myself a couple of steps at a time, and now I’m at the point where only one or two unhappy circumstances keep me nailed to the crucifix of Google systems and services.

Here’s what worked well:

  • Replacing Google Reader with my own TinyTinyRSS instance.
  • Replacing Picasa with my own Gallery instance.

Here’s what didn’t work so well:

  • Finding a new mobile operating system. I’ll be trying out Firefox OS and Sailfish on the Galaxy Nexus as soon as both have images available. I’m tied to WhatsApp and I think Sailfish is more likely to get a WhatsApp port, so my money’s on that. But ZTE has recently announced that they’ll be making off-the-shelf phones running Firefox OS this year, and Samsung is reviving Tizen, so I’ll be looking at those as well.

    I don’t know how much cross-pollination there will be between TIzen and Sailfish (as they’re both based on a Meego fork), but if there is any, it could be important for the market.

  • Replacing Google Docs. There seems to be no direct competition for the realtime collaboration aspect, except if you’re content with very basic formatting and using PiratePad.

    I know no reasonably easy to maintain Free Software browser-based office suite I could install. For more structured text editing with less of a realtime requirement, an instance of DokuWiki will do just fine.

  • Finding a good search engine. Sure, there is DuckDuckGo, but even though I love that thing and all its features, the results sometimes lag behind Google’s.

    I remember one episode where I asked something about a recent bug in some piece of software on a developer IRC channel and was asked, “why didn’t you Google it? It’s the second result on Google!” Of course I’m not a stupid arsehole, I always research existing solutions before bothering people on IRC. But DuckDuckGo simply didn’t find any information about that issue, even days later. Google really did have it on the first page (not as the second result, due to the way the search bubble works, but on the first page anyhow).

    How could we let it get so far that only one single company can provide good search results anymore?

So for me, it’s mostly WhatsApp keeping me with Google’s products. I realize WhatsApp is its own privacy nightmare. The main reasons I use it is that I refuse to pay € 0.08 per 160 characters of text when sending text messages on my phone, and the fact that it does group communication and attachments, whereas SMS is stuck in 1989. What are the telcos thinking?

Telcos are working on rolling out a replacement for SMS, and I hope it will at least dethrone WhatsApp. Of course it would be even better if people just used networks of interconnected XMPP servers, but I don’t think the average user can be arsed to do that.

Yay, degoogling!


Watch TV on your PC, no ads, no Flash

Roman Haefeli strikes again: Watchteleboy makes it possible to watch dozens of live TV channels using mplayer in your very own machine, without the need for Flash, a web browser or any other such nonsense.

Here’s the source code:

Here are Ubuntu packages he maintains:

Caveat: This only works if you’re located in Switzerland or in some other place that Teleboy’s geotargetting likes (such as Italy).

Moving from Google Reader to Tiny Tiny RSS

In my quest for more freedom from companies that don’t take privacy too seriously (such as Facebook or Google), I found a fantastic FOSS replacement for Google Reader: Tiny Tiny RSS. It does everything important that Google Reader does and even has its own little syncable native Android app called ttrss reader (available through the Google Android Market).

The only additional feature I’d appreciate is a Reader Play-style view for very important tasks, such as scrolling through large amounts of animated gifs or lolcats quickly. Tiny Tiny RSS’s code seems to be clean and concise, though, so it might not be that much work to make such a feature if I ever find the time (which won’t happen).

How competition in the browser market helped all of us


Remember the 90s, when Microsoft had illegally established a dominant position in the browser market and the dominant browser was MSIE? You might think that was harmless, but it has caused several problems:

  • No competition means websites were written for a specific browser instead of to a standard (that the W3C publishes)
  • MSIE (purposefully?) broke this standard in order to make sites written for MSIE incompatible with other browsers and further strenghten Microsoft’s position
  • MS started adding tags to MSIE that didn’t exist on any other browser. Not for the good of mankind, but to lock people onto the MS product
  • Lack of competition meant that innovation stagnated
  • There are plenty of security holes in MSIE, and there was little incentive for MS to fix them
  • Ask a web developer to tell you just how broken MSIE’s HTML rendering engine is

Yesterday, the Mozilla Foundation released Firefox 3.5 with many new features (mostly under the hood) and speed boosts. People have noticed this new competition and are no longer happy with an old and broken browser like MSIE 6.0, which used to be the default for many. When we look at our website stats at work, about 35% of our users use Firefox, another 35% use Safari and only 25% use Internet Explorer (either 6, 7 or 8). This is excellent news because it is living proof of competition. Competition gave us many improvements:

