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.

Linus Torvalds on carriers
November 9th, 2012 by ravi

Linus Torvalds, originator of GNU/Linux, does not like an Engagdet editorial about the “race to the bottom” in mobile phones. What’s wrong with a race to the bottom that commoditises the technology and lowers prices, he wonders. But what really irks him about Engadget’s piece is that they seem to be missing the forest for the trees:

But when it comes to cellphones, it’s not just a flawed argument, it’s doubly stupid. Because in that market, particularly in the US, the alternative is the whole broken carrier subsidy model, with all that entails. None of which is good, and all of which is much worse than any (hypothetical) “race to the bottom” arguments.

And at no point did that deeply flawed editorial even mention carrier lock-in issues. What crock.

As someone who is concerned with identifying the real problem, I expected Linus would notice the word that is significant and common to both issues (subsidy model and lock-in) is “carrier”. That was not to be. Instead Linus moves on to his preference for the “unskinned” Android experience. And fortunately for him, an unlocked Nexus phone (which seems to sell for about $400, though I cannot be sure: there are so many similarly named devices, and one called Nexus 4 that is not even on sale yet) gives him the trifecta: he gets the unskinned experience, freedom from carrier lock-in, and his $400 (or whatever he paid) frees him from the carrier subsidy model.

I like the Nexus phones just because I think they have a nicer interface.

But I like the Nexus phones even more because they are clearly pushing the whole “no carrier lock-in” model. And price is absolutely part of it.

While Linus does not explain how “price is absolutely part of it”, the real leap is the claim that an Android phone, unlocked or not, is the answer to carrier induced pain. I need not point out what Google did with the first Nexus device it sold. The history runs deeper. Android exists successfully today for one reason: it enabled carriers to continue their regressive practices (of which lock-in and price subsidy are only two, and the latter, the subsidy, is a mild in comparison to the rest). And it did so at a crucial moment when the iPhone was finally breaking users free from the clutches of telcos. It would not be a stretch to further argue that this function of Android is a conscious strategic choice made by Google.

Google, Acer, Redhat and the future of Open
September 19th, 2012 by ravi

Much has been said about Google’s alleged attempt to strong-arm Acer into dropping its plan to release an [[Aliyun OS]] based smartphone because Aliyun is an “incompatible” fork of Android. The general criticism that this is a bit of hypocrisy on Google’s part given how much they have been pitching Android as “open”.  Hypocrisy or not, there is certainly a paradox in Google’s position.

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The trouble with non-GPL open licenses
September 23rd, 2011 by ravi

Marco Arment is understandably peeved that Business Insider is exploiting Marco’s generous license to lift and reproduce his writings wholesale. Regarding the license, he writes:

Business Insider’s mass replication of my writing is the only downside that has ever made me reconsider my Creative Commons license. If they’ve had any beneficial effect whatsoever, I haven’t noticed.

Reconsider it, he should. Such abuse is why GPL-style share-alike licenses are better than more “liberal” or “open” licenses.

Link: A Business Insider retrospective –

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