This will be something of a sequel to this post last year about breaking away from big tech. Though, I will focus more on how bad so much big tech software has become and some alternatives I’ve begun using. What makes is actually making it easier to breakaway is that so much software is getting progressively worse at doing what it is supposed to do. What ties people to much of this software is a mixture of familiarity and dependence. The former is more for products such as Microsoft Office and the latter with so much being tied to mandatory accounts connected with these companies. This is not so much to do with the “cult of free” as many of these products do still cost money but this still comes into it to some extent.
The first example will be Windows 10 which was originally released as a “free” upgrade to Windows 7 & 8 users and last I knew, can still be acquired that way. I was very reluctant to “upgrade” and waited until shortly before support ceased for Windows 7 before I did so. By then I’d become familiar with the operating system through work and enough changes and refinements had been made to make the transition acceptable. Also, I do still play PC games which with limited exceptions means using a Windows based system. I do still intend to switch to Linux eventually but that will likely wait until the end of support for Windows 10 or a forced upgrade to 11.
One of the clear motivations for offering it free was Microsoft’s desire to get people using Microsoft accounts and their Windows Store. I no longer have a Microsoft account and still download and install software the old-fashioned way. However, I have had experience with their store before doing away entirely with my account. Even in the short time I did use it, I encountered all sorts of errors that I suspect are mainly due to the company’s increasing obsession with user control — much like Apple. I had multiple apps get stuck with download errors and beginning the download again would often see it hang in the same place. I had one application that installed but failed to launch and this problem remained for over a week before it was updated and fixed.
As well as this, I discovered that if you install an app on a separate drive or partition outside of the system drive, Microsoft installs folders and files that can not be manually deleted even after the installed software is removed. Avoiding the store can be an issue too as I once tried to download an application from a website and had it redirect me to the store (requiring an account) for something I could previously download directly. To get around this I had to trick the website into thinking I was on another platform. These were my experiences with just limited use but the Microsoft help pages are littered with such problems.
Windows 11 recently released and I understand it now requires an account to use. Windows 10 had already become obnoxious on new installs by trying to make users create an account unless they manually disabled their Internet. This will likely also mean most applications being forced through their terrible digital storefront from now on too. This flows with the general development history of Windows which continues to chip away at user control. The less tech savvy likely won’t mind but the end result will be a system without any of the advantages that made the operating system attractive in the first place.
UPDATE (16/5/22): Since posting this, I came across this video on the Steam Deck which discusses Valve’s efforts to move PC gaming away from Windows. I also came across this article on Windows 11 which suggests it is even worse than I assumed it to be. The author somehow still comes to the conclusion that “it’s still an excellent operating system” which doesn’t follow at all from what I read. This all supports my personal experiences above.
With all of this Microsoft is turning its products into services. Microsoft Office is now a subscription based product and the Xbox brand is going that way. If you want to see how obnoxious Microsoft really is just look at what you can and can’t uninstall. You are allowed to uninstall the Calculator but not Cortana, Microsoft Edge or a number of other products customers actually won’t use. They can’t even resist making the Calculator worse to use with updates. Skype of course is a famous example of a user-friendly and useful product that Microsoft has turned into a bloated, barely functioning joke.
Now lets contrast this with open source products available on the platform. Last year I saw an amusing video about WinRAR an archiving program that has been around for a long time. The joke made among users for years is that it always tells you that it needs to be registered but continues to work regardless. Until recently, I would use it with no intention to do so. The video got me thinking that this is a product that still works and has worked for decades. It does exactly what it is supposed to do. So I recently paid for the registered version and I’m happy I did. Companies like this absolutely deserve the support.
While Microsoft Office has become an expensive piece of bloatware that gets worse with each update, Apache’s OpenOffice works like the former product used to. You don’t have to buy OpenOffice but you can donate to the foundation so I did so. I have been using this product for years now and it works much better than one of Microsoft’s flagship products with all the money and supposed expertise behind it. While the OpenOffice group makes a product that works, Microsoft moves around buttons and makes other inexplicable and unhelpful changes with every update. Is that worth a subscription?
One final example is the VLC Media Player which works better than any commercial equivalent I’ve seen. It has a simple, easy to understand interface and I’ve had virtually no trouble with it in the decade or so I’ve been using it. Microsoft’s built in video player is awful and the less said about the products on their store, the better. VLC is free but also got a donation from me. Anyone who isn’t using this — should be!
These are just three products but they all serve useful purposes and fulfill them as claimed. Yet gigantic corporations not only make worse products but continue to make them worse. If you go to the websites linked above you will notice that all three have simple designs too. Compare them with Microsoft and Apple.
I even recently began using KeePass, a password manager which was also available free with the option to donate to the developer. This is a similar story to the above examples.
Big Tech is not only voracious and evil but most companies within the banner can’t even provide good products anymore. While you could argue this degeneration isn’t happening with all, it is certainly happening with many.