  • Stability on the web has much improved. Google released their Chrome browser, which runs a separate process for every tab you open, so that only the affected tab crashes if e.g. a plugin messes up, like Adobe Flash often does. Other browser makers are following suit.
  • Google’s Chrome had an extremely fast JavaScript engine, making JavaScript-heavy sites such as Flickr run faster there. There was little competition in this area before Google started the race. Now Firefox 3.5 has caught up with Google Chrome 1.0 in speed, and further improvements in all camps (including MS) can be expected.
  • Mozilla’s rendering engine (Gecko) and various JavaScript engines have been ported to all major platforms. Developers for those platforms have an excellent, open source rendering engine available to use in their projects.
  • The KDE Foundation’s HTML engine (KHTML/WebKit) is used by Apple in Safari and on the iPhone, by Nokia on their mobile phones etc. It’s another Free Software HTML rendering engine. So even among Free Software engines, there is competition!
  • Security is much improved, as pointing at security holes in the competition’s browser can now be used as a marketing tool. Browser developers have improved their QA processes and even Microsoft no longer allows itself six years to fix the browser.
  • Web developers had been frustrated with MSIE’s broken HTML renderer for years. Since there is competition, there is pressure on Microsoft to start following the web standards. Firefox, Chrome, Opera etc. do a much better job at using web standards, but no one cared for a long time since they had to write broken HTML code in order to support MSIE users. Now web developers discovered their pride, started writing according to web standards (with the help of influential figures like Jeffrey Zeldman) and boom, suddenly good standards support is an important feature for a browser. Someone obviously woke up the developers at MS as well, because IE 8.0 does a much better job at standards support than the previous versions.

So if you ever think “bah, it doesn’t matter that there’s a monopoly, I wouldn’t be better off without it”, think of these points. Yes, it does matter. The lack of competition in key IT markets makes a big difference. Imagine if we had the same situation in operating systems as we have with browsers, a 30/30/30/10% split of the market. Standards would be followed more closely, systems would interoperate better and there would be an actual incentive to innovate and improve. And most importantly, you as an individual or company would have more choice.

Some people think this is just a mantra repeated by free-market fanatics, but it is true, as you can see with your own eyes in today’s browser market, with just the few examples mentioned above. Oppose monopolies in computing. They are bad for you.

Edit: Just one day after I posted this, Microsoft was again caught abusing its power. They are deploying a program that changes people’s default search engine from whatever they have selected (perhaps Google?) to Microsoft’s own Bing. The user is never asked whether they want this change, unless they have third-party software installed that alerts them to such changes. You see that anti-competitive actions by monopolists are still happening in this industry.

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More than half of Standard Norge resigns over Microsoft OOXML fiasco

After the Norwegian ISO standards body, Standard Norge, accepted Microsoft’s MSOOXML file format even though only two of 23 members voted in favor, it became clear that some manipulation had been going on behind the scenes.

Apparently, nearly 40 strong and powerful Microsoft partners had sent identical letters to Standard Norge urging them to adopt MSOOXML, and Standard Norge’s own expert committee’s strong vote against the format was simply ignored.

Now 13 of 23 members resigned in protest of this and of other irregularities in the voting process. From the open letter of the resigning members:

  • Administrasjonen i Standard Norge har valg å vektlegge 37 likelydende brev fra Microsoft-partnere mer enn sin egen fagkomité.
  • Prosessen i Standard Norge har vært uforutsigbar og spillereglene har blitt endret av administrasjonen underveis.
  • SN og ISO har begått en rekke brudd på sine egne regler og andre uregelmessigheter i OOXML-prosessen.

Quick pseudotranslation: The Standard Norge administration trusts 37 identical letters from Microsoft partners more than their own expert committee, Standard Norge’s process became intransparent and the rules of the game were changed during the process, SN and ISO have committed a series of breaks of their own rules and allowed other irregularities during the OOXML process.

As a voting member during the Swiss OOXML process, where we have observed strange happenings as well, I respect and applaud the 13 members of Standard Norge for their courage. I am also very happy that the industry is now questioning the integrity and usefulness of the various ISO standard bodies in light of all the inexplicable vote changes and other indications of corruption that appeared during this time.