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Good Google Drive alternatives for collaborating on documents, notes, presentations, and more

Back in the day, Google Drive was early to market with a halfway decent, browser-based collaborative document editor. Relatively bare-bones and free, it caught on quickly with a portion of the market.

These days, Google Drive is far from the only game in town. Subjectively, it also isn’t very good anymore, and bugs often stick around for months or years. Remember the “randomly indent parts of paragraphs for nearly two years, even in Chrome” bug? The iOS apps have also steadily deteriorated.

Thankfully, there is a strong selection of alternatives for different audiences. Whether you need a full-featured professional suite or just a scratchpad to jot notes with others, give these a look.

Quip

Quip is perhaps the closest to Google Drive in terms of browser-based simplicity and mobile apps. It has a unique, minimal interface for basic editing. But for simple, collaborative documents, adding notes, and discussion about the document (instead of getting lost in email), Quip is a great choice.Bonus: Quip has partial support for Markdown. If you paste it in, Quip leaves it alone. But if you use Markdown syntax while you write, Quip will turn it into rich text. If you’d rather keep it as markdown, just press Delete once after the auto-conversion.

Office

You heard me. Microsoft Office has improved significantly over the past few years, especially on iOS and macOS. I can’t speak to the depth of its feature set, but it feels more organized, approachable, and usable than ever.

The native apps and web apps also have collaboration now. It doesn’t have a free version like Google, but Microsoft also isn’t mining your documents for advertisers. Paid Office 365 plans start at $5, which include the web apps and hosted domain Exchange email. Compared to Google Drive, the entry level Office plan gives you far better web apps, broader industry file compatibility, collaboration, and more standard, app-friendly domain email for the same price.

Jessi and I share a family Office subscription, which gives both of us access to the native apps on iPad and Mac. I’ve use the email for Chartier.land and my business Bit & Pen domains for about a year now, and I’m happy.

iWork

Considering this crowd, I probably don’t have to say much about iWork. It’s a solid suite for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, and Apple recently added collaboration on both the web and native apps. I think it’s also free when you buy a new Apple device now, so financially it’s a win.

Apple Notes

If you just need a simple place to share things that are more note-like than full-on documents, and everyone you want to share with is on an iPad, iPhone, or Mac, Apple Notes is a good choice.

It does basic formatting like headings, lists, bold, and italics. It handles photos and you can add rich media links from Safari. I’ve heard from people who use Apple notes to share family todo lists, idea scratch pads, and even collaborate on blog posts. It’s pretty flexible.

Dropbox Paper

Dropbox recently launched its own basic document collaboration tool. I can’t speak to it much since most of my work is in Quip, Google Drive for some clients, or Ulysses, but I‘ em heard from people who are happy with it.

Zoho

Zoho has its own growing collection of web apps and services that I would put somewhere between Google Apps and Salesforce. At the core, though, are apps for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, sites, wikis, and much more.

You can sign up and use some of the apps for free, and pricing varies based on the collection of apps you want.

Honorable Mention – Texpad

Texpad is another online collaborative document system with native apps. It’s built around LaTeX, a “document preparation” system popular in academia, hence the honorable mention. Its audience is niche, but enough people responded to my original question on Twitter that I wanted to include it.

Any others?

This list is mostly stuff I know about and have used at least a few times. Did I miss any good ones? I’m happy to expand this list, so let me know on Tumblr @chartier, Twitter @chartier, or here.

On touchscreen typing and advantages of the iPad Pro

In short, I’m getting pretty good at it.

While I’ve reviewed my fair share of iPad keyboards over the years, I have always been a big proponent of touchscreen typing. Leaving the house with nothing but a one-pound (ish), 4G-enabled tablet in a small shoulder bag feels empowering and freeing to me.

Of course, as a professional writer who can usually get in the 90-110 wpm range with a physical keyboard, it’s taken me some time to adjust to touchscreen typing. The smaller size of the 9.7-inch iPad also made things interesting, but typing on the equivalent of a full-size keyboard with this 12.9-inch Pro has been great. I’m even getting faster and more reliable in non-standard situations, like lounging and lap-typing on the sofa.

