The belated wisdom of techies abandoning Google
July 12th, 2013 by ravi

Sam Whited via Hacker News on leaving Google:

Like many people, I recently decided to move many of my online services away from Google. The recent Google Reader shutdown and Google Hangouts disabling XMPP federation made me realize that any of my services could go at any time and I didn’t want to be so dependant on a single provider or the integrations between services.

Among the reasons for switching away from Google:

When you’re paying for your social network, it makes you a customer instead of a product.

All of the recent hand-wringing over Google, especially under this “customer vs product” meme, reminds me of Paul Krugman’s point that apparently, to be taken seriously, one has to have been wrong first. For was it not obvious from day one that by signing up for Gmail, Google Calendar, so on, you were submitting yourself to be Google’s product, not a customer?

So you have well-intentioned posts like this one from Whited, full of pointers to open source alternatives, and yet, three, four of seven years ago, when Whited was, as now, Google’s product and not their customer, he chose to sign up for Gmail and other Google products. Why?

I suspect the reason is a version of the usual confusion between “free as in freedom” and “free as in beer” that underlies Open Source itself.

Google used to give the warm fuzzies to techies because of its perceived commitment to Open Source. This is despite the fact that Google single-handedly made advertising on the Internet mainstream and respectable by purchasing DoubleClick, one of the most despised marketers on the net. Somehow, this sentimentality towards Google made it possible for techies to tolerate targeted ads displayed alongside their email, something that would have been an intolerable abomination in 1998. The sporadic (if genuine) gestures from Google to openness coupled with the “free as in beer” nature of Google products helped techies square the circle of their use of these products. Consequently, concern for privacy, aesthetic experience and user requirements was set aside in favour of zero cost, the fuzzy feel of openness, and a few power user features.

Now the response is to run away from “free as in beer” to “unfree as in champagne” options like which are, if anything, less viable than free Google products that might be yanked at a moment’s notice. I doubt it is going to help much.

P.S: There is, of course, the option that is so obvious that it cannot be stated: iCloud. It provides web and app APIs to services like mail, calendaring, file storage, etc. And it is a product that is sustained by one of the wealthiest company in the world, a company which treats you as a customer, not a product.

The ethics and lessons of Readability
June 16th, 2012 by ravi

Good chunks of the web today are an unreadable mess. A fair bit of blame for that lies with poor design (print publishing was a well honed craft in lieu of which today we have been given Comic Sans and CSS gimmicks). The other major culprit of course is advertising. Smearing a web page with garish and intrusive graphics pitching products, happens to be the only way to make money writing for an audience brought up on the “free as in beer” model bequeathed by the dot-com bubble. And cash is much needed. While blog posts like this one can be churned out by the dozen and transmitted worldwide at little expense, real reportage and analysis requires feet on the ground, fact-checking, and these days, a robust legal department.

To repeat, two issues lie at the heart of the problem: publishers of content need to make money, and readers need to be able to read the content without losing their sanity.

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Open vs Free, the Android vs iPhone edition
April 2nd, 2012 by ravi

Over on GigaOm, Tom Krazit spins an old argument as a new one by characterising as silly the many recent blog posts on how little money Google makes on Android, in fact much lesser than what it makes on iOS (I have made such posts myself). Look beyond the dollars, he says, as if that’s a fresh and non-obvious point:

Not all investments are made with the expectation that a big payoff is around the corner. Google’s decision to bankroll the development of Android was just such an investment, which makes the past week’s back and forth over just how much money Google has garnered from that investment quite silly.


The mistake is assuming that Google views this as a big problem, as if Android has been a waste of money because Google makes more money from its competitor. Would Google like to make more revenue from Android? Sure. Money is nice. But Android was a defensive move on Google’s part, and one that wasn’t primarily motivated by desire for revenue or profit.

