Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Recovering from Mac, Part 3

Ever heard of Vendor Lock In?

It's a trick that companies do to make sure that their customer can never, ever leave them, without great pains and sometimes serious amounts of money.

An example of this would be a page layout program that might export to some kind of very generic format, like a doc or rtf file, but it won't export the actual layout. Sometimes this is unavoidable, as I understand it, because some programs just do unique things that can't be exported since those tricks don't exist anywhere else. But some applications are so generic in function that it's almost amazing they don't export well to other formats. Almost like the ability to export existed but was broken on purpose. Like, a conspiracy!

Cue the X Files music.

Seriously though, speaking as someone who has been burned very badly by her allegiance to Mac products, I can officially go on record as saying that Mac does its damnedest to lock you into the Mac universe, whether you like it or not. The real crime is that it's doing it to people who don't know any better, which is why it's so weird for me to know better now, because I was so clueless before.

Picture it.  Be me, not knowing any better, you write school papers in iWork, you make art projects in Pages, you do little songs in Garageband, you do some design homework in Indesign. Then you move to another computer and find out that pages files look like this:


when they are opened in another word processor.  I'm not even making that up, actually it looks like that times about 100.  Try it and you'll see.

Garageband files don't even open. They're actually not even files, they're folders with a bunch of other files inside of them.

Indesign is no better. Photoshop actually is a lot better, but not because of Adobe; someone reverse-engineered the PSD format and so other programs can read it. I don't know if Adobe cares or not, but they didn't lift a finger to help.

On the surface, nothing is wrong with any of this, because to be fair, you bought the application and you're using it, so why should its programmers care if other applications can open it or not? That's probably how they think of it.

But that's the problem! They're getting your money for a tool that you're going to use to create something. They should be thanking you, but instead they tell you that the thing you just created with their software? yeah, if you ever want to see that data again, you'll just have to keep buying their software. Imagine going out to dinner and going to pay at the register and they tell you they had poisoned your food and if you don't want to get mild food poisoning, you have to buy an anecdote. I wouldn't go back to that restaurant.

And I wouldn't go back to Mac or Adobe.

If I buy software, I expect to be able to get all of my work back out of it with as little loss of features as possible. I am willing to make an allowance for something that just isn't implemented in a standard format. But the structure and content of my data should be preserved or guess what your software sucks ass. Sorry to tell you that, programmers, but if you can't do basic exports like any computer science college student's free application can, then you and your software suck ass.

The reason I can say that is because free software does export to other applications. It doesn't practice vender lock-in, they don't bribe you to buy their application and they don't resort to extortion if you threaten to leave.

Skeptics might say that without a little old fashioned bribery and extortion, how could a programmer ever make money? And I'd have to say that I am willing to pay for good software. And I do, regularly. If I go to download free software and they have a Suggested Donation link, I always donate whatever price they suggest. If they suggested more, I'd probably pay more. I'm not in this for a free ride and I understand that programmers have to eat too. I'm happy to pay.

What I won't pay for is if a company bribes me by telling me I just have to have their software because it's the "industry standard" and if I don't have it then I'm not a real graphic designer or a real musician or a real anything. And I won't pay to be blackmailed into staying on their software whether I like it or not.

Software should never make it difficult for you to get your work out of it into some universal format.

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