To test myself, I downloaded TapTyping – typing trainer (Free with IAP, or Paid). It has various courses for beginners to experts, but I dove straight into the typing test to see how I fared.

Across three tests I hit 84, 65, and 95 words, giving me an average for this first go-around of 80 wpm. That ain’t too bad, and I’ve been doing a lot of my writing and content work for app developers on iPad for some time now.

Between writing in Ulysses and collaborating in Quip or, if necessary, Google Drive, my needs are covered pretty well. The WordPress app is still pretty terrible, so I bounce between it and Safari for publishing my own stuff (example: I did this post in Safari since I needed a photo gallery. Even though it’s 2016, WordPress.app still can’t create galleries). My Chartier.land site is still in Squarespace but I’ll switch that to WordPress or Weebly soon, too (more on that in a later post).

Finally, many iOS writing and coding apps have mature, powerful keyboard shortcut bars that can be a nice boost for productivity. Ulysses has always had a great shortcut bar that puts most Markdown commands at your fingertips, including [img], lists, style, and linking. In fact, in the 2.5 beta I’m testing now for iPad Pro and iPhone, Ulysses now integrates it’s shortcuts into Apple’s smart bar with suggestions and pasting tools. And if you have a link in your clipboard and select some text, a simple paste command will turn it into a proper Markdown link. It’s just great.

I don’t have some ultimate insight or moral to the story here, other than “it can be done.” In fact, TapTyping has a Game-Center-powered leaderboard, and I’ve emailed its developer, Flairify, to find out whether the app only works with touchscreen typing. If it does, you can see in my final gallery photo here that some touchscreen typing experts are hitting 120-130+ wpm.

Update: Flairify got back to me. TapTyping does distinguish between touchscreen typing and hardware keyboards, and even maintains leaderboards for each. That means the board in my gallery here has 130+ wpm iPad touchscreen typists.

If you tried touchscreen typing and just didn’t get the hang of it, or if you’re simply curious, I definitely encourage you to give it a shot. Maybe give yourself some more time, or try TapTyping’s courses to train yourself in a more structured way. The mobility, weight, and freedom advantages of typing on an iPad this way have definitely been worth it for me. I’m not even considering a hardware keyboard for my iPad Pro anymore.

Thoughts on and options for deleting your Google account

I’m tired of being uncomfortable with Google’s boundless desire and entitlement to our data (Facebook, too, but that’s for a different post). Something else that feels downright disrespectful and insulting is Google’s deliberate aversion to directly interacting with and helping its users. Over the past few months I decided to stop being uncomfortable and do something about it, and this weekend I finished my journey by deleting my Google Apps Account (which, for what it’s worth, was grandfathered as a free account). I’ve had enough people ask how it went and what I’m using as alternatives, so here we go.

Sidenotes

I’ll get a few details out of the way. * No, technically I have not completely deleted my entire Google presence, but I do not actively use its products with a login now. * I have a dummy account to which I transferred a couple things that I’ll have to deal with over time, namely Analytics and Voice. Details below. * On occasion I do still double-check a search at Google, but those cases are disappearing thanks to some tools that are even more useful than Google. Details below.

With that said, let’s get to some alternatives that might work for you. I’ve switched to all these full time and they work great.

Search

DuckDuckGo is a surprisingly good search engine with some great features, and rapidly getting more useful and accurate. Its image search is also pretty good, you can now set DuckDuckGo as your default in Safari on OS X and iOS, and they have add-ons for other browsers.

One of my favorite things about DuckDuckGo is that, for the times when you need something specific or don’t find what you need, it has a ton of !bangs (text shortcuts) to search thousands of other sites. They even work from Safari’s smart address bar if you set DuckDuckGo as your default. For example, a search for “!w antarctica” will go straight to Wikipedia and search for antarctica, while “!ars China” will search Ars Technica for its China coverage. You can even add your own !bang shortcuts—how cool is that?

