More than a decade of grousing about product management

Vendor Lock-In

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The Dude, an experienced product manager, reflects on his early days with computers and the enduring issue of vendor lock-in. He discusses the lack of true data portability in SaaS and managed services, using his own email dilemma with G-suite as an example. Despite his desire to switch providers, the challenge of migrating data locks him in with Google.

The Dude is a crusty old school product manager. Long before he was a product manager, he remembers his early computer days.

While he first learnt on an Apple II+ at his Silicon Valley high school (circa 1980), he could never afford one of those fine computers. But he could afford an Atari 800 on his paper route money, so he went in deeply into the Atari 8-bit world. Even ran a BBS for a long time, and ahem traded in warez.

The defining feature of those early days was the fact that even though the Atari, the Commodore, and the Apple used the venerable Mostek 6502 CPU, they weren’t interoperable.

So, to the Dude, vendor lock in became reality very early in his experience.

And it hasn’t changed much in the intervening 40 years.

Today, there was a thread on Twitter asking if there was any example of SaaS that didn’t have vendor lock in. Not really surprising, there weren’t many offers. One though really caught the Dude’s eye.

One tweeter mentioned that Ghost(pro) a hosted CMS optimized for blogging, and a quite nice environment, had a self-hosted version.

The Dude had to call bullshit. Sure, you can package and export your data into a well-crafted json file, and then move it to a different instance (although the Dude thinks you need to move images separately) that is still vendor lock in.

Not being locked in would be to be able to pull your data and move it to say WordPress, or another CMS easily (n.b. The Dude didn’t say seamlessly).

This isn’t possible, at least with commonly available tools. In fact, the migration the other way, from WordPress to Ghost is a fucking homeless abortion, and requires an insane amount of massaging of your content. Like post-by-post tweaking.

Let’s admit it, vendor lock in exists. It isn’t going away. And managed services, or SaaS makes this more likely than not. The open-source world has nice ideals, but the reality is that cloud offerings, convenience, and an activation energy to migrate that is high prevents true data portability.

As a side example, the Dude’s main email is a G-suite account, that is about $100 a year for the Dude and his wife. He uses it solely for the email, and all the other cruft is valueless to the Dude and his significant other. He desperately wants to move it elsewhere, simply because he no longer feels that the convenience is worth the risk of Google snooping and mining his data.

Moving it has several options. He could go Microsoft365 with an Exchange online instance for about the same money per year. The Dude trusts Microsoft to be a lot less skeevy than Google. Or there is the Amazon Exchange API equivalent product (cheaper) but still Amazon, while not being as abusive as Google is still skeevy. He wants to move it to Proton mail, but the challenge is the abomination that is the Dude’s wife’s email hygiene. 12 years, 18G, and so much crap that she will never get it cleaned up.

So, the Dude remains on Google.

Now that is lock in. In practice, if not in principle.

Update: The Dude did move off of G-Suite, to Fastmail, and the migration was absolutely painless, and trivial. 3 years ago when he first researched this, the recommendations were to suck it up and pay a service to white-glove the migration.

Seems that many of the alternatives have recognized that there is an unmet need for people who want to flush Google down the toilet and to take control of their data.


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A crusty veteran from the product management trenches. Plenty of salty language, references to cannabis, and a connoisseur of White Russian cocktails

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Written by pmdude