Exiting Google (part 3?)

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Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Google, I shall fear no despair. It’s hard, though, it’s very hard to decouple from Google.

The thing that makes Google so great is the same thing that NeXTSTEP was so good at and which Jobs brought back with him to Apple to save the day; it’s the very thing that Apple is falling down on, and which I’m not sure they realize is the real key to their success: Integration.

NeXTSTEP was decades ahead of it’s time; it was a thing of beauty. It was the first OS that provided what MIME types were really invented for: the ability for apps to share content, and as importantly, for the OS to be a seamless facilitator in that communication. It’s a trick that most OSes do now, more or less; when it doesn’t work, it’s more the fault of the application failing to be smart about content than the OS. But back in the day, NeXTSTEP was the first, and best.

Apple still tries to do this in meatspace, but they fail pretty miserably. I’ve written before about my journey to set up a homogenous network in the house: 2TB AirPort Time Capsule, Apple TV, Macbooks and iPhones and iPads all around. Sometimes it worked, but mostly it just failed. The Apple TV would lose sight of the Time Capsule and require rebooting to get access to the hard drive; despite the fact that the Apple TV had more CPU power than my (at that time) mobile phone, it couldn’t render mpeg files on it’s own without a streaming server, while my phone could; streaming from the laptops to the Apple TV rarely worked without a lot of struggling to get the devices to talk (and usually a reboot of the Apple TV); and the Macbooks would often arbitrarily decide that they didn’t like the Time Machine and would refuse to back up without a reboot of the Time Machine. It was a shit show, and after I gave up and replaced the Apple TV with an ODroid running Kodi, my media streaming problems (mostly) vanished. I replaced the Time Machine with a wifi router and plugged the Time Machine into another ODroid, and — as crazy as it sounds — it actually works much better than backups where the Time Machine is also acting as the router. Apple is failing at integration, and that’s what kept them in the game. Now they’re coasting on Hipster and retiree loyalty, and I wonder how they’ll do when those groups fade.

Google, however, has the software-as-a-service integration locked up. It started with single sign-on, but everything works together (much better than it works with other things). The Google Docs apps are astoundingly good (especially Sheets), and they’re stellar with Google Drive; third parties like Draw.io make fantastic apps that link into Drive as well, and you can get all of your documents and apps available on all your devices. It’s especially amazing on Android, where by virtue of having access to your email, voice mail, contacts, profile information, location, documents, and search history, they can do fun things like tell you what your commute to looks like today based on current traffic conditions — without you even asking. Google pulls in Nest data, and health data, and basically know everything about you — and probably, in some ways, more than you know about yourself. If you’ve read parts 1 & 2, you’ll know this is exactly what scares me. The convenience is nice, but I’m not quite ready, nor quite that lazy, to volunteer relinquishing my privacy and become a commodity for a little convenience. Or, rather, as I’ve become aware of the state of things, I’m trying my best to recover what I can of myself.

It’s hard, though… it’s hard. There’s some great software out there; Caddy and Hugo look like they make a great content management system and blog; OwnCloud is great, despite being written in PHP and having a lot of problems in migration, upgrade, and installation. eJabberd is a fantastic instant messaging platform, and there are literally a dozen great social media platforms to replace Facebook. There are all of this great software, and a lot of it is easy to set up and get started with (especially the stuff written in Go). But there are gaps; there’s nothing as sophisticated as Google Docs, and a lot of this stuff doesn’t really play well together. Not on Google’s level. And all of that wonderful "butler" action that Android can provide courtesy of the All Seeing Eye Of Google — if it was your data, if your information wasn’t being sold without your consent, if you were in control of it — well, that’d be a bit of nirvana, wouldn’t it? But there’s no OS that integrates data from these awesome Open Source products to do that, so … yeah, there are gaps.

But there are fewer gaps, and that gives me hope.

Copyright © Sean Elliott Russell

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