How to Break Free from Digital Chains

David Heinemeier Hanson—DHH on the Internet—is the creator of Ruby on Rails and the cofounder of 37signals. Triggered by Apple’s announcement to kill progressive web apps on the iPhone home screen, DHH has published a series of articles about tech independence1 and his own experiences.

DHH’s point is that vendor lock-in is real and that we all should give some thought to the tools we use.

Apple gave me an excellent reminder that having all your computing eggs in one basket leaves you mighty vulnerable to predatory behavior. Because what are you going to do? If you’re ALL-IN on Apple hardware, software, and services, you’re as good of a captive consumer as it gets. You might complain, but you won’t leave.

I’ve been using Apple Macbooks almost exclusively for a long time now, and I’m not planning on switching in the near term. However, I care deeply about vendor lock-in.

Every time I try a new tool, I ask myself if it’s limiting me to migrate my data away from the app if I needed. What are the trade-offs of using a specific app? The best scenario is an app that synchronizes transparently between different platforms.

For reference, here is a list of the tools I use frequently, divided into two groups: apps available for multiple platforms, and Apple-only apps.

Apps available for multiple platforms

  • LogSeq for note-taking.
  • Notion for some projects because it’s visually more pleasant than LogSeq and it makes it super-easy to publish a page to the Internet and share the link.
  • Microsoft Office, mostly Excel and PowerPoint.
  • WhatsApp for messaging. Signal, Discord. My use of Apple Messages is near zero.
  • My main browser is Safari. That said, I’m pretty comfortable using Firefox or Brave/Chrome, no lock-in there. One of the extensions I find indispensable is OneTab, and it’s available for all popular browsers.
  • Typora for editing in Markdown.
  • VS Code as my main IDE, and SublimeText, NeoVim, and other tools depending on the context.
  • Dropbox for file sharing, sync, and backup. I use Google Drive only when necessary. I don’t use OneDrive at all.
  • For my main, personal account, I pay for an email provider and use my own domain. This provider charges for space, not for accounts. I can create as many accounts as needed as long as I don’t exceed the storage and bandwidth quotas. I’m using Apple’s Mail app, but there are several other mail clients I could use.

Apple-only apps or devices

  • Apple Watch. This is a difficult one to replace. I probably would go back to analog rather than use a clunky Android-based watch.

  • Apple Calendar. I have important calendars—birthdays and other recurring dates—that I’ll need to back up and make sure I can migrate to another platform.

  • Apple Photos. It’s good enough and has good enough filters and editing features.

  • Apple Music with a family subscription. Spotify is a fine replacement if needed.

  • iCloud for extra storage, but not for syncing anything outside iPhone/iPad apps.

  • NetNewsWire for reading RSS feeds. NetNewsWire is free and open source by Brent Simmons, but Mac only. “It’s like podcasts—but for reading.”

  • Apple Notes for on-the-road ideas. Notes can be easily replaced by Simplenote or Standard Notes.

  • Overcast for listening to podcasts, but I could switch to Pocket Casts or similar.

* * *

What’s your experience? If you had to switch from Windows to Mac, or from Mac to Windows (or to Linux), what would you lose? Which apps or services would no longer work for you, and which ones would let you export your data and which not?

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on
  1. You can own more than one type of computer!, Fonts don’t have to look awful on Windows, Finding the Last Editor, Switching to Android was easy, VSCode + WSL makes Windows awesome for web development↩︎

DHH vendor lock-in

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