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Getting Free of Google’s Grip: The 10 Top Alternatives

Getting Free of Google’s Grip: The 10 Top Alternatives
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Last week I wrote an apparently controversial article on how I do my work completely online and why the operating system I use is no longer relevant: Firefox OS: Why My Hard Drive and Software are Obsolete.

In the many comments that followed, I was accused of being a Google fanboy, because I use so many Google apps: Gmail, Gcal, Google Reader, Picasa, Google Homepage and more. The truth is, I use those apps because in my experience they are the best online apps in each of their respective categories.

But it’s true that it’s never good to be under the thumbs of one company, and so by popular demand, here are the best alternatives to those Google apps. While it’s too late to save myself, perhaps you guys can get free from the Google stranglehold!

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Top 10 Alternatives to Google’s apps

1. Thunderbird. As I noted in the previous article, I’m a fan of Firefox … and Mozilla’s open-source Thunderbird is right behind it in terms of usefulness, functionality, speed and extensibility. Thunderbird, although not an online app, is a great alternative to Gmail. If you add Mozilla’s Lightning or Sunbird, you can replace Gcal too.

2. 30 Boxes. Although the simple and fast Gcal meets my needs perfectly, 30 boxes is just as fast and easy, and is loved by many. If Gcal didn’t integrate with Gmail, I would probably be using 30 Boxes.

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3. Netvibes. Although I love the speed of Google Reader, Netvibes can not only hold all of your feeds in an organized way, it can replace both Reader and Google Personalized Homepage. A great way to organize all your favorite services in a personalized way, Netvibes was my homepage of choice until I discovered Reader.

4. Zoho Office Suite. Perhaps the best online alternative to the Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Zoho has just about everything you’d ever need: a spreadsheet, word processor, presentation program, project manager, notebook, wiki, web conferencing, mail, chat, database and CRM. This might actually be my choice of the future.

5. Peepel. This new offering takes my online OS model almost literally — it offers a desktop environment from within your browser. This service contains office apps, accessible anywhere online, including a word processor, spreadsheet and more. I haven’t actually given this a spin yet, but I intend to. It’s limited in its current beta release, but it has potential and plans to expand in the future. Replaces Google Docs and Spreadsheets

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6. Bloglines. If Netvibes or Google Reader isn’t for you, Bloglines is another popular and excellent choice.

7. Zimbra Collaboration Suite. Yet another online office suite, Zimbra started out with email/calendar functionality and has since launched spreadsheet and word processing apps. I haven’t tried this, but have heard excellent things about it, and I love that it’s open-source with an API that could have many uses. Another alternative to Google Docs and Spreadsheets

8. ThinkFree Online. Billed as the “best online office on earth,” ThinkFree aims to ween people from Microsoft Office to is web office suite. It has spreadsheet, word processing and presentation apps, online storage, document sharing and more. Unfortunately, only some of that functionality is free, but it’s still an interesting suite. Replaces Google Docs and Spreadsheets.

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9. OpenOffice.org. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention everybody’s favorite open-source office suite, OpenOffice. It’s not an online app, but it offers everything Microsoft Office can give you, but for free, and without all the bloat. This is definitely worth a try, especially if you’re not only trying to get free from Google but Microsoft as well. Replaces Google Docs and Spreadsheets.

10. Flickr. An obvious choice as a replacement for Google’s Picasa web photo service, Yahoo’s Flickr is actually much more popular. My free Flickr account wasn’t good enough for me, but it’s a great service loved by many.

Can you get free from Google’s grip? Yes, I believe you can. As I said before, I’m more than willing to try out the alternatives, but Google’s apps are the best I’ve found so far. For those of you who aren’t fans of Google, there’s a lot more out there.

Leo Babauta blogs regularly about achieving goals through daily habits on Zen Habits, and covers such topics as productivity, GTD, simplifying, frugality, parenting, happiness, motivation, exercise, eating healthy and more. Read his articles on keeping your inbox empty, clearing your desk, becoming an early riser, and the Top 20 Motivation Hacks.

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Leo Babauta

Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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