Moving to Proton


Proton AG Logo
Proton AG Logo Via Linkedin (@protonprivacy)

Becoming privacy-conscious

Privacy has increasingly become a more important topic for me as I continue to learn the (scary) power of data. For the longest time, I had teetered between "it works so well" to "I should really value my privacy and data". Things recently have started to change, possibly for the better (or worse depending on how you look at things).

For the past year, I have put more and more effort and consciousness into the decisions I make when selecting which products I use. First, it was my notes, then buying my own NAS, adding my password manager, and converting my DNS provider and domain registrar. These moves, however, were nothing in scale compared to what I was about to do; move off of Google Workspace.

Identifying the need

I always thought that Gmail's autosuggestion, while convenient, was quite creepy. Somehow, in some way, Gmail began to learn what I wanted to say, do and prefilled begin to auto suggest entire sentences to me. Initially, it didn't make me so worried, that it was "just my email", but slowly and slowly, I began to realize a couple of quite outstanding things.

  • I have important documents and details stored in my email
    • Yes, we all do it. You can't be bothered to use a USB or have access to a network-shared and password-protected drive so you will email yourself important scans and documents. Either that or you have had to send some important documents to whoever you needed to send them to. Either way, you most likely have very important things stored in your inbox that you would rather not have leak out onto the internet.
  • Google Workspace is no longer the only workable option
    • You don't have to use it. There are so many emerging competitors or collections of services that will provide similar services. This point really was nailed home when Canva came out with Canva docs. It's so easy to keep how you're doing things now but sometimes the grass on the other side is not greener, but healthier.
  • An opportunity to support emerging technologies making positive impacts
    • Money talks. Being able to support smaller businesses that want to achieve good and do the right thing is something that I feel very earnest about doing. Whether it's a good game or a good service, I will be willing to shell out what it deserves for a good experience, even if it means a rougher transitional period.
  • It's a bit creepy
    • I mean predicting what I'm going to say? Come on.
  • It's free

All of this adds up to make it a quite compelling argument to leave Google Workspace, especially considering how easy it is nowadays to move Mail providers. It is not that it is a bad service, in fact, Google has served me well for a number of years, but it's time to switch.

Picking out the options

After the observations, I made a selection criterion for whatever my next choice was going to be. Any strategy or option would most preferably fill most of these criteria. This list, in no particular order, is:

  • Privacy first
  • End-to-end encryption
  • Usable (good UX/UI)
  • Stable and proven services
  • The flexibility of development (Easy SMTP server access, API docs, good support)
  • OS availability (IOS, Mac, Windows, Android (not anymore lol), Linux)
  • Feature set (minimum requirement: replace Gmail, Goal = Replace Google Workspace)
  • Open source

A deceptively comprehensive list of items that happened to knock out a lot of the big players in the space. Think Google, Outlook, Yahoo, and iCloud. This left my selection really narrowed to only a couple of options:

The army

The first and most prevalent option was to pick something that was distributed, meaning that many services collectively replaced the original solution. These were my options for the various features that were going to be replacing Gmail

  1. Mail (A good comparison list can be found here)
    1. Mx Route
    2. Tutanota
    3. Startmail
    4. FastMail
  2. Drive (already replaced by my NAS)
    1. Dropbox
    2. Mega
  3. VPN
    1. OVPN (no logs, court proven!)
    2. Surfshark
    3. Nordvpn
    4. Mullvad
    5. ... there are so many

You kinda get the point. There are ways to replace Gmail and the Google workplace suite in this way but it can get quite messy and expensive if we factor in all the things you actually have to sign up for and pay for.

Ultimately, the more that I dug into this option, the more nonviable it became. It just wasn't realistic to use, manage and pay for so many services all at the same time.

This isn't to say that this is a bad option, but rather for my own personal sanity, I would rather invest into at least one larger privacy-first ecosystem and not have to pay 5 different bills a year.

And thus arose the monolith strategy.


Nextcloud: The self-hosted option

Nextcloud is an open-source self-hosted collaboration tool suite that allows users to regain control over their data. The suite provides:

  • Nextcloud Files: Drive storage
  • Nextcloud Talk: Calls, chats, and web meetings
  • Nextcloud groupware: Calendar, contacts, and mail
  • Nextcloud Office: Document collaboration

The key here is "self-hosted". Since I already had a NAS, I have the ability to host my own instance of Nextcloud and was quite willing to go down this route for a while, that is until I figured out a couple of things.