Finally, in a few cases where DuckDuckGo couldn’t find what I need, a !g shortcut kicks me out to a secure, logged-out Google search. Thing is, these days, I often know that what I want is at a site like Wikipedia or Amazon, so I find the !bangs much more convenient than a shotgun search across the entire web.

Email

I have three domains that I also care about for email—chartier.land, davidchartier.com, and finerthings.in (soon to be finertech.com). The best alternative I’ve found so far for my needs is Fastmail.

I’ve been testing it for over half a year and Fastmail has been fast and reliable. It also supports multiple domains on a single account and the web UI, which I almost never need, is surprisingly polished and useful, right down to keyboard shortcuts that make much more sense than Gmail’s (D instead of Shift-3 for delete, A = archive, etc. Shift-3 for delete, Gmail? Y for archive? Seriously?). My main complaint for Fastmail, though, is that its settings and instructions are still a little engineer-y; in some cases longwinded, overwritten, or otherwise more complicated than they should be.

But the service is fantastic and it now powers email for all my domains. Fastmail starts at just $20 per year and has support powered by human beings.

Alternative to the alternative

I think Microsoft’s work with Outlook deserves a mention here. While it is powered by ads, Microsoft offers human support and you can even use your own domain names for free. I think you can also pay to remove ads, but don’t quote me.

Analytics

Confession: Google Analytics has always seemed like a product built for an alien race that can’t speak or understand its own language. A couple years ago I switched to Clicky because it feels like it’s built for human beings. It’s simple to add Clicky’s snippet to just about any webpage, it has WordPress plugins, and some Tumblr themes even have built-in support.

Note that a few of my sites (scroll to Projects) still have Google Analytics tracking code, but I hope to clean all that up in the next few days.

Feedburner

Feedburner has been a zombie product for years, I’m surprised it didn’t join the Google Graveyard a while ago.

FeedPress is a fantastic alternative that is modern, reliable, and designed well. Support is fast and powered by human beings, and of course they have a Feedburner transition guide to help.

Drive

Admittedly, Drive might be tough to leave when it comes to work. Some of the places I freelance work in Drive, which is partly why I kept that aforementioned dummy Google account.

For my personal writing and work, I use a combination of apps powered by Dropbox and, increasingly, iCloud, including Byword and Write. When it’s time to collaborate online, Quip is not only fantastic, it’s far better than Google Drive (or Docs) ever was. Quip is beautiful, simple, fast, lets you write however you want (including rich text, which I prefer), and export to a few different formats, including Markdown. It has a conversation component that lets you have (and hide) a discussion alongside documents which, again, is far better than Drive’s. It also offers easily accessible support powered by human beings.

Quip has no ads and is free for individual users. It makes money by charging businesses. This approach might not work for all companies, but I love when it does.

Voice

I haven’t decided what to do about my Google Voice number, but I haven’t really used it or handed it out for months, possibly over a year. I transferred it to my dummy account just in case, and I’m still looking into alternatives because I like the idea of having separate voicemail, contacts, and do-not-disturb times from my personal life.

Skype is a good alternative here. It’s missing some of Google Voice’s best features, such as call rerouting and contextual voicemail greetings, but Skype does have affordable paid options that give you a real phone number and human support. There is a healthy number of other alternatives and startups that compete with Google Voice, though, and I’ve heard good things about Line2.

YouTube

YouTube is unique in that it’s a content destination, not a tool with alternatives. If a creator publishes to YouTube but not Vimeo or DailyMotion or others, your only options are to watch it on YouTube or find a site that ripped the video for its own purpose and profit.

I’d rather reward those creators so I still visit YouTube, just no longer with my personal Google Apps Account. For the occasional video that requires a sign-in for age verification, I’ll either abandon my adventure (I probably have better things to do anyway) or sign in with my dummy account.

Life after Google

Whether it’s the ads, that Google probably has more data on you than the CIA, or the simple fact that Google can’t be bothered to support regular human beings, I’m happy to say life is thriving outside of Google’s products. These alternatives work quite well for me so far, but I, and I’m sure readers, am curious to hear about yours.