How to Live a Digital Life Without Google

The basic engine of the cloud: a server

"Cloud" usually means choosing whatever bland, opaque company is best at hiding its evil this week.

But for $5/month you can run your own "cloud": a Linode. This is a full Linux server owned by you. It runs what you want it to run, and shares its data only in the way you tell it.

And then own your own domain:

For $10-$20/year!

Buy one via Domain Discover-- or many, many others. This piece of the Internet is by you, for you. Typically you'll have myname.com point to your Linode, and say that your Linode handles web, and email.

You can run an open source OS for free:

Each Linode is its own full machine, so you get to choose what OS it runs. Probably the best default choice is Debian.

This will give you email (postfix), iMap access (dovecot), and a vast array of other software.

Your server can control your domain (finding hosts, getting to your email server, etc.): "bind9".

Support encryption (https: type URL's to your server):

Once you have your own domain and server, you can use Let's Encrypt to get what's known as an "SSL cert". This is the encryption key which makes the little green lock or key on your browser light up.

Let's Encrypt has become so popular that the Apache web server has direct support for it.

For email:

Your email stays on your own server. It comes and gets stored by postfix. You then connect to your server to view or download your email.

Your client can be any app with iMap support:

Or use a web client:

For calendaring:

A good, basic multi-family-member calendar is Webcalendar.

I patched it, added a Python module, and such. It's still open source, here. (Yes, that source code is served from a Linode I own.)

File sharing with friends and family:

Project Send is a featureful file sharing solution, with pickup-only accounts as well as uploaders and administrors. (Installs using Apache2, MySQL, PHP)

For messaging:

XMPP is basically texting, except using the Internet instead of your cell phone carrier. It can be the workhorse for texts to reach your phone or desktop.

WebXMPP

And then you can hang many bits of functionality off your messaging server using WebXMPP.

WebXMPP lets your browser be an XMPP client; it speaks web on one side to your browser, and XMPP on the other (to one or more XMPP servers). You can then access your XMPP send/receive via your web browser.

To give you on-the-fly notifications, WebXMPP can use Google Firebase Cloud Messaging--but of course that's deprecated! It also supports long polling from your browser. And, in a more experimental vein, there's a notification protocol Ping Pong. You can run this server in the background on a Linux device (I use it on my Ubuntu/Ubports phone). It talks back to the WebXMPP server, and can do blinking lights, notifications, and sounds.

WebXMPP also has support for Flowroute's SMS. You can send and receive messages (including photos) on MMS. They turn into XMPP as they head towards your own device.

For hipsters, it even has a telnet interface, so you can send/receive XMPP and SMS from a terminal.

My cell phone:

LineageOS, without Google apps. You install apps from F-Droid. Also get Mozilla's excellent Android web browser

What hardware? My current workhorse is the Nexus 5. It's not at all new hardware, but they're cheap little workhorses. If you have a little skill with fiddly disassembly tasks, you can even replace its battery. But it's really getting old; LineageOS no longer considers it a "supported" platform.

I also have a Nextbit Robin. It's a nice phone, with a great LineageOS port. I bought it when they were being sold at rock-bottom prices; those prices seem to have bounced back quite a bit. It's also widely acknowledged to have an almost impossible-to-replace battery.

Non-Android phone possibilities:

Ubuntu Phone (now known as UBPorts)

Some phones which may or may not become relevant:

Everybody assumes that at least the PinePhone will end up being a supported LineageOS device.

Participating in the world:

Mastodon is a decentralised social network: Lots of apps available (such as Fedilab), or just visit the web interface of an instance. For example, my home instance at mst.vsta.org.

RSS lets you stay aware as new content pops up. A huge number of web sites are based on Wordpress, which offers RSS support. As new posts happen on a given Wordpress site, they become RSS events which your RSS Feed Reader can roll up and make viewable for you.

The "Tiny Tiny RSS" software will watch one or many RSS feeds, and provides a web interface so you can browse new articles from your web browser. (Debian "tt-rss" package).

And you can install the very nice FeedMonkey web app alongside tt-rss on your server. It's my personal favorite interface on both mobile and desktop for browsing new articles. It also provides a web interface, but its leaner and cleaner than tt-rss's, and adapts well to mobile device screen sizes.

Pushing out your content:

If you have your own web pages, then they only have ads if YOU put them there. They only have *your* content, not anything else added (or censored!) by a corporate strategy.

Wordpress provides content publishing, versioning, a reasonable editor, and RSS support. Debian has a "wordpress" package.

The Linode $5/month system is a little light to run Wordpress/Apache/PHP plus MySQL. If needed, you can upgrade (on the fly) to the $10/month one, which should handle it fine.

If you can author your own web content without Wordpress, a lighter weight web server like boa (not a Debian package, you have to compile it for yourself) easily fits on a small server. Even a teeny server.

Anothing thing about owning your content:

Your home page of your browser can point to a personal page on your own web server.

You update that page, and then the same personal home page is available on whatever device (mobile or desktop) you want to use. Creating a bookmark page is really simple; just see any tutorial on HTML with tables. When you see something new to add to your home page bookmarks, you just edit that same home page.

With a little experience, you can then spruce it up with custom CSS and even JavaScript.

Helpful apps:

I wrote a suite of web apps. They all use the "Chore" middleware. If you're a developer, you may find these helpful as is, or use them as a starting point.

Web Apps are nice--especially since the content is on *your* server, not somebody else's! It's sad that "Cloud" these days means "not under your control". This is the cloud, but your own personal server being "the cloud". You can switch phones, or jump from phone to desktop, and still have the same data at your fingertips. Since the data is on your own (paid, though low cost) server, you have legal rights. For any reason, you can put your data on a new server from a new company. Both the data and the server are yours.

A shopping list app I call shopr. It's multi-user capable, with real-time sync across devices.

For taking personal notes, Cloud Notepad. Web-sync'ed notes, but uses LocalStorage on your web browser so you can see the last sync'ed content if your network is off. I often fill in notes on my desktop, then view them on the fly from my phone.

You're Not Alone

You can contact me directly or on Mastodon: @vandys@mst.vsta.org

If you're somewhat technical, the Mastodon SDF server is a great place to get an account and visit.