Saturday, 10 March 2012

Don't get suckered into losing your freedom

As a software developer it's easy to think that we won't get fooled by unscrupulous software vendors, unlike the mere mortals (non-developers). For normal people, it's so easy to get tricked - proprietary software using proprietary databases and protocols often may seem attractive at first (flashy sales brochures and fast talking, acronym spitting sales people), but when they later find out they've been lured into putting all their data into a system where they can't get it back out, only then do they learn to check whether it's as easy to get out as it is to get in (although some still don't learn - but that's another story). They're locked in.
It's not the only way to get fooled. They may convince you the data is exportable, but over many years of usage they gradually change your habits so that it's very hard to choose freely. Big companies like Microsoft and Apple are likely to resort to this more "stealth" type of lock-in.

We software developers are very much aware of vendor lock-in and similar practices, but do we always avoid it?
I'm quite surprised that so many software developers are choosing Apple when they decide to leave Microsoft (or when they start out, if they're fresh). Of course a large number are sensible enough to use a GNU/Linux distribution, but why would someone technically adept even consider an Apple product? Yes, it looks nicer and probably works better than any product Microsoft will ever churn out, and appears more graphically consistent than most open source software, but what do you have to sacrifice to get it? Rather than getting *more* freedom, which would be the case if you moved to GNU/Linux, you actually get *less*! Not only is the software proprietary, controlled by a dictatorship (ok, the dictator is deceased, but regardless), but even the hardware! Talk about bad deal for freedom! It's like escaping from China and ending up in North Korea (but with nicer clothes, and a red carpet)!

This blog post on the subject is very much worth a read:
This is the first time I've heard that installing software the normal way be referred to as "sideloading", as if it's some kind of shady, hardly legal way of installing software... A company who not only wants to control your operating system and your hardware, but also the software you run and *they way you install it* is *not* a company I want to deal with. Sorry Apple, you have very nice looking products, and although I've never tried any of them, I'm sure the UI is very slick and all of that, but I'm just not interested - you're asking for too much of a sacrifice! In fact, you're *worse than Microsoft*!

I just hope more people, and especially more techies, will realise this before it's too late. If not we can soon end up with a situation where practically all software has to be bought through an app store, and software developers have to give up 30%, maybe 50%, maybe even 90% of their revenue (completely possible in a near monopoly situation) to make their apps available on the place where everybody looks for it, and "sideloading", which today is the norm, will be looked upon with suspicion, and the possibility probably removed eventually.

Developers, revolt against this while you still can - refuse to use, and never develop solely for devices and operating systems that discourage freedom. I'd go so far as to encourage punishing users who choose to get your software through sources you have no control over, and which can potentially take away your revenue, in order to show them which platform is preferable.
One could for example charge money if they get the software through platforms we don't like (Apple or Microsoft devices of any type) and give them away for free for ones we approve of (GNU/Linux, Android, etc.) or develop natively for free devices but use a multi-platform development tool for non-free ones, and advertising this very clearly.

Of course this would mean that you'd have to go against what is considered normal - but then again, when has doing whatever everyone else are doing ever led to anything new and useful?

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