Disengaging From the Matrix Part 1: Kolab Software

Disengaging From the Matrix Part 1: Kolab Software

I’ve gotten a few emails from readers who have concerns that “If I stop using Google/Yahoo/Apple software, I won’t be able to do ____.”  That’s not true, and in a VG-exclusive series, we’re going to be looking at some of the software out there that does the same job without laying your private life wide open and profiting on it.  I’ll be bringing you in-depth reviews on email providers, cloud services, browser setups, and much more.  Everything we’ll be talking about are programs and tools that I either currently use or have personally tested, and the reviews will be written for the average user.

Please note that we are not receiving anything from these companies.  They did not ask us to do a review, and they are giving us nothing for doing it.  In fact, we aren’t even telling them we’re doing it. You can be certain that this series will be completely honest and without bias.

To get started in the series, I’ve chosen to focus on something we all use a million times a day: email, calendar, and task management.  Lots of details below the jump!


Our featured software today is Kolab.  MyKolab replaces Outlook, with some Sharepoint features as well.  This means it also can replace Gmail/Calendar/Reminders/iCloud.  Here’s what the desktop looks like (click to enlarge):


Kolab is open source, which means it’s technology is easily tested and analyzed by the community, who take it upon themselves to monitor code and ensure the NSA didn’t put a backdoor in it.  (Open source is also highly recommended by security experts such as Bruce Schneier.)  In addition, it’s in Switzerland, which is good news for US clients because it means that it will not comply with US law enforcement requests or intelligence programs.  Here’s their take on all that:

Switzerland, which is where this service is located, only recently allowed minimal provisions for lawful interception and placed them under strong requirements for warrants and transparency. So any access will always be subject to review and known. Furthermore, secret collusion with the US services as it apparently took place in Germany is highly unlikely in Switzerland because such activities would establish personal, criminal liability of whoever were to know of such a thing and not take appropriate action. Not to mention what would happen to someone who were to approve such collusion.

In other words, Switzerland takes this very seriously: If you find out something like this is going on and do nothing, you go to jail. If you approve such a thing, you go to jail for a long time. So the personal risk for anyone involved in such activities would be very high, making them much less likely than in other countries. So you can be quite certain the information we provide on our privacy page is the complete and full picture.

In fact, you can check out their very plain and open FAQ on privacy here.  They receive an A+ grade from SSL Labs, as well (techie readers may want to take a look at that).  They also received a Class A rating from Terms of Service; Didn’t Read, which is a watchdog company that rates the ToS of many companies.  (For some perspective, Google is a Class C, YouTube is a Class D, and Twitpic is a lowly Class E; DuckDuckGo, however, is another Class A!)

Kolab isn’t free, but it’s not really expensive, either.  Their standard services are about $11 a month ($11.57 at the current exchange rate for Swiss francs), and it’s well worth it.  High marks from the tech community round out the package, and all in all, Kolab is worth your time and money to take a look.

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  • ALman says:

    I was using the TorBrowser the other night and there were some problems. Attempting to undertake a project to have a integrated system that is secure as can be, from hardware to software, seems to be a daunting task, not one that I feel I’m willing to pursue. To do these sorts of revisions piece-meal doesn’t seem to be a good idea, at least for one who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Ha!

  • Xavier says:

    Try Advanced Onion Router. It’s a TOR front end that’s easy to use. I’m no expert but it seems to work.

    1] Download AdvOR. (see below for a link) It’s a standalone program and zipped. If either of those give you trouble let me know and I’ll post more detailed instructions.

    Note: leave your browser maximized on your monitor.

    2] Start AdvOR.exe. The icon is green with a blue slash. If you get a firewall warning, allow this process.

    3] Click Connect in the lower left corner. Wait until it says “Connected to the OR network” below the blue progress bar.

    4] Click the target button in the lower left corner to get a small popup window. Drag and drop the target icon onto your open browser window. (anywhere is fine)

    5] Click the “Intercept” button. If you get a firewall warning, allow this process.

    At this point your browser should be connected and running through the OR network. You’ll probably notice that it’s slower – that’s the price of privacy. You can test your IP address before and after starting AdvOR at http://www.tracemyip.org/

    AdvOR from MajorGeeks:

    • ALman says:

      I didn’t specify. I use a non-PC computer which has the fruity name (with all their billions, why should I advertise for them?). Besides, my system uses a public router.

      • Jodi G. says:

        As do I, ALman. I managed to start using Start Page yesterday, and switched from Safari to FireFox. Thanks for that browser tip, Kit/Xavier. Aside from that, I’m pretty clueless about how to be invisible on my three fruity machines. But I did make the effort to get started. :/

        • ALman says:

          Yes, working on some of this stuff is like being called in to work on a NASCAR driver’s car. While doing some “light” reading with the problem I described above, a statement indicated that there could be a conflict if a computer was using TorBrowser and Sophos Anti-Virus software. At that pont, I determined I didn’t want to go down that road. I’m trying to simplify my life, not make it more complex by getting involved in the internals of the software, although if I want to ensure some degree of security, etc. it seems I will be obliged to do so.

          • Xavier says:

            Precisely correct. The tools must match both your needs and comfort zone. Anything that complicates your life unnecessarily should be avoided. Stay tuned.

        • Xavier says:

          Today I jotted down some notes on my favorite privacy and security tools, but I’d like to delay posting them until Kit publishes the followup articles she mentioned above. I’ll do my best to find and test some fruity tools for you both.

          I used to be a tech support and training guy for a company whose name you’d recognize but have semi-retired to a farm. Computer privacy and security is one of my passions and I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned. [the full truth is, I’m laid up from shoveling global warming and can’t do much else ;)]

          • ALman says:

            I remember punched card processing days and associated Electronic Accounting Machines (EAM). Then, there were the IBM 1401/1410’s. If it had 16K of memory, then it was some machine! Later, there was “functional decomposition” in system software analysis and design. Oh, yeah.

            • Xavier says:

              HP 7000F was the first computer I ever used. The size of two refrigerators. It had these keyboard/printer combos on a stand that you pulled a chair up to – no screen. You stored your programs on punch tape, and the bigger your roll of tape was the more respect you got. That thing had core memory – two wires that intersected with a magnetic loop around them for every bit. It had a modem that you actually inserted an entire handheld phone into, called a cradle. We used punch cards for the Fortran machine.

              That year, these high school kids came out with a new programming language called BASIC, which we learned and loved. One of those kids was named Bill Gates.

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