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Escaping From Vendor Lock-in With FOSS - page 2

No Transferability For You!

  • March 2, 2009
  • By Matt Hartley

Bundling a business with proprietary software

There's no question that the above example was an extreme one. Yet even considering how unlikely it might seem, I see businesses putting their eggs into a very similar basket by entrusting proprietary operating systems and software, and hopefully not ending up with the same result.

And not to again pick on Microsoft here, but it is unfortunately the Redmond software giant that tends to be the biggest offender. The two other best examples I like to think of are with Microsoft Outlook and ActiveSync.

Outlook, by its very nature, it hideous to use. I was fed up back in 2002, as I tired of the idea of being locked into those ever-growing .PST files. While the files can be parsed, it takes other software to do the reverse engineering in order to cobble together the data so that it might be converted into something that is actually compatible with other Personal Information Managers (PIM). This process is so convoluted, that I have been told that any software designed to parse the data actually relies on Outlook itself at some level just to begin the conversion process.

Then we have that little piece of software business once known as ActiveSync. While it has not been completely changed over in Windows Vista, along with its new title, the premise is the same. If you are using a Windows Mobile product, you will find the entire process goes much easier than when using non-Microsoft sync/mobile products. While this example is hardly considered total vendor lock-in, it was designed to make itself seem so appealing as to make other non-MS products something to be scoffed at as they would not integrate so nicely.

So by now, you get the general idea -- lock-in is a huge negative. Finding software solutions that provide you with an out should you need it is key. For example, let's say I wish to migrate my email from Thunderbird to Evolution. And to make matters even more complex, let's say I am moving this email from Windows over to a new Linux PC. One might think this to be a really scary kind of deal.

But the fact is I can select all of the messages in any given folder, choose to save them as if I had selected a single message and simply create a file called "folder.mbox". By saving that data to the easy-to-work with .mbox format, I am assured that when I go to import the mail on the new platform, doing so will be extremely simple to do. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Outlook. It can be done, but not without some work.

Control your software

If you've learned one thing in this article, I hope it is the importance of using software that provides you with an out should you need to upgrade to something more powerful or that provides you with better support.

Over the years, I have watched in amazement as the Windows API has become a smooth cocktail of false security to vendors and users alike. Security issues and reliability problems were overlooked, because the API was so in-tune with the level of control developers wanted, you would be nuts not to develop around it. And this is not to say that we do not see this with Apple per se with their use of digital rights management (DRM) on some of the purchased content. But at the end of the day, iTunes is not a critical part of your business, most likely.

When looking at software to build your business with, consider using open source solutions. Not because you want to support something you may or may not agree with, rather out of selfish self-preservation. Because when the chips are down, you can either gripe about an application that might not be a polished visually as you might like, or opt for the pretty software that also has you by the throat when it comes time to move onto something else. Freedom is not always pretty, but it is worthwhile.

Article courtesy of Intranet Journal

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