I recently switched laptops, which I was resisting vehemently. But it got to the point where I was considering duct tape, and I was advised to make the move now.
What I wanted to do was hold off buying another Apple MacBook until my Puri.sm Librem phone shipped, and if it was any good I’d try one of their laptops. Another reason was a bit of laziness, every time you switch laptops, even after you restore all your data from Time Machine you still end up having to reinstall or upgrade a lot of apps.
This migration is exacerbated because a new laptop comes with the latest OSX, which these days means Catalina. That’s 64-bit so none of the 32-bit programs will work anymore. Everything that isn’t compatible has to be upgraded to new 64-bit versions which is a bit of a PITA. Some vendors, like Amazon’s Kindle, still don’t even have 64-bit support for Mac yet. I’m stuck using the cloud Kindle reader until they come out with one.
What’s annoying is everybody wants you to switch off of plain old fashioned software, that you buy, for money, and install on your device. Instead they want to move you to some new cloud-based subscription model, which charges you a monthly fee for the same software tools that then keep all of your data in the cloud. Which I loathe. The economics vs the benefits are more than a little skewed in favour of the vendor as your subscription costs outstrip the standalone purchase after about 12 to 18 months (I’m not buying a new laptop every 12 to 18 months. The only reason I bought this one is because our CTO is worried that if the reason the casing is buckling is because battery is swelling, then it could explode).
Recall the new modern adage “cloud just means somebody else’s computer”. Which means you’re under somebody else’s Terms of Service, you’re subject to somebody else’s security readiness (or lack thereof), you’re data is visible by somebody else’s employees and when it all goes bad, your data gets exposed in somebody else’s data breach.
Some of these services still support stand alone software versions, usually a small text link in the bottom corner of the screen, but even then, buying it can still be such a crappy customer experience that, at least in the case of Microsoft Office, it was enough to finally push me over the edge and try an alternative.
First, it was offputting enough that the license I bought for Microsoft Office on my old laptop couldn’t be ported to another hardware device. I thought it could be, I thought I had done exactly that in the past. Who knows, maybe I’m misremembering. But I figured now the shortest path to a solution is to just bite it and buy a new office license for my new laptop. At this point, Microsoft is just coasting on us ostensibly locked-in users….
Microsoft established dominance in operating systems and business applications, and has become a kind of utility, skimming profits from continual upgrades of its vast installed software base.
— Charles Hugh Smith on quasi-monopolies, from Will You Be Richer or Poorer? Profit, Power and A.I. in a Traumatized World
Next, it wants me to login with an Office 365 account, *groan*. I don’t think I even have one of those (why would I?) so I click on “create account” and get the spinning beach ball of death, followed by an eventual time out saying that the remote web server has reset the connection.
This happens repeatedly, until I decide (double *groan*) to call Microsoft Support….
At least I don’t end up spending 40 minutes on hold, the way I would if I called Bell, or Rogers, so there’s that. But the nice lady tells me even though she can find my email address in the database, as having an O365 account, I still need to create one. I never really understand why.
When I tell her every time I try to do that the website hangs, she instructs me to stop trying to do this via signin.live.com (which is where their signup funnel itself is taking me) and instead use account.office.com. When you do this and try to submit the form it tries to load signin.live.com anyway.
This is the tech support equivalent of waving a dead chicken over it. And it doesn’t work. In retrospect it turns out that this is all occurring during the worldwide Office 365 outage that occurred last week which we’re reporting on in #AxisOfEasy.
We’re investigating an issue preventing access to Microsoft 365 services. We’ll provide additional details shortly on https://t.co/AEUj8uAGXl.
— Microsoft 365 Status (@MSFT365Status) November 20, 2019
This again underscores why I don’t like having to rely on everybody else’s computer, a.k.a “the cloud”, to be working just so I can work on a spreadsheet on my own laptop.
I give up and end the call. Within 2 minutes, literally, actually not literally, figuratively, because it probably took even less time…. maybe 30 seconds, I’ve downloaded LibreOffice. They have 64-bit support for OSX Catalina already, and I have it up and running in about 2 clicks. It looks a lot slicker, and functions a lot smoother and is laid out somewhat better than the last time I looked at it, was probably nearly a decade ago. It looks like it’s come a long way.
It’s not that I’m cheap either, I just want something that works according to my preferences, not Microsoft’s.
With this week being Thanksgiving in the US I’ll tell you what I’m thankful for: open source software. This company was built on it, which is why we continue to support it. I took the $319 I was about to spend on an Office license and I donated it to the LibreOffice project, and will just continue to do so every time I have to go through this process. If you want an alternative to Big Tech quasi-monopolies and want to support open source and still get it cheaper (win/win/win) then you don’t have to donate 100% of the cost to the open source challenger. Instead donate just 10%, or 25% or 50%. If everybody starts funneling even a small portion of their software spends to open source challengers it will up-end the economics of software in a meaningful way.
The open source movement continues to present a refreshing contrast to the intersecting gulags of Big Tech with their impenetrable and byzantine “Take it or Leave It” terms of service, their surveillance capitalism (which isn’t even capitalist as much as it is monetized psyops and commercialized espionage) and their myriad security lapses.
It is the one paradigm that seems impervious from co-option, because even when 800lb gorillas purchase an open source project, it either stays open source, or else it forks into something that retains the ethos. Witness Oracle’s inheritance of MySQL via their acquisition of Sun Microsystems. It’s still open source, technically, but when Oracle began adding proprietary modules, it forked into MariaDB.
One fact that I think is missed by a lot of people, even advocates of it, is that Bitcoin is open source money. The same goes for crypto-currencies in general and the entire movement toward decentralization.
When you add it all up it seems like George Gilder may be proven prescient (once again) in his Life After Google. We’re approaching a stage, I think, where the disruptors are beginning to face the prospect of being themselves, disrupted. It’s coming from open source, decentralized tech that puts the user in control and where value is derived from providing tools and support for accomplishing the end-users objectives, instead locking users into walled gardens and harvesting them by mining their data.