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SSB Log Entry 79

Part II: Things Got Worse

Despite low bandwidth, low CPU speeds and expensive storage costs, the CD-ROM era of the 90's and early 2000's offered many advantages not seen in modern software.

  • Software licensing fees were a one-time fee, not a recurring subscription. Although ISPs did offer some services that resembled the software-as-a-service model seen today, this was a far less common arrangement.
  • We could transfer the license to a third party at our own discretion.
  • It didn't have ads (we paid for it, after all). It didn't invade our privacy, either, even for location-based apps.
  • If we liked the software, we could pay for the next version (but we didn't have to!).
  • It could run offline forever.
  • Our data was safely stored on a local hard disk.
  • Every application was "Offline First".

Some readers might say that I'm just being a grumpy old web browser from an era long past. Some might say that things have changed and that local data storage is no longer feasible. The reality is that data storage is now cheaper than it has ever been and even the largest datasets can be easily backed up on local media (which by the way, is cheap as hell, go on Amazon and look for yourself).

As an example, I keep a local backup copy of Wikipedia on my hardrive for offline use via Kiwix. As ridiculous as that might seem, the entire Wikipedia database backup (*.zim) weighs in at a pretty reasonable 34 Gigabytes. That's definitely not a small file, but it's not an unreasonable size considering that it's a backup of every article on Wikipedia. The entire Open Street Map dataset for North America is much smaller than that. I imagine many of the other services that I use which do not offer offline caching are miniscule compared to these two data sets.

Obviously, offline data such as the CD-ROMs of yore offered us something we no longer have. These days, we are stuck with recurring subscription models, data sets that are kept under the custody of a server that we must be connected to at all times, and shady "freemium" business models that violate our privacy.

Hyper-connected "always on" software not only takes away things that help us, it adds problems never seen previously:

  • Rampant data breaches. If you don't agree, sign up for this free service. I guarantee your information is floating around on the dark web somewhere, probably because some free service didn't guard your data well enough.
  • Applications that previously worked fine offline (SEE: office productivity suites) now require registration, sign-in and constant connectivity, leading to more breaches and hassles.
  • "Always On" means "always burning through your overpriced data plan". Don't get me started on the loss of net neutrality.
  • Internet ads. You already know what's wrong with internet ads.
  • Never ending connectivity means never ending software licensing fees, or as our friends at the Free Software Foundation like to call it, "service as a software substitute".

Is it Really That Bad?


What's The Solution?

Software consumers trust publishers with their money. Publishers of the decade have consistently refused to reciprocate that trust by providing ownership.

To regain ownership of software, we must demand software that meets our needs. For commercial products, we must speak with our wallets. For free products, we must be willing to walk away from the services that use personal data as a payment method. We must also be willing to provide financial support to free projects that respect our privacy and freedom.

When a commercial software publisher offers a product that embraces ownership, reward them with your business. If the software is provided free of charge, show your support by sending them a financial donation.