Estimated reading time: 11 minute(s)
Over the past few weeks, I have written a bit about alternatives to big tech products. For example, I wrote about using RSS as a primary way to consume news instead of Facebook newsfeeds, Twitter, Google News, and the like. Just last week, I reviewed Wutsearch, an innovative search engine launchpad that makes it easy to try a variety of privacy-friendly alternatives to Google. Back in November, I reviewed Pixelfed, a growing image-sharing alternative to Instagram. This is a subject that I will write more about in the future – I am in the progress of writing an expanded article about niche search engines. For today’s Around the Web post, I will share some useful and valuable resources for finding alternatives to the most popular software that may be useful to you.
- Why Consider Alternative Software and Services?
- My Favorite Resource: AlternativeTo (alternativeto.net)
- Switching Software (switching.software)
- Ethical Alternatives and Resources (ethical.net)
- Privacy Tools (privacytools.io)
- Open Source Builders (opensource.builders)
- Awesome Humane Tech
- Privacy Respecting
- Think Privacy (thinkprivacy.ch)
- Decentralization Central (decentralizationcentral.com)
- Not-So-Old Leaf Journal: “Review of Wutsearch, a Search Engine Launchpad”
- Conclusion – A Place to Start Your Alternative Software Search
Why Consider Alternative Software and Services?
In my post suggesting RSS feeds as an alternative to consuming news through Facebook, I took the view that Facebook is “free” in name only. That is, in return for offering a “free” service, Facebook makes the users of its “free” service the product as it peddles their information to advertisers. Facebook is not unique. The same can and should be said for numerous other big tech companies such as Google and Twitter. Even companies that sell services, such as Microsoft and Apple, collect and monetize information about users – turning users into the product.
When using a product that serves as an information portal, such as social media or a search engine, one must also be cognizant of how the product “filters” and presents information. I discussed this issue in some detail in both my Facebook and RSS article and in my Wutsearch review.
Many people never consider that there may be viable alternatives to the software products they rely on, just waiting to be tried. RSS feeds are a terrific way to take control of the content that one reads. Alternative search engines provide new windows to the web, in addition to often respecting users far more than the big tech giants. Google Chrome is the most popular web browser by a wide margin, but there are several better options out there for those who take the time to look.
My Favorite Resource: AlternativeTo (alternativeto.net)
My favorite resource for finding new software and products is alternativeto.net. The site operates on a very simple concept. You, the user, type in a product or service that you want to see alternatives to. So long as the product or service is on AlternativeTo (this will rarely be a problem, it has a huge library), AlternativeTo will return a list of alternatives to your product or service that users have recommended. Users can vote whether a recommended alternative is a good suggestion and append comments.
Once one has a list of alternative recommendations, he or she may narrow the list. Lists can be narrowed by platform, features, price (free or paid), and even by whether the alternatives are open source. In this way, one can narrow an AlternativeTo search to return products and services that are relevant to him or her.
Unlike some of the other resources that I will recommend, AlternativeTo does not have a specific mission (for lack of a better word). Some other resources list recommendations based on a certain concept, such as being open source, privacy respecting, free, or the like. AlternativeTo includes everything, so it is up to the individual user to use its filters to narrow results.
Using AlternativeTo to Find Compatible Software
An alternative (pun intended) use of AlternativeTo is to find alternatives to software that may not be available on your system. For example, I use Linux operating systems on all of my computers. Some software and services are simply not compatible with Linux. For a Linux user, AlternativeTo can be useful for finding Linux-compatible alternatives to software that only runs on Windows and/or Mac OS. I suppose the same can be said for users who are migrating to or from Mac OS or iOS.
A Note on Assessing Alternatives
I view AlternativeTo as a portal to find software rather than an encyclopedia of available. To put it more simply, one is unlikely to decide on a product from within AlternativeTo. The site contains brief descriptions of various products, which are sometimes supplemented by user comments. In the end, however, the best way to use AlternativeTo is to find products with promising descriptions and follow a link to the product’s website to learn more about it there. In several cases, I have found that the link to a promising product’s website does not work at all. That always puts a damper on things, but AlternativeTo does sometimes list software that is now defunct. It does sometimes note that a particular “alternative” appears to no longer be maintained.
