Why Not Google? Three Dot Lounge for June 1, 2015

Why not Google?

Marco Arment and John Gruber both chime in on why they try to avoid using Google services like Gmail or Maps. They are responding to an Upgrade podcast where Jason Snell and Myke Hurley got into a discussion about the tools they use and how Google does fit into their setups.

There’s a lot of good and important discussion going on here from all sides, and I think too often people sign up for services and tools without even thinking about the ramifications and underlying issues of the company and licensing or react to it emotionally and viscerally.

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Given my long background and history with Apple, it’s not surprising my home and office is Apple-built, and I have no interest in considering changing that — but when I see Marco say something like “Simply put, Apple’s benefits are usually worth their flaws to me, and Google’s usually aren’t” I have to wonder a bit, especially given the loud (and generally justified) complaints that have been made by many of us about iCloud problems and the state of many of Apple’s base apps.

Generally speaking, as big a supporter and geek of Apple as I am, I use almost nothing of iCloud beyond some basic preference syncing. What little iCloud I’ve used with the new Photos app will soon end as I move that over to Google Photos. I don’t use Apple’s mail system (those emails forward to gmail), and I shifted my address book and Calendars to Google as well (even though, in general, Google’s contacts setup for Gmail sucked, but still was more usable for me than Apple’s, especially with the integration to Gmail going for it).

Apps? I’ve pretty much abandoned the iLife apps: Pages, Numbers, Keynote. Some of that is because I use Microsoft Office in my work life but mostly it’s because the current versions the apps are pretty nasty, even in comparison with Office 2013, my current version. I use Lightroom because Apple blew it with Aperture and then killed it, and Photos is a solid 1.0 consumer photo App, but I’m not a photo consumer.

On the other hand, I use (and really like) Final cut for video and I’m starting to dig into Logic for audio production — because they work well. And more and more I find I’m using Apple Maps on IOS because it works just fine for me, although I still use Google Maps on desktop. You’ll also find me in Messages for most of my non-work IM and messaging now, and for me, it works fine.

Oh, and let’s not talk about the state of iTunes. That dog should have been taken out behind the shed and old-Yellered years ago. Apple people deserve a new shiny puppy that’s housebroken, not that mutt.

I’m not pro-Apple, anti-Google, anti-Microsoft or anything like that. What I caare about is whether they work, work reliably and give me good results. These days, by a big margin, Google seems to do that for many of the things I depend on, and Apple’s offerings have struggled and I’ve yet ot see a corporate committment to fix them that makes me willing to live through that transition. If they do, great — but I think their philosophy is more to build things that work well for the largest group of users, and that typically means people like my mother, not me, and people more interested in sharing photos with a few family members and the church group, not 5,000 followers spread between here and Fiji. And I expect for that common case, you’ll find iCloud works pretty well.

I have been considering some changes — again based on some things Jason has said, I’ve been thinking of moving my email/calendar/contacts from Google to another service (probably fastmail) to put it behind my own domain and off of Google’s servers, because if there’s any set of data I’d rather not have Google rummaging through, it’s my email. Part of that is because I’m hoping sometimes this summer to shift to the upcoming release of Office and get an Office 365 subscription and shift my IOS devices to the Outlook app, because I must admit I kinda like how Outlook does things. That can’t happen until those tools are approved by Cisco’s security teams for corporate use, but once that happens, I’ll probably merge my personal email onto those tools as well (for now, it’s mail on IOS, gmail/web on desktop, and a hodgepodge of calendar and contact apps to get around Apple’s relatively weak offerings)

I’d love to use a single, integrated, full-stack vendor for all of this — the kind of integration Apple promises and which works so well for much of their ecosystem. But that promise falls quite short in areas, especially their cloud and their iLife/email/office offerings. Maybe they’ll fix it, but I’m not waiting and hoping. Those are areas I can’t live without and can’t live with the quality of what Apple gives me.

