Pick your ecosystem carefully

There are shaping up to be four big ecosystems in computing. As all four diversify into the categories below, I’m noticing that a lot of users are standardizing on using everything from a single vendor, a siloing of the market rather than embracing variety. You can do nearly everything you need to do with offerings from any one of them, and they tend to work better if you don’t mix and match. But is it really possible to put all your eggs in one basket?

Microsoft

Operating System

Windows

Web Browser

Internet Explorer

Email

Microsoft Outlook/Live Mail

Instant Messaging

Live Messenger

Photo Albums

Live Photo Albums

Search Engine

Live Search

Office Suite

Microsoft Office

Synchronization/Cloud Storage

Live Mesh/Live Sync

Blogging

Live Writer

Home Theater

Windows Media Center

Phone Platform

Windows Mobile

Portable Media

Zune

Media Management

Windows Media/Zune

Console Gaming

Xbox

Microsoft has, by far, the best selection of the bunch, with every single category I could think of covered. They have gone out of their way to provide solutions for the office, living room and on the go. Some of the options here aren’t best-in-class (though I’d say the Zune is better than the iPod classic and IE 8 can give Firefox and Chrome a run for their money if you give it chance), but they all work. And more importantly, they all work together. If you use the software and services listed above, they interoperate cleanly and efficiently, exactly the way conventional wisdom says Microsoft doesn’t do. The biggest problem Microsoft has is the snarky haters who have their minds made up and won’t give them a break.

Google

Operating System

 

Web Browser

Google Chrome

Email

Gmail

Instant Messaging

Google Talk

Photo Albums

Picasa

Search Engine

Google

Office Suite

Google Docs

Synchronization/Cloud Storage

Google Docs

Blogging

Blogger

Home Theater

 

Phone Platform

Android

Portable Media

 

Media Management

 

Console Gaming

 

Google has a lot of gaps in their ecosystem offerings, but they make up for it with even better integration than Microsoft. Once you start using one Google product (Gmail seems to be the most popular "gateway drug" aside from search itself), it’s all too easy to start using the rest. But where Google wins in interoperability, they lose in power. Google Docs, for example, is fine for light use, but most users wouldn’t think of using it to completely replace a more powerful desktop office suite. Google also lacks an OS and virtually any entertainment options. Even Google’s Android platform offers only the most basic media playback.

Apple

Operating System

OS/X

Web Browser

Safari

Email

Mail.app

Instant Messaging

iChat

Photo Albums

iPhoto

Search Engine

 

Office Suite

iWork

Synchronization/Cloud Storage

MobileMe

Blogging

 

Home Theater

Apple TV

Phone Platform

iPhone

Portable Media

iPod

Media Management

iTunes

Console Gaming

 

For Apple, interoperability is king, but it comes at the cost of choice. Apple’s offerings work seamlessly together, often appearing to be one organic system, but heaven help you if you need to replace one of them because it doesn’t entirely meet your needs. Their gaps are fairly minor, and the lock-in provided by iTunes over portable media and home theater offerings keeps a lot of users in their camp.

Linux/Open Source

Operating System

Linux

Web Browser

Mozilla Firefox

Email

Mozilla Thunderbird

Instant Messaging

Pidgin

Photo Albums

Varies by distro

Search Engine

 

Office Suite

OpenOffice/Sunbird

Synchronization/Cloud Storage

 

Blogging

WordPress

Home Theater

MythTV

Phone Platform

Linux

Portable Media

RockBox

Media Management

Mozilla Songbird

Console Gaming

 

The open source route is for the free spirits out there who so don’t want to be in thrall to one company that they’re willing to cobble together everything themselves, even when it doesn’t necessarily even try to work together. Think of these as the polar opposites to the Apple users. A lot of this stuff is build your own, but at least most of it doesn’t require you to compile it yourself anymore. It’s also so fragmented between different Linux distros (KDE and Gnome both have their own photo managers, and there are others as well if you don’t like those), that any kind of consensus-based interoperability is unlikely.