An Example of AlternativeTo in Action
I used Google Chrome for many years, until about 2015. Then, I saw the light and switched first to Chromium before then switching to Vivaldi (at the moment, my primary desktop browser is Brave). Google Chrome is one case where I think that there are clearly better alternatives available both in terms of features and privacy. For the sake of this exercise, I will run an “Alternative To Google Chrome search” to demonstrate how AlternativeTo works.
Without any filters, the first seven alternatives to Google Chrome are, in order: Firefox, Brave, Vivaldi, Opera, Tor, Chromium, and Microsoft Edge. With the exception of Tor, these are all mainstream recommendations that your average person using Chrome would have no difficulty with (Tor has many uses, but I will classify it as a more special-use case). Interestingly, Microsoft Edge, which is the most-used non-Apple alternative, is listed seventh.
Let us say that I considered the browser being “open source” to be a deal-breaker. I have used Vivaldi for years, and Vivaldi is not fully open source, so that is not the case. But just for fun, let us try filtering the search for only open source browsers. We see that Vivaldi, Opera, and Edge drop off the list, replaced by Waterfox, Pale Moon, and Firefox Developer Edition.
Products I Have Found With AlternativeTo
I have used AlternativeTo to find several interesting products. One recent example is Zettlr, a markdown editor that I have found works wonderfully for legal research and legal writing . I also used AlternativeTo to find a quasi-Goodreads alternative called inventaire, which I expect to write about here at The New Leaf Journal down the line.
Those are just two examples of many products that I use that I found thanks in part to AlternativeTo.
Create a Search Shortcut for AlternativeTo
AlternativeTo is so useful that I created a browser-based link shortcut to it on Brave and Vivaldi. On Brave, I named the shortcut “:alt” so that typing :alt before a search in the address bar sends the search directly to AlternativeTo. You can learn how to create your own search engine shortcuts in the instructions for your particular browser.
Switching Software (switching.software)
Switching Software is a more focused way to find alternative software than AlternativeTo. It focuses on recommending “ethical, easy-to-use and privacy-conscious alternatives to well-known software.”
To begin, it lists 53 popular products and services that could be considered less than optimal for user-privacy and, in some cases, ethics. These range from many Google and Adobe services, to Dropbox, and even to various social media platforms. In each case, Switching Software lists several alternative options and offers an explanation for each recommendation.
Open Source absolutists should bear in mind that not all of Switching Software’s recommendations are open source. I do not consider this an issue, but it is worth noting.
Switching Software goes so far as to recommend alternatives to one service it likely considers ethical and user friendly – itself. We will get to some of those shortly.
Switching Software is a very nice and well-organized resource. It is not comprehensive, but it recommends many terrific products and services, including some that I use personally.
Ethical Alternatives and Resources (ethical.net)
Ethical Alternatives recommends “ethical” software and services by categories. The categories are broad, ranging from classes of things that are featured on switching.software to magazines, podcasts, and books. I found the former set of recommendations more useful. I must credit this list for recommending the Buttondown newsletter service – the first and only place where I found it. What is Buttondown? You can (and should) subscribe to our official newsletter to see it in action.
The Ethical Alternatives list is a bit less focused and lighter on descriptions than Switching Software’s lists, but it covers a slightly broader range of categories. The parts dealing with software and services should give people plenty of ideas to look into for trying alternative products. I will add that Ethical Alternatives includes some less user-friendly options (for the ordinary user) among plenty of user-friendly suggestions.
Like Switching Software, the Ethical Alternatives list does include some closed source software and services.
Privacy Tools (privacytools.io)
Switching Software recommended Privacy Tools as an alternative to itself, and for good reason. Privacy Tools is generally similar, but its focus in choosing products to recommend is a bit narrower, focusing on “privacy against global mass surveilance.”
Unlike Switching Software, Privacy Tools does not recommend “alternatives” to specific products in services. Instead, like Ethical Software, it recommends privacy-centric tools and services by category. For example, instead or recommending alternatives to Gmail, it simply recommends email service providers.
Similarly to the previous recommendations, Privacy Tools does recommend some non-open source options. This may be worth noting for the open source enthusiast readers out there. The email link above is a good example. Mailbox.org, a service that I use myself, is not open source – but it nevertheless satisfied Privacy Tools’s criteria.
For those who are interested, Privacy Tools offers services, including social media, instant messaging, search, and blogging.
Open Source Builders (opensource.builders)
This recommendation comes fully courtesy of Switching Software, for I would not have found it otherwise. Open Source Builders is a sort of minimalist alternative to Switching Software. It lists popular services by their icon and then offers alternatives. Per its name, all of the alternatives are fully open source. It does not, by its own plain terms, emphasize privacy or ethical software.
