Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Is it apparent we want it transparent?

Just sitting here thinking about the competition between various computer companies and the amount of control they have over users. I am talking about the power to draw you into using their products at the expense of other choices. Apple has long been the propriety carrot on a stick with flashy offerings, the cost, your loyalty. What disturbed me was I was powering up an assortment of older machines I have, one being an Apple desktop. The only cord I had for it was a power cord, the rest of the cables were Apple's own and not PC standard cords. They control the hardware and the software and you buy into that system. With PC's it is better because Microsoft does not own the hardware side. But still Microsoft seems to have some leverage with hardware manufactures to accommodate its products and marginalize its competition. Of course we all know that software makers aggressively market their wares to convince us of the advantage of using their products. When you look at it from the users side, all we want is a workable and pleasant look and feel and ease of access to our files. You can see why users get anxious when a software company decides to change how it looks and also changes the file formats. Look at the audio world and the changes we had to endure. Eight track tapes were supplanted by cassettes and then by CD's. We really had to scramble to change our players and our songs to the new media. Now we have iPod like devices with flash memory. Today even cars makers are offering these digital audio devices and CD's are disappearing.
What's the point? Transparency is the point. I want access to my data and audio files regardless of the brand or type of equipment I have to use. We want open access but this runs contrary to the ideas of competition and marketing that companys engage in to get us to use their products. Vendor lock is not a bad thing to a company because it ensures a certain amount of bucks coming in. Offer a better solution and people will flock to the new product. When a conglomerate of vendors graces us with an industry standard, it is a kind of defeat to them because they have lost some leverage, some advantage in the market place. Demanding transparency is a users way of saying I still have a degree of control over the data I own and you vendors have to consider me in your product. Transparency suggests that it shouldn't matter which operating system I use or hardware, I still want access to my files. To be able to move data between an Apple, Microsoft and a Linux computer with little or no conversion defeats the idea of competition or technical advantage that one product might have over another. What if you could just move your data to another system and it didn't matter the company or the equipment or the software? Companys would have to find new ways to make money. A user wants to own the computer, the software and the data. Companys want to sell you new equipment, lease rights to use the software and allow you to access your data in a certain format. No we shouldn't consider users and vendors at odds, we should realize a kind of synergy that fuels a dynamic involvement. Today we fight toward a fair balance on all fronts but in reality we want transparency, a kind of digital freedom of movement.

1 comment:

Juan · Granada said...

Arno, what intriguing blog you have. Firstly: keep it ticking in 2008 and may your God bless you and America. Vendor's Buyer-Locking is something we from Europe don't like that much. In this current world I would like to coin a new phrase: "Do you need it?" Do you need the latest state of technology to browse the Internet? Do you need new hardware to drudge along with Vista on a tiny, wifi portable? Do you need a 5 foot 16 by 9 feet digital flat panel TV with built-in RW DVD for the billiard room? Do you need....?! I doubt it in many cases. The disease that we have identified in Europe underlying these questions is called "consumitis", a nasty addiction from earlier "good old times" when mass-markets, mass-media and mass political parties still existed. Now it has exposed itself as some sort of malign economical phenomenon based on the rather false premisses that production=consumption, whereas everything grows and expands in a never ending maelstrom of technological innovations. It no longer does so...
Worse: mass markets no longer exist. In Spain f.e. the PC is almost an expression of individualism and freedom. Look up some dealer pages and combine the (cheap) gadgets you would need to connect and run your home office. Of course you could have a set-up box for you or some more expensive brand. However, like the catholic church still appears to hold that country in its grip so does Microsoft. Dealers gladly preinstall an often not (yet?) registered copy of some MS OS on a new motherboard, just in case. Often and easy on but one single HD partition, causing tons of headaches for those who would want to dual boot with Linux...
Microsoft is not locking its clients - it is converting them into a belief. The belief that XP or Vista are the only one and indispensable operating systems for small (Intel/AMD) computer users and your computer won't work properly without either of them. It's up to you to decide if this holds true. But as you've written - dare you take the gamble with all your wedding pictures on that hard drive and without proper backups? How to backup anyway say: 50 Gig on some DVD's and in which format? Had that user started with asking him/herself: "Do I need it?" the prognosis for remaining independent and boss over the computer would have looked quite different and possibly exposing as well. Ask a Spanish (f.i.!) dealer to install Linux for you and one most likely looks up as if water got burning! I asked that question various times in 2007 - hardly anybody was able to install "Linux" aside from the fact that hardly somebody knew about "distros". However pre-installing Windows was a piece of cake for them, costing often more than 4 hours for support. The water flows where the river is widest? Yet, I work with MINT (Office) and WOLVIX (USB portable). Both completely replacing the Microsoft set-up (Vista), incl. Office and various multimedia applications. Until today it never crashed and I never suffered loss of data anymore. But the question now stands: am I locked into Linux? Well, for those in doubt and without too much 'consumitis': lock in on Linux and brush off that old PC on your cupboard - it will run far better than you ever thought before!