One of the often lost aspects of these arguments is that at the bottom line of the decision, these tools need to be solid and reliable, and Google’s generally are. Apple’s in many cases fall short of that goal and they have a lot of work to do to get there. That makes Google an easier choice by a long shot for me, even though I’d probably prefer to have everything live within Apple’s ecosystem. The problem is, every time I try doing that, I end up grumpy and frustrated and shifting back.

A few other key tools I use: I use Evernote for note and document keeping, Wunderlist as my todo, Box and Dropbox (work and personal, carefully separated) and Crashplan for offsite backup.

There are rumors that the next releases from Apple will be more about performance and stability than about major new features, and boy, I hope so. Apple’s been running really hard to get to this point — but now the watch has shipped, and I think it can afford to slow down a bit and deal with some of the deferred maintenance before their technical debt gets too nasty for them — and for us.

We’ll see. WWDC is right around the corner, and I’m hoping I’ll hear some good news here.

My home office setup

The iMore folks did a fun piece showing off their offices and describing the things in them. I thought I’d join in and show mine off a bit.

IMG_0714 (1) IMG_0715 (1)

The desk is by Geekdesk and is a powered sit-stand desk, and I love it. Built like a rock and incredibly sturdy and stable. I rarely use it to stand because I’ve found my knees don’t tolerate that (sigh) but it’s still handy to raise it for some things, especially wiring, since I don’t crawl around on the floor as well as I did 20 years ago.

This office is part of a larger space, about 2/3 of which is our media/TV room, so to the right of my is the couch and a nice big TV that is usually turned to baseball or hockey when there are games available (and I’m not in “real work” mode). On the far left is my work Telepresence and the mixer for my “shh it’s a secret” podcast project. In the corner is the router that drives the work network, my work phone and my Sonos speaker, which I’ll talk about in more detail some other time, but I have to say “great sound, wish I liked how it operates better” sums it up.

Two laptops, mine is a Macbook pro 15”, work is a Macbook Air. Each is in a Rain Design vertical stand which is the favorite of those I’ve used. Each is hooked into an Elgato Thunderbolt dock and through that attached to an Amazon Basics USB hub. For reasons of convenience both have an HD webcam attached and a Plantronics C720 headset.

I use that headset because I’m in telepresence meetings for hours a day and I need something comfortable with good audio, and I’ve found (the hard way) that I really need it in both ears or I struggle hearing people in noisy environments. I am just not a one ear kinda person. Why one on each? Because I sometimes need to get on a meeting or discussion in a hurry and I got tired of trying to keep track of which system things were hooked into — it’s merely a cost/simplicity tradeoff. And because sometimes, late at night, I call myself and have long, intense conversations.

The monitor is my new toy and I love it. It’s the LG 34 inch ultra wide, an “almost 4K” monitor that can take me to 3440×1440, although I mostly use it in 2560×1080. It’s an IPS monitor and I love the color and resolution for my photography, but I can also set it up so it can show two 1280×720 screens side by side so I can literally work on both the work and home systems simultaneously. One is connected via Displayport and the other via HDMI. It sits on a nice and inexpensive Rolodex stand, which I like because it fits the color scheme and is rock solid and stable (unlike some other stands I tried)

Each has it’s own drive for backups, and each system has an Apple wireless keyboard and trackpad configured for it. I have some nice flat-pack drawers, a small flat-pack desk as a workspace, some other storage, the (shh it’s a secret) podcasting gear, my NAS, two printers and all the networking and gear to support what’s in reality two home offices layered over each other in a space that’s about eight feet wide and about ten feet deep. It has both wired gigabit and WIFI for the house and actually has my work network layered on top of it, since both Cisco and I want my “work me” and my “home me” firewalled from each other.

It’s a nice, compact one person work office, but it certainly doesn’t work well if I need to squeeze a second person into it. Everything’s in close reach and I have workspaces I can clear when I’m doing some physical project like tweaking a piece of hardware or (gasp) writing on paper or something.

I am, in honesty a bit of organization geek so I tend to tweak my environment a lot. This is version about 8.3ish, but it’s gotten rather stable over the last few months with very little wasted space. Which probably means I’ll tear it apart and rearrange it again in a few weeks.