Open Data.

As a software developer and as an old-timer when it comes to personal computing in general (I’ve been online since 1985), I’m a big proponent of open data accessibility. This comes as a surprise to some of my fellow geeks because I’ve been an Apple user for the past decade or so and Apple is notorious for their “walled garden” approach to a user’s data. Obviously I’ve made some compromises along the way.

A few years ago Google Drive and its “office” products, Docs, Sheets and Slides started making a splash in the productivity world. Accessible from just about any web browser, these applications gave users the ability to create and edit their office documentation on just about any computer that had an Internet connection and a web browser. Aside from the data mining plumbing behind the software, I found this to be a fantastic approach as user’s could use the computer of their choice using the software of their choice (within reasonable bounds). As users moved away from Microsoft Office to the simpler and less expensive Google Drive, Microsoft responded with Office 365, a subscription service which includes web access through any reasonably modern web browser. To gain traction with their iOffice suite, Apple had a big announcement of their online offerings of Pages, Numbers, Keynote etc.

Amongst the data I store in the cloud, I have a spreadsheet that tracks every commercial flight I take. Every time I sit down on a Delta flight or whatever, I add a row to this ongoing speadsheet. I track the date, time, flight number, aircraft type, seat number, flight attendants first names and random notes about the flight. The only purpose for doing this is to track how many flights I have taken, what kind of airplanes I’ve flown on and to just jot down some memories. I have typically tracked this information in Apple’s Numbers app, either on my iPhone or my iPad. I used iCloud to sync the data between devices.

I tried to access the spreadsheet from my Linux laptop. Apparently, the latest version of Firefox or Google Chrome running on Ubuntu Linux is not good enough for Apple’s standards.

Screenshot from 2016-04-12 07:04:52

I am not comfortable storing my data in a cloud that requires a certain application, a specific combination of hardware and software or a helping of voodoo to get my data back out. I believe that data stored in “the Cloud” should be able to be pulled off the Cloud using whatever hardware and software has the means to accomplish such a task. I don’t believe that users should be locked into the offerings from a specific hardware manufacturer or software development company. While this control from a company allows them to provide a specific experience for the end user, it also takes away too much control from the user and places it in the hands of the company.

This makes me very uncomfortable.

So I moved my commercial flights spreadsheet out of Apple’s Numbers and stored it in my Dropbox in Excel format. I can now access it from any computer and use a wide selection of tools to get my data. And for a sanity check, I confirmed that I am able to use Microsoft’s Office online products successfully from my Linux computer. In the past Microsoft has immensely disliked Linux, though that is changing.

Set your data free. Don’t keep it in a cage that you can visit under specific circumstances. The computing world is about freedom. Embrace that freedom.