Decoupling From One Computing Platform

Being the tech geek that I am, one of my quirks is that I go all-in on a single computing platform. Until I don’t. As I wrote earlier this month, the pendulum swung from Apple to a smorgasbord of apps and services from various developers. And of course, ones from Big Tech are hard to avoid. The trick is to not end up all-in anywhere, be it Google, Apple, or Microsoft; it’s paramount to prevent platform lock-in.

Dull, meet shiny

Sometimes, I change my tech setup because I get bored. Though apps and services I’m using are tried and true, they feel stale. Then I’ll see a fresh tech tool and find testing it to be tempting. While this happens with software, it’s most obvious with hardware, like when I sell or trade a perfectly working smartphone for…a newer perfectly working smartphone.

Do I need a new laptop? Nope. Do I want a new laptop? Yep.

Problem, meet solution

Other times, I switch because of some nagging issue with a current solution and finally discover a better option. Example: this month I ditched Apple Notes for Obsidian to solve the long-standing discomfort of all my notes being kind of stuck inside Apple’s special app. Obsidian gave me what I wanted and also what I think is needed, notes that are discreet files in folders, simply referenced by the app.

I’m also aiming to apply this same basic principle to all my photos, like I did years ago. Instead of letting iCloud and Apple Photos (or Google Photos) keep my pictures within their special libraries, I want my photos to be free in the computer’s file system. They can be either on Mac or PC, and any image editing app can edit or reference them. That’s file freedom and flexibility.

Fantasy, meet reality

The biggest reason why I’ve been personally decoupling from Apple’s ecosystem lately is because it’s not so practical; it’s better to be flexible. There are just too many other people using other platforms. Sticking to only one platform kind of segregates me from others. Sometimes there’s compatibility issues.

One example of this is the fragmentation, and friction, people feel when communicating via text messaging services. I don’t think that mess will ever be cleaned up. Some folks are on iPhone, some are on Android. Yeah. Just the way it is.

A better example is in my own home; no walled-gardens at all. Our house is open to all the tech. My wife is not swayed by fancy new gear, and she’s never been all-in with any one computing ecosystem. Her mail, calendar, and office apps have been spread across Microsoft, Apple, and Google for years. Likewise, her phone is from one company while her laptop is from another. My kids are in the same disparate boat too. My family uses Chromebooks and Windows PCs while I’m the odd man out, using a MacBook.

Though I can be an Apple fanboy, I must still troublshoot Windows when Microsoft changes a setting or if my kids' homework isn’t being backed up. And though I’ve relied on Apple Photos to manage my pix, my family doesn’t use the same luxury. As I.T. man of the house, I get to ensure that the iCloud for Windows utility is working so they can access all their iPhone snaps without a hassle.

I think instead of saying “fragmented,” it’s better to say computing setups are varied. One must diversify, be flexible. It’s easier to do that by using cross-platform apps and services, accepting the fact that one will sometimes need to rely on multiple providers or solutions. This may feel less synergistic, but it’s simple in a way because it removes bells and whistles and focuses on the basics.

For me, it feels freeing to be released from the confines of only-Apple software. I’m afraid to admit that I had limited myself from some apps, even if they were superior, simply because they were not “Designed by Apple in California.” For example, I now enjoy Microsoft’s To Do app instead of Apple’s Reminders, preferring how it handles daily tasking.

But I must be careful. By opening myself up to things outside of Apple’s walled-garden, I’ve already felt temptation to go too far in the other direction. Once I start using one app, like Google Docs, I find myself gravitating towards Gmail because of how it integrates in some ways. And Google Calendar is made nicer with the omnipresent sidebar that puts Google Tasks and Keep at the ready.

Or with Microsoft’s To Do, the vortex of Outlook tugs on me. I now juggle both iCloud Drive and Google Drive, but it sure would make sense for me to start using a Windows PC and just OneDrive…and then Office…and then I’ll be all-in with Microsoft.

Going all-in with any single computing platform is not the best, or most practical, answer. The bubble it creates will inevitibly burst. Someone will always compute differently. Even with social media, despite “everyone” being on Facebook, not everyone is actually on Facebook, especially these days.

Come to think of it, the most ubiquitous, cross-platform communication platform today is…email. No matter the email provider, everyone can email anyone. Likewise, the internet itself is the social network (Hi, Fediverse). It’s also the most ubiquitous computing platform for developers; web-apps are truly cross-platform, albeit not natively. The sticky part about the web is that, though it’s “everywhere”, it’s not local. Your stuff is in the nebulous cloud, not actually on your device.

Then again, it’s easier to decouple from one computing platform when you’re coupled to the all-pervasive web. Maybe there is a future for the so-called “Metaverse” after all?

What do you think?

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