Google Workspace (formally Google Apps, formally G Suite)

After years of frustration in the Google platform, specifically G Suite (also known as Google Apps or Google Workspace) it all recently came to a head for me after I received a couple of Google Nest cameras as gifts last Christmas.

Having been a strong Google proponent since the late 90’s, when Google was a cool startup bucking the trend with their famous do not be evil mission, Googles brand within the technical community rose to dizzying heights. Ever since the Google brand has always had a strong influence on me and I have happily recommended their products to people I care about.

As a proud Google supporter, in 2007 I signed up to their Google Apps for Your Domain offering, so I could bind Gmail to a custom domain that I’d just purchased and still use today At the time it was a no brainer, priced reasonably at a couple of bucks.

As computer literate people, we often have differing needs to your average Joe normies:

  • Great IMAP support for CLI programs such as mbsync and mutt
  • A level of security and privacy controls
  • One online personal identity to keep the chaos of life somewhat in check, I fear the idea of managing several personal-use email accounts
  • Being able to integrate other humans I love into my personal cloud data (e.g. sharing photos, documents) in a safe and secure manner
  • An expectation that surrogate Google related products and services just work
  • Reciprocal respect and loyalty as a long time (15 year) evangelist and premium user

Google has failed spectacularly in each. For me personally it has distanced me from their brand in a bad way.

Google has slowly degraded the seemingly harmless Google Apps (later rebranded to G Suite and most recently Google Workspace) that so many early adopters and Google champions supported, by shoehorning and treating them as a formal business entities, locking them into an island that could not longer integrate with the greater Google ecosystem, while each year charging more for that privilege.

Breaking point

A one example of how messed up the situation is, is how I went to setup two new Nest cameras (worth over AUD$600) last (2021) Christmas time. Using Google Home I dove into the setup process and quickly discovered the app failing with Internal Error Occurred.

How bad could it be? After doing some trivial research my heart soon sank.

The comments erupting with screams from some of their most loyal and technical user base:

The original free Google Apps accounts were marketed towards families and then subsequently became GSuite. All my Google data is now in that account and impossible to transition to a standard @gmail account. There a ton of people in the same situation that need a resolution ASAP

This is so incredibly lame. Google, the most advanced software company in the world can’t even get it so G Suite aka Google Workspaces can’t be used to manage other Google software like Nest Devices.

Late to this party but just as irritated. You’re making your more advanced users suffer. Bad move.

How absolutely pathetic! I can play music, cast Netflix, change the colour of my lights, look at all my photos etc but if I want a chime for my $300 doorbell I can’t because I’m a gSuite user. WT actual F google? How many people have to complain before you actually do something??

At this point it’s a race between Google coming up with a way to fix this and me finally getting around to migrating myself and my family completely away from Google products. I’m confident I’m not alone in that position.

Migrating off Google

The plan

I knew this was going to be tough and came up with a high level migration strategy.

Some of my biggest fears shutting down my Google account:

  • GMail, contacts and calendar: 15 years worth of footprint!
  • OAuth linked accounts: Any sites that I linked my Google account with and used for authentication would now be lost (e.g. StackOverflow).
  • Drive: A deep investment. A complex graph of shared items with peers. Throw it all away.
  • Docs and Sheets
  • YouTube: What would become of my uploaded content? My subscriptions? My premium movie and TV purchases? Would it all be lost? It turns out YES, even with the likes of youtube-dl due to DRM…what a burn.
  • Photos
  • Android Play Store: What apps or subscriptions do I even have? Would my premium apps be lost? Subscriptions terminated? It turns out YES
  • G.Pay: Transaction and purchase history?
  • Hangouts: Valuable chats and group discussions I’m currently a member of?
  • Nest smart home devices: All now just paper weights
  • Keep: Valuable little notes
  • Maps: Would all my reviews become read-only or lost forever?

I was surprised that Google Takeout actually existed. Using takeout its possible to rescue a decent portion of your Google digital footprint by exporting it into tarballs. For the data you can export, its a lossy process, e.g. Google Docs get converted to docx files. Premium purchases such as Nest devices, YouTube, Music, Android apps are a write off. Sorry.

When you’ve scrapped as much (or little) of the Google data you can, nuke your account using

The future

No question this has been traumatic and I expect I’ll feel the ramifications (e.g. lost data that’s of value to me) for years to come. However it has been a MASSIVE (and expensive) wake up call, mostly around the amount of trust I will give a single cloud provider moving forward.

A silver lining is that I’m finding alternatives such as Fastmail to be superior with features I actually care about such as great IMAP support with mbsync and support for multiple domains.

Some strategies for me moving forward:

  • Rule 1: Where possible avoid donating my data. Examples:
    • If I own a legitimate DVD rip watch that using Plex
    • Always use a VPN
    • Setup Pi-hole to block ads at the network level
    • Anonymise search engine queries with DuckDuckGo
    • Use firefox private sessions and containers
    • Block all third party cookies (trackers)
    • When not useful, disable device features like location services on android
  • Rule 2: Don’t be lazy
    • Where feasible run services myself such as for chat (IRC or matrix), git repos, email, Luke Smith has done a brilliant job documenting some possibilities
  • Rule 3: Always choose offerings or companies that value the customer and in-turn the privacy and security of their data, even if this privilege comes at a reasonable financial cost to me. Examples:
  • Rule 4: Always use open platforms over evil ones
  • Rule 5: Minimise attack surface and possible future damages by putting too many eggs in any one basket
  • Rule 6: Diversify across as many cloud providers for different services as possible (i.e. beware drinking too much cool-aid on any single platform). That way, when one screws you its just one compartment of your digital life. Examples:
    • Replace Mail, Calendar and Contacts with Fastmail (because Android doesn’t use CalDAV and CardDAV for calender and contact management, you’ll need to fork out for a little app called DAVx5 to translate open standards to Androids proprietary format)
    • Replace Drive with Microsoft OneDrive
    • Replace Docs and Sheets with Microsoft OneDrive and 365
    • Replace Photos with Plex local storage on my LAN
    • Replace Pixel 4A with iPhone
    • Replace YouTube with local offline youtube-dl rips
  • Rule 7: Have strict non-negotiable boundaries between cloud providers. Examples:
    • Never buy a movie on YouTube always on Vimeo (if its not available on Vimeo or an open platform, I don’t watch it, period)
    • Never consume music on any platform other than Spotify
  • Rule 8: Regularly export and backup my data
  • Rule 9: Still use Google products, but make sure its an explicit decision:
    • Chrome
    • Chromecast
    • Android