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Sunday, February 05, 2006

On Proprietary Solutions:

Here's a great read about the travails of an iPod lover. A snippet...

Although the tech support guy quickly diagnoses your problem — a hard drive gone bad — he really has only one suggestion: buy a new iPod. "Since it is out of warranty," he says, "there's nothing we can do." You're a little stunned. But you're not ready to give up. On the Apple site, there's a form you can fill out to send the iPod back to Apple and get it fixed. But you do a double-take when you see the price. Apple is going to charge you $250, plus tax, to fix your iPod. There is no mistaking the message: Apple has zero interest in fixing a machine it was quite happy to sell you not so long ago.

Now you're reeling. You're furious. But what choice do you have? You can't turn to a competitor's product, not if you want to keep using Apple's proprietary iTunes software, where you've stored all the music you love, including songs purchased directly from the iTunes Music Store, which you'll lose if you leave the iTunes environment. So you grit your teeth and buy a new iPod. Of course since it's a newer machine, it has that cool video capability. But you're still angry.

What choice do you have? That's an interesting question, with a simple answer.

Avoid proprietary solutions.

I realize this isn't always possible. The world is infested with proprietary implementations. Windows has undocumented APIs which don't play well with third party tools. Messaging clients hide their protocols from each other. Many enterprises run exclusively on Microsoft tools. The DOC file format executes properly in Word, but not as well in other word processors.

And then we get into downloadable music and video. Apple plays Apple, but no one else can. Tools exist to strip the DRM off of AAC files, but with each revision of the iTunes software, another revision of those anti-DRM tools are required. It's a never ending race to see who can lock whom out of their systems.

Can't we all get along?

Well, if we're open to alternative solutions, we can. Here are my suggestions:

  • Documents - RTF is the best way to go for word processing, at least on a personal level. The enterprise is just too dependent on Office these days, but if you want to make sure everyone can read your stuff, use RTF. Hopefully, someday soon, Microsoft will embrace XML as their DOC standard, but I'm not holding my breath.

  • Instant Messaging - Jabber is the most effective unified IM solution, and is more and more ubiquitous as time goes by. Jabber allows the user to run AIM, MSN, Y!, Google, and a host of other IM protocols from within one UI. I use it on my PDA, and my desktop, and I won't be turning back anytime soon.

  • Email - Outlook is a mess, but it's also a de facto corporate standard. Webmail is largely platform independent (which is why I recommend clients like Web2Mail, which only require a username and password to check most email services), but not always. To wit, if your corporate IT organization blocks web components like ActiveX, the Outlook's web version won't work in your browser.

  • Audio - Stay away from the iTunes model. It ties you into their service indefinitely. You might as well rent the music (which is what they want you to do anyway). Basically, if I don't already own the CD so that I can rip it myself, or if I can't borrow it from someone else, I don't need it bad enough to succumb to the iTunes craze. If I ever do go that route, I will most definitely use DRM-stripping tools like Hymn to give me portable iTunes. It will be a cold day in Hades before I am forced to buy an iPod just to play a handful of songs.

  • Video - Video iTunes? Not a chance. I don't much care for movies, but for TV shows, there is a solution that involves bitTorrent and a little client app called Azureus. When the torrent is available on the internet, Azureus will automatically download the most recent show (just like a podcast). Most shows are in DivX or XVid format, but tools are available for conversion. Since I use a Treo viewer called Kinoma that plays MP4, I usually convert my downloads to that format and transfer them to an SD card.

  • The purpose of this little dissertation isn't to demonize companies like Apple or Microsoft, but to tell them that consumers want choices, and do not wish to be locked into one format. The bottom line is that my music file should play on your player, my document should open in your word processor, etc.

    Perhaps my opining is just a wish for some panacea of standardization, but that won't force me to embrace the iTunes model anytime soon. Otherwise, I'm sure I, as the author of the piece in my introduction, will find myself stuck with broken hardware and a gig of useless bits and bytes.


    .: posted by Dave 2:55 PM

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