Friday, March 10, 2006

Controlling our information

Despite the amazing information technologies (IT) being developed, many of us fail to gain the promised benefits because we don't consider how some of these technologies deprive us of control over our information. We end up giving away this control and consequently our future options are limited. Before IT consumers invest in learning new IT systems and entering our information into these systems, we need to evaluate whether we retain control over that information once it is in the system.

I expect all IT systems to embody the following guideline:

All information entered into the system by the user may be reused by that user without any technological or legal barriers.

While I don't expect any software to follow that guideline perfectly, I have noticed great variation in the extent that different IT systems follow it, and this has become a major factor in my choice of which software to use. The most important consideration is that the software supports open file formats, though the user interface and structure of the IT system itself can also be factors.

So here are the practical applications of this rule:

  1. My music player must support OGG Vorbis, as all of my CDs have been ripped into that format. Good bye iTunes (and iPod). Hello Winamp (with appropriate plug-ins)

  2. My office suite must support the Open Document standard. Good bye MS Office, hello and StarOffice. Here's a good article about Open Office: OpenOffice Is 10 Years Behind MS Office? That's Fine!

  3. I'm am wary of Google's offers to store all of my data on their servers (starting with Gmail, and extending to Gdrive). The benefits are too small, and aside from privacy concerns, there's too much risk that they'll keep me from easily recovering all of my information and moving it to a new service.

Rant: I really dislike Apple Computers. They have always seemed to be control freaks, and while they may have relaxed their grip a little, I still think they're worse than Microsoft in this respect. I was also frustrated that iTunes displays RSS Podcast addresses in such a way that the user can't select the text and copy it to the clipboard, which meant I had to copy the addresses into Winamp by hand. Limiting the user in this way is either a stupid oversight on the part of the designers, or an intentional scheme to limit their options.