Conclusions, my ecosystem

I tried to stay within a single ecosystem, and my life would probably be easier if I did. But because of the various gaps or missing functionality, I’ve been forced to mix and match a bit, fully knowing that that would be up to me to find my own ways to makes the pieces interoperate.

Operating System

Windows Vista

Web Browser

Mozilla Firefox

Email

Microsoft Outlook

Instant Messaging

Google Talk

Photo Albums

Live Photo Album or Picasa

Search Engine

Google

Office Suite

Microsoft Office

Synchronization/Cloud Storage

Live Mesh

Blogging

OneNote/Word/Live Writer

Home Theater

Windows Media Center

Phone Platform

Windows Mobile

Portable Media

Windows Mobile

Media Management

Windows Media Player

Console Gaming

Xbox 360

Most of my ecosystem is based on Microsoft offerings, but I’ve swapped out a bit from the Google and Open Source stacks where appropriate. Firefox performs better on my netbook than IE 8, and the IE Tab plugin allows me to use the IE rendering engine when I need it. Google Talk is lighter and less noisy than Live Messenger, and I find Google’s search results a little bit more reliable than Live Search’s. My blogging solution is also a three-headed monster with some quick posts done in Live Writer but most of my blogging done in OneNote for early drafts, and then Word for posting. I’ve also bypassed Zune in favor of Windows Media Player and my Windows Mobile smartphone, but I know people that use both.

What are your choices? Do you stick mostly to a single vendor, or do you play the field?

8 thoughts on “Pick your ecosystem carefully”

  1. I have to say that compared to you, I’m a veritable ecosystem slut. I use a Vista laptop, an XP netbook, an Apple Mac Mini, and they all connect to an XP home file server which I built myself. I use Forte Agent and GMail for e-mail, mainly because I don’t use e-mail enough to justify learning anything more complex. I don’t use IM or play console games. I use both Firefox and Chrome (although I probably use Firefox 80% of the time). I have an Android phone but I also carry an iPod and a Palm TX. I blog through Blogger and use Google as my search engine. OpenOffice is my office suite.

    I don’t do photo albums, I have a large complex set of image folders which I manage with Windows Explorer or ExplorerXP and view my images with ACDSee and IrfanView the way God intended! I don’t have a single home theater or media management system either. I use my Mac Mini and iTunes for the iPod compatible portion of my media library and a Windows based video player (Gom Player) for video. It’s funny how much more comfortable I am running a Windows video application on a Mac under Parallels than on Windows PCs.

  2. I enjoyed this post. Here is my profile. It’s more mixed up than yours. To jam this lot together I have to run XP in emulation on OSX.

    Operating System: OSX
    Web Browser: Mozilla Firefox
    Email: Gmail (IMAP client is Mail.app on desktop, Thunderbird on eeepc, still counts as Gmail, right?)
    Instant Messaging: N/A
    Photo Albums: iPhoto
    Search Engine: Google
    Office Suite: Open Office
    Synchronization/Cloud Storage: Amazon S3/Jungledisk
    Blogging: N/A
    Home Theater: Front Row
    Phone Platform: Windows Smartphone Edition 2003SE! But due for something new and leaning toward Android.
    Portable Media: same as phone platform
    Media Management: iTunes
    Console Gaming: N/A

  3. Hardcore Linux fanboy in the house. I’ve only bought one new computer in my life. Everything else has been used, referbed, or scavenged. These systems tend to be very anemic, so the standard software solutions won’t work for me.

    Operating System: Xubuntu

    While probably still a little bloated for my needs, it is a decent compromise between speed and ease of use. I don’t have to go hunting for hardware drivers or media codecs. It will install them all after giving me a short message about how I’m being a naughty boy for installing proprietary software.

    Web Browser: Mozilla Firefox and w3m

    Firefox has (had?) a reputation of being a light and fast browser, but on older systems it can really bog things down. Especially if one has more than a few tabs open. However, it is standards compliant and can pretty much handle any website I throw at it, so I’m pretty much stuck with it. Also, the ad blocking and flash blocking extensions make the web much more usable on a slow computer.

