I think the free and open-source (FOSS) community and privacy-conscious people should talk more about the cost. There is an oft-trivialized cost to going the unconventional route.

It’s great that most desktop and mobile software and tools are free. Linux, LibreOffice, FireFox, Atom, and Anki are completely free and open-source software I use daily. When it comes to online services, however, nothing is free. You either pay with your data, money, or time. It costs a lot to run servers; the developers have to get paid somehow.

The first option is the default: use the FAANG tech giants’ web services for emails, calendars, contacts, note-taking, and online presence. While it makes me uncomfortable knowing that all of my behaviors are exposed, you may decide you’re okay with it.

If you want something similar to Google’s suite of web applications that work out of the box, you’ll need to pay. ProtonMail is a popular and secure email service that also has calendar and contacts support in beta. I chose FastMail, however, since their calendar and contacts features are more mature. As it’s very difficult to set up and run a custom email server without getting flagged as spam, I suggest using one of these services. At most, they cost $5 per month.

If you choose to use ProtonMail’s free plan, you’ll have to wait for the calendar and contacts support to get out of beta. Etesync is a popular alternative, which helps sync your data on your devices. While I had technical difficulties setting it up, a lot of people recommend it. Lastly, you can use local calendars and contacts if that satisfies your needs.

You don’t want to pay for these services? Then you’ll have to invest your time and energy learning how to set up and manage home servers. The up-front hardware cost is fairly low, as they can be low-end devices. However, it is quite difficult for novices to run a server. Once configured, both come with every conceivable application except emails. That includes file storage, tasks, photo gallery, calendar, contacts, kanban, and more. The question, then, is how to have redundancy. Paid cloud storage services do the job for you. If you’re self-hosting, you’ll have to create a remote backup yourself.

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of hosting a server, then you need to pay money. You can rent Owncloud or Nextcluod installations on some hosting providers. Alternatively, you can use my cloud storage service of choice, pCloud. Either way, you’ll have to cough up the cost. Either choice will serve your cloud note-taking needs. Owncloud and Nextcloud both have note-taking apps; in pCloud, you can simply save markdown files to the cloud.

Lastly, there are a few private ways to have an online presence. You can use a federated social media service like Mastodon. My choice, self-evidently, is to run a website. I bought this website’s domain and hosted it on Github Pages. If you’re not a web developer and want a simpler setup, you can sign up for a Wordpress hosting provider.

This covers all the major use cases of online services:

  1. Email (ProtonMail for 0$-$5/mo, FastMail for $3-$5/mo)
  2. Calendar & contacts (ProtonMail Calendar in beta, FastMail, Etesync for $2/mo, Owncloud/Nextcloud for $0+/mo)
  3. File storage (Owncloud/Nextcloud, pCloud for $50/yr)
  4. Online presence (Mastodon for free, Github pages for free, Wordpress hosting for $3+/mo, and custom domain for $10+/yr)

In my case, the costs of $50/yr on pCloud, $60/yr on Fastmail, and $24/yr on custom domain (two of them) add up to $134/yr or $11/mo. Considering that it’s the cost of one subscription - say, Spotify - for a whole suite of services, I think it’s worth it. If you’re more price-conscious, then costs could definitely go down. There regardless will be some price though, whether through cash, time, or data.