The mistake in Krazit’s own thesis is that he sees discussion of Google’s revenue as an independent and sole criticism of what Google is doing with Android. That is not the case. The fact that Google does not derive profit from Android but gives it away for free to handset makers and telcos (not users, less than 2% of whom can upgrade to the latest version of Android released many months ago) is part of a larger argument or analysis of the nature of Android vs iOS. Since Krazit wants to rehash these points as if new, I will repeat my criticism which is a bit different from that of famous iOS defenders like John Gruber.
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So, you finally switched to a Mac?
December 1st, 2010 by ravi

Apple has a couple of great pages (1, 2) for switchers. What they fail to tell you about are the great non-Apple apps that make the Mac experience a worthwhile switch. So, here they are (at least some of them):

All of them are free. One or two are ad-supported.

Download: Ahimsa 3.3
September 6th, 2010 by ravi

The only three things guaranteed in life are death, taxes… and your periodic update to the Ahimsa theme. Fortunately only the first two are injurious to your health, while the surgeon general actively encourages use of the Ahimsa theme by pregnant women and children ages four and above.

So, here it is, Ahimsa 3.3!

What’s new?

  • Bottom bar fading in index page now uses jQuery
  • Show permitted HTML tags when comment box gains focus
  • Edit/Reply for Comments hide/display on hover
  • Added a download box style (use a div with class=downloadbox and within that a link to the download with class=download)
  • New “comment guide” option to display some help text next to comment box
  • Fixed comment date/time display weirdness
  • Added Google “Droid Sans” font as fallback for “Trebuchet MS”
  • Converted all relative font specifications to absolute pt format
  • Lightened blockquote and list backgrounds in default skin
  • Removed first letter styling for post content
  • Changed behaviour of blockquotes and lists not to stretch background under jacent elements
  • Handle lists within blockquotes by not styling them
  • More spacing between posts in the index/home view
  • Fixed the “single pixel offset” problem when sidebar is collapsed
  • Made background colour more consistent during slidebar slide in/out
  • Fixed an issue where post bottom bar background colour did not extend all the way to the bottom
  • CSS cleanup and many, many small fixes
  • Tested on Firefox 3.6.3, Safari 5, Chrome 5.0
Download: Fotile 0.9
June 2nd, 2010 by ravi

Fotile is a simple web app for generating a tile puzzle from an image, which can then be solved by swapping pieces. Images can be loaded from a URL, from a local directory (under your Fotile installation root) or from Flickr’s “interesting” page. You can read more about Fotile here.

Slipcover for Mac OS
March 17th, 2010 by ravi

Slipcover is a free Mac OS X app that can be used to “create custom case icons for all your media files”. In other words, customise the icons of your files, typically media files. Its a slick app and provides means for creating custom “cases”. Worth a download.

MagicPrefs: The Magic Mouse Pref Pane that Apple forgot
January 4th, 2010 by ravi

If you recently got a Magic Mouse either because it came with your new Mac or because you got excited by the hype and bought one, only to find that the dratted thing is missing the third and fourth buttons which you had so cleverly bound to Expose and Spaces, there is good news. A free application calledMagicPrefs lets you not only add this functionality to the Magic Mouse but lets you define gestures and perform other kinky mods that should be worth a lot more than the millions that Apple paid to acquire Lala.

UPDATE: TUAW has a pointer to another free tool called BetterTouchTool.

Sequel Pro now supports SSH
September 23rd, 2009 by ravi

Say you are not a PC. And you use MySQL in some manner that is compliant with the rules and ordinances of your community. And you are part of the dying breed that considers web GUIs nice and all, but a native client application is where it’s at. Then, the go to tool on the Mac for your MySQL interaction needs was CocoaMySQL. And if you thought the awesomeness of this tool could not be improved on, you didn’t reckon on SequelPro, the son of CocoaMySQL. And the hits keep on coming. The latest version (0.9.6) delivers on the SSH tunnelling capability that has always existed as a teaser in the UI. Did I already say awesome?

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