    For text-heavy websites such as webmail, and certain blogs and forums w3m does a really good job. It’s a text-only browser a la good ol’ lynx, but it does a better job of displaying pages in the way they are supposed to look than the venerable text browser of yore.

    email: mutt, gmail

    Mutt just kicks butt. It has a heck of a learning curve, but once you learn it, all other mail clients are maddening. It’s especially useful now that it has SMTP support, so you no longer have to learn how to configure Sendmail in order to use it. I recommend it to anyone who is a heavy email user.

    Instant Messaging: bitlbee & epic4

    bitlbee is a gateway server that lets you use an IRC client for IM. I use the ancient epic as the IRC client because it lets me use one window for all my chats. I get really irritated when Pidgin wants to open a new tab or window for each conversation. I find all that Alt-Tabbing to be distracting.

    Photo Albums: I really have no preference. All of them seem to work pretty much the same way. Ristretto is the default album that comes with Xubuntu, and it is more than adequate for my purposes.

    Search Engine: Google

    Just too useful. Especially when using the Advanced search options.

    Office Suite: Abi Word, Gnumeric, and JPilot.

    I really want to like Open Office, but it’s just dog slow on most of my systems. Abi Word is usually good enough, especially for simple documents.

    I actually prefer Gnumeric to OOoCalc because, in addition to it’s superior speed, my fingers never learned the Excel formulas and still want to do things the Lotus 123 way. Gnumeric can handle both formula styles.

    Jpilot is the best PIM for linux that I have found. I would use it even if I didn’t use a Palm. Evolution is such bloated, buggy crap, that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

    Synchronization/Cloud Storage: various

    I’m fairly well distributed over various web services. I haven’t switched to online office utilites such as Google Documents, because the interface tends to be too slow.

    Blogging: vim & ftp

    In my world, Django is a guitar player.

    Home Theater: Grr

    This is causing me the most grief. It seems that I have to have half a dozen media players installed in order to do everything I want. DVDs are especially ridiculous to watch. I sometimes have to try three or four players before they work.

    Phone Platform: Meh.

    I don’t really care about the phone platform. As long as it has bluetooth, I can get it to do what I want. I think the Android platform has potential, but it seems to be chasing after the iPhone, which I think is the wrong direction. I’m looking for something more flexible.

    Media Management: cp

    That’s kind of a joke, but also not. My favorite audio player right now is mpd. It has a very low memory footprint and can be controlled from the command line and scripted quite easily using mpc.

    Console Gaming: Wii

    I’m currently semi-crippled from playing Wii boxing for a couple of hours on Saturday.

  4. Ok this seems like a fun game:

    Operating System: Ubuntu + OSX from time to time

    My desktop runs ubuntu, and my laptop (a macbook) mostly these days runs ubuntu, but I still have OS X setup for a few things

    Web Browser: Mozilla Firefox (when I have to) and WebKit-based browsers when I can

    I hate firefox, but its hard to use anything else. I expect that webkit based browsers will begin to be a bit more prevelent (chrome for other platforms, and I look forward to having a fast browser again.)

    Email: mutt (patched)+procmail+fetchmail+msmtp+gmail+git*emacs+blackberry

    I have a sort of complex email scheme that basically re implements IMAP inside of a git source control management system. Advantages? It doesn’t require a live Internet connection, downloads are fast, the filtering is super powerful, and I can use multiple machines, and because the transactions are encrypted over SSH, it’s more secure.

    in reply to john, I use msmtp as a sendmail replacement and it feels a little more robust than mutt’s built in support.

    Instant Messaging: mcabber+xmpp+service transports (on dreamhost) and Pidgin if I need it

    I really like XMPP and jabber, though the dreamhost implementation is somewhat lacking. With transports I can talk to people from any service, and mcabber is a great console based client that removes a lot of the “flashiness” that makes IM so distracting with GUI clients.

