Escaping monopolies (or try)

1 Jun 2019

I'd like to note that while I am mostly talking of Google products, I think that no monopoly is good and that I still think that most of these products are of great quality.

Almost 6 months ago, Microsoft announced it would start using chromium as a rendrer for Edge. At the time I thought about it and I realised how many products actually use Chromium and how much power that gives Google on the web. Everybody (at least in the web development community) remembers Internet Explorer 6 and all the problems that came with it. To me, Google having such a huge market share of the browser world makes it likely that history repeats itself with Chrome/Chromium. When in a monopoly situation it is very tempting to deviate from the known standards and make life harder for everybody. This is when I took my first step to get away from monopolies: I switched (almost) all my browsers to Mozilla's Firefox.

It is important to know that I don't necessarily think that deviations from the standard always happen in a malicious way, but it does make it harder to catch without multiple independant implementations. There was quite a good example a few months ago then I saw this reddit post. The story is simple, in July 2018 someone reports a bug in Chromium, it gets fixed quite quickly. In January 2019 a bug is raised again, claiming that the above-mentioned fix is actually a deviation from the standard. The fix would end up being reverted. There was no malicious intent here but the deviation was only caught when someone started comparing the behaviour across different independantly implemented browsers.

Finally another piece of news that confirmed that I had made the right choice is the announcement that Google would prevent ad blocking in Chrome. This is not only a bad thing because of ads, but a lot of the ad blocking technologies also help reduce the amount of cross-site tracking that is possible to do and also makes the web much lighter (especially on mobile!).

So this is the web browsing part of my addiction to Google products, I started thinking of what else I was using that was also verging on monopoly. That's when I thought of emails. Gmail (and Inbox which I miss dearly) had been my main mail services provider for years and this is also some area where Google has a huge chunk of market share. After reviewing my options and criteria (I don't want to host my emails myself), I decided to try out ProtonMail. It is a secure mail solution built by a Swiss company (one can be patriotic from time to time, also they use the Matterhorn on their login page which is a very lovely mountain in my home state) that also allows me to use my own domain (with the paid for version, which is not too expensive for nice secure emails). While I love ProtonMail, I would advise any reader to look around and see what best fits their need, there are quite a lot of nice mailing solution nowadays.

As a side note: changing my email address on so many website was a very boring and long task (you wouldn't imagine how many services I had given my email address to), so I also decided to finally start to use a password manager. I cannot stress enough how nice password managers are and how much more secure that is. It was a nice occasion for me to change both email and password everywhere and store them in my password manager. I used BitWarden as a password manager as it was recommended by a friend, up to now the experience was very pleasant.

In general I am very satisfied with those changes (mail and browser) and I was able to have a very similar experience with the new software (and potentially even better on mobile as I could install an adblocker on my phone which is not possible as far as I know on chrome for mobile).

And now what? I looked at my Google Pixel 2 and realised that I was not willing to change to another operating system. And this brings me to the main reason why I think monopolies keep coming around: they are usually very nice products and their success is perfectly legitimate. Gmail became so omnipresent because it was offering an amazing experience compared to all other providers, Chrome was fast and efficient, android are good phones! I don't know if there is any nice solution to this problem but we should all keep an open mind and try the alternative products. This promotes innovation and helps keeping the giants on their toes!