One downside of Open Source Builders is that it does not explain its recommendations at all. Users must follow the external link to the recommended product or service to learn more about it.
Open Source Builders does include more products that may be relevant to businesses and developers than Switching Software and Privacy Tools. Its selection in this regard is comparable to Ethical Software’s.
Open Source Builders is worth considering, although it is not at all comprehensive. There are a few open source, privacy-friendly alternatives that I use that are not listed here, at least of March 28, 2021.
Awesome Humane Tech
Awesome Humane Tech is a growing resource compiled by the Humane Tech Community on Github. I discovered this resource when the Humane Tech Community shared my recent article on RSS as a Facebook alternative in their forum. Thank you kindly, Humane Tech Community.
But I share this resource not out of gratitude, but because it is very interesting. The resource contains major categories, and each category has numerous recommendations that fit the theme.
Humane Tech’s mission is “to help improve wellbeing, freedom, and society.” Thus, its recommendations are geared toward these three points.
The list is not as immediately user-friendly as the ones we examined before. What do I mean? Let us look at the Privacy category. The first recommendation is Privacy Tools, which I discussed above. The third is Ungoogled Chromium, which is a web browser. The fourth is Signal, a privacy-friendly chat. The tenth is Decentraleyes – a browser extension that I use.
As you can see, the privacy recommendations are all over the map. They are recommendable, but the list is not as neatly organized and segmented as the other resources. Furthermore, while some resources, like the ones I discussed above, are user-friendly, others are more appropriate for advanced users (quite a few for more advanced users than me).
For those who are willing to carefully go through the list, it includes plenty of great items. For example, Awesome Humane Tech is the only one of the resources thus far to recommend Koko Analytics, which we use here at The New Leaf Journal.
A GitHub user by the name of Nikita Voloboev put together a terrific list of “privacy respecting” software and services. Credit to Awesome Humane Tech for the link.
Mr. Voloboev frames his list beautifully. Like I did in my previous posts, he notes that many “free” products are not free at all, in that they turn users into products. For example, he begins with search engines. Under “You are the product” he lists Google, Bing, and Yandex. He then lists four alternatives along with their relevant privacy policies. The list includes social networks, messengers, cloud storage, VPNs, email, operating systems, video sharing, and AI assistants.
Overall, his recommendations are very good and most of them would be useable by ordinary users. I use quite a few of his recommendations myself. His social media and video sharing recommendations highlight a lack of bias and focus on the principle underpinning his list – he is the only one of our recommenders thus far to include Minds (a social platform), LBRY TV (a video-sharing platform), and several other crypto-based platforms, all of which make sense based on his premise.
Think Privacy (thinkprivacy.ch)
Think Privacy has privacy recommendations in 14 categories. The site is well-designed and the recommendations are solid and generally user-friendly.
Decentralization Central (decentralizationcentral.com)
Decentralization Central is very much a niche resource. It recommends only decentralized software and services. Many of Decentralization Central’s recommendations err on the esoteric side and are most suitable for advanced and crypto-curious users. I include myself among those for whom many of the recommendations are not readily amenable. However, it does include some interesting recommendations for more ordinary users, especially in its social, messaging, blogging, and miscellaneous sections. Some of its recommendations in these categories are either mainstream or comparable to more well-known alternative services and software.
Decentralization Central may not have something for everyone, but it is a good resource with many things that one will not find on the other resources (save for AlternativeTo) in this article.
Not-So-Old Leaf Journal: “Review of Wutsearch, a Search Engine Launchpad”
By Nicholas A. Ferrell. March 22, 2021.
Finally, I conclude with my review of Wutsearch. As I explain in the review, Wutsearch is a terrific way to test different privacy-respecting search engines. Read my review and then give it a spin.
Conclusion – A Place to Start Your Alternative Software Search
This post is by no means comprehensive, but it includes a small selection of tools that I have used to find different software and other products to try and use in my ordinary workflow. There are other useful and popular resources such as Product Hunt and Slant which are also worth mentioning. I am sure that there are many terrific lists made by individual users and groups that are also worthwhile and that I did not find to include in this list.
If you find that my favorite recommendation, AlternativeTo, does not work as well for you as for me, fret not. You can search AlternativeTo for an alternative to itself to find something that you prefer.