    Photo Albums: Flickr

    Don’t do much photo stuff, but I upload stuff to flickr from my phone when I need to.

    Search Engine: Google

    Yep.

    Office Suite: Emacs/Open Office if I need it

    I clearly have developed a bit of an aversion to “easy/pretty” applications in the last few years. While I do end up using spreadsheet programs from time to time, and using Open Office to read documents that people send me, most of my own work uses markdown and LaTeX to produce documents. My text-editor journey started with TextMate for OS X, and when I made the leap to ubuntu I used a little vim, which was nice, but emacs is more my style, for better or for worse. So emacs it is.

    Synchronization/Cloud Storage: Dreamhost+git+google+chandlerhub

    I have a dreamhost account, and a number of git repositories that I push content to, and store there. I also use google calendar (and gmail address book) via google sync on my blackberry, though most of my calendaring stuff is on Chandler… Someday soon I’ll probably leave dreamhost for SliceHost, because it’d be nice to have sudo access, and slice host’s price is amazing.

    Blogging: WordPress and Emacs

    I’m going to be changing away from wordpress in the new year to something more flexible and lightweight, I think, but for now, I just write posts in emacs and copy and paste them into wordpress. Not ideal, but it works. I also tend to queue up my posts in advance which is mighty nice.

    Home Theater: N/A

    Phone Platform: Blackberry (Bold)

    Love it.

    Portable Media: iPod

    I have a 2 year old 80gb ipod. It works great. When it dies, I’m not sure if I would get another, but probably. The truth is that most of my ipod listening is done via my computer speakers which have an ipod cradle and line splitter.

    Media Management: iTunes

    Theoretically I still use OS X for this, though I don’t actually have it set up at the moment. I sync my ipod very rarely, but use it pretty constantly. If I were to do things over again, I might just put my music library on my desktop, and listen to that most of the time, and use my phone for other music listening tasks. I do like having access to everything in my library at once.

    Console Gaming: N/A

  5. Operating System – Windows Vista (people who dont like it dont have enough RAM or a good graphics card.

    Web Browse – Mozilla Firefox (the save tabs and exit is an inspired addition to version 3.

    Email – Microsoft Outlook 2007 and 2003 when I am at work. Outlook on my PDA and Outlook Mobile Access for when I am on the train.

    Instant Messaging icq or Windows Live Messenger
    Photo Albums Hmmm, probably should investigate this at some point.

    Search Engine – Google

    Office Suite – Microsoft Office 2007 and 2003 at work.

    Synchronization/Cloud Storage Im just starting to investigate the Cloud so not really using anything yet, and probably wont until something lets me view and edit my Onenote 2007 notebooks on a computer without Onenote 2007 installed. For synchronisation of files I would be lost without Superflexible. It lets me stay in control and doesnt assume it knows best like Microsofts most recent offerings.

    Blogging – WordPress

    Home Theater Havent got a home theatre or computer attached to the TV but certainly wouldnt use Windows Media Player. I hate it! BBC iPlayer and 4 on Demand are invaluable when Im travelling.

    Phone Platform Symbian on an N95. I also have a work phone (O2 version of the HTC TyTN II) with Windows Mobile 6 and I cant get the hang of it at all. I have never managed to answer the thing before the call goes to voice mail and the screen keeps switching off in the middle of calls no matter what settings I change.

    Portable Media My iPaq has Windows Mobile 5 which is great as a PDA operating system. It connects via Bluetooth to my N95 phone and surfing the internet, email and mobile icq is a doddle. I have a Creative Zen Stone Plus for playing audio books while ironing.

    Media Management Creative Media Source 5. It does what I want it to plays MP3s into my headphones.

    Console Gaming Only Guitar Hero on the Xbox (I’m very bad at it).

  6. i’m interested with new blackberry bbx os, coz i am one of blackberry apps developer. i think this os will be great for blackberry, because can accept application from other platform like android apps.

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