  1. I can't trust myself with ensuring that Mail is 100% reliable. I don't know about you but sometimes I get some really important emails. To have to support, maintain and provide enough redundancy so that I ensure that I do not miss a single email is quite perilous and expensive!
  2. It still costs money to license (basic @ 100 users for 36 EUR/user/yr) even though you are hosting it yourself
  3. Drive storage is kind of redundant since that's what my NAS already does
  4. I don't need to chat with anyone on Nextcloud Talk! It's just me...

All in all, I ended up discounting Nextcloud but still think it's a great option if you're willing to go through the setup and ensure that your service has 100% uptime. I just don't have the time to do that right now.

That being said, when you consider the well rounded office suite that it offers, I'll always be tempted to spin up an instance of my own. You simply can't completely say no to something that is complete (and can replace Google Workspace) like this!

Zoho: A stick in the mud

Zoho was the next option that presented itself and is a SAAS productivity software suite. I personally was only interested in the email and collaboration software which includes:

  • Mail
  • Meetings
  • Writer: Word processor for focused writing and discussions
  • Sheets
  • Show (presentations)
  • Notebook
  • Bookings (Appointment scheduling)
  • Sign
  • And a lot more

All this is mostly provided at a cost of 0 dollars for 1 user. There are other tiers that can accommodate more users and extra features (which I mostly did not need). This combined with a few more reasons ended up making Zoho a stick in the mud (something that is always there as an option but I won't pick it)

  1. Free means not private (sometimes). In most cases, free things come at a cost (you are probably the product). Most likely, I will be faced with the same points that made me want to move off Gmail and Google Workspace in the first place.
  2. Too many features that I just won't use
  3. Not open source
  4. Mixed reviews (i.e)

Proton: The Unicorn

All of my anguish in finding a provider was quickly resolved after I discovered the (new) wonders of Proton. Proton is a privacy-focused company that provides open-source productivity software. Once just a mail company, they have begun diversifying into other spaces and now provide:

I found that although the feature set mostly encompassed that of Gmail and Google workspace, there were still some drawbacks:

  1. No documents (although there is Drive!)
  2. They are relatively new, only recently expanding into Calendar and drive. This means that OS is not fully available and some apps straight up don't support any clients outside of the web (Drive). This also means that the usability of their apps can be not quite polished compared to larger providers.
  3. It is expensive!

However, these drawbacks were small prices to pay for the amazing returns

  1. Privacy first and open source!
  2. Good support
  3. Good reviews
  4. Well-documented, tested and supported by Swiss data laws
  5. VPN Included! (Free tier still includes VPN but at a lower speed/availability)
  6. An easy developer experience. Quick setup with SMTP access, Domain setup (DMARC, DKIM, SPF)
  7. Good limits on cloud storage. Unlimited = 500GB. Visionary = 3TB!

Ultimately, the decision was quick. It checked the criteria and when faced with their Black Friday sale, I jumped the gun and bought two years of unlimited, which then turned into an upgrade to Visionary through its limited-time return.

But what is all this for?

Privacy please sign
Privacy is really important! (Image by Jason Dent @jdent via Unsplash)

This is quite a bland topic for most. Many people don't really care or worry about their data and don't really understand the ramifications that can arise if a data leak occurs.

This is not to say that major providers like Google or Microsoft are intentionally attempting to do harm. In fact, they have provided many good innovations and impacts on people throughout their existence. I personally will still use YouTube and YouTube music as two of my main media providers! Google meets is still very good!!

However, times have changed, and with this world becoming all the more data focused, I have found myself reconsidering the value of my data on the web and taking a step to be privacy-conscious. Even more so If I can support a positive new initiative that makes it much easier to make these decisions.

In my opinion, you can always try your best but you are only going to be as strong as your weakest link. Whether or not that is important to you and your perception of your data, is up to you to decide.

Final thoughts

Privacy and security, for the most part, are topics that are overlooked by so many people but this is quickly changing.

There are many things that should be done to ensure that you are protected against the threats that appear online and learning to value your data is the center of that.

Data is not something that is easily disposable. It will propagate and echo, most likely moving through many hands and places. Ensuring that you control this movement as much as possible, are doing regular security checkups, and utilize good security practices will make you one step closer to making the web a safer place for yourself.