Alternatives to the Technology Platforms

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Introduction

The technology giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft are integrated into nearly every aspect of our productive and social lives. 2 As scholars, politicians, and even governments become increasingly eager in antitrust and other regulatory mechanisms to tame them, all of these parties cannot forget that consumers also play a role in fighting monopoly power on an individual level as well. While I believe consumers face exceptional difficulty with breaking free of the applications the technology giants have created and I support other structural remedies for the technology platforms, 3 with commitment and some sacrifice, there is refuge for consumers to abandon the technology platforms.

The use of technology services predominantly consists of accessing files and using software through an operating system, accessing the internet through a web browser, using a search engine to find websites and information on the internet, engaging in productivity tasks through an office suite, and messaging friends and family. This short post will detail several alternatives applications aimed at breaking the technology giant’s monopoly power in each market and provide several links to assist with the transition.

Computer Operating Systems
The computer operating system provides a graphical interface that allows users to access their files and software. Currently, there are two primary operating systems used extensively today on computers – Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s macOS. Collectively, these products have an 87% global market share. 4 Now even I can admit this will be one of the hardest technology products to abandon because almost everything a user does on a computer is dependent on the operating system. Whether it is to access your files, the ability to edit and create files, the software you use, etc. Nevertheless, Linux operating systems have software that allows users to do almost everything that Windows and macOS can currently perform.

Using a Linux operating system has its benefits as most are free and do not try to extract data from users. 5 While, the most popular Linux operating system – Ubuntu – does collect some data, 6 the operating system works well for most users for two primary reasons. First, the operating system receives consistent updates (every April and October), so users always have a secure operating system with the latest features. Second, Ubuntu has a simple to use software store that allows users to install software analogous to Microsoft’s Windows Store and the AppStore for macOS. Conveniently, Ubuntu also provides users the feature to try the operating system before fully installing and committing to it. Additionally, there are also easy tutorials that detail how to change the interface of the Ubuntu operating system to look more like Windows and macOS, which should ease the transition to the new operating system.

Before a user considers switching to Ubuntu or another Linux operating system, I would first suggest each user consider what they actually do on a computer – specifically what software they use. This can be done by following the guides provided below.

Once a user determines how they use their computer and what applications they use they can then utilize certain internet resources that will help them find alternative software or the exact same software that works with the Linux operating system they are switching to. My favorite service to use to accomplish this task is AlternativeTo.net

When a user is ready to make the transition to a Linux operating system, they should not forget to back up all of their files. Consumers can then use this guide to install Ubuntu.

Should a user discover that one of their favorite programs does not offer a Linux version or an alternative is insufficient for their needs, they should immediately contact the developer of that software and ask them to develop a Linux based version. Software developers will create a Linux version if there is enough user demand – so every single submission assists in the endeavor of increasing the software available on Linux operating systems, which would make them even more viable alternatives.

Now if a user must use Windows or macOS, there are some actions users should take to make the respective operating system more private. Each of the guides below provides a step-by-step method to ensure maximum privacy on the operating system.

Web Browsers
Google Chrome is by far the most dominant web browser in the world. 7 With Chrome, Google extracts a ton of user information that should encourage users to switch away from using the browser. 8

There are two methods to avoid using Google Chrome. The first is slightly harder but more recommended, while the second is easier but less recommended. The first method involves abandoning Chrome-based web browsers altogether. Most users may not know that Google’s Chrome browser is built upon the Chromium architecture – its open source counterpart. Even Microsoft, after the failure of their Edge browser to obtain mass market success, is adopting the Chrome architecture. 9

The best browser to break away from Chrome is Firefox. The experience is almost identical. There are no tracking or privacy issues that a user has to be concerned about. Firefox provides just a simple web browsing experience. Even the available browser extensions between Firefox and the Chrome-based browsers are almost identical. Firefox also offers a Linux version.

However, if you enjoy the Chrome experience for whatever reason, then consumers should at least use a non-Google derivative. The browser that I recommend that takes this avenue is Brave. 10 Brave operates similar to Chrome and can install the same extensions available in the Web Store. Brave also provides users a much more private browsing experience to users than Chrome. 11 Additionally, Brave also offers a Linux version.

If you must continue to use Chrome or are going to use a Chrome derivative such as Brave, I strongly encourage users to install the following Chrome extensions which will help keep their information and browsing experience private.

  • AdBlock Plus or Ad Block: Blocks web advertisements
    • Note: It is important to allow nonintrusive advertising when using either AdBlock Plus or Ad Block as there are many websites that derive their revenue from digital advertising.
  • Ghostery: Control JavaScript “tags” and “trackers”
  • HTTPS Everywhere: Automatically makes websites use a more secure HTTPS connection instead of HTTP, if it is supported.
  • Privacy Badger: Blocks advertisements and tracking cookies that do not respect the Do Not Track setting in a user’s web browser. 

Search Engines
Perhaps the most used website accessed through a browser is a search engine. 12 Most people will already know this; nevertheless, it should be stated. Consumers should not use Google or Bing. Both of them continuously harvest user data and have a combined worldwide market share of 95%. 13 Without question, the two best alternatives to Google and Bing are DuckDuckGo and Startpage.com. Both of these search engines are completely private and provide a similar experience. 14

Office Suites
Microsoft Office is one of the most used office suites, but for many people the plethora of features that the service provides are superfluous. Fortunately, LibreOffice is an excellent alternative that offers near identical functionality and works with Linux. To assist with determining whether LibreOffice is a viable alternative for users, a full comparison of LibreOffice and Microsoft Office can be accessed here

Messaging
Millions of people use text messages, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) to communicate with friends and family. 15 By using these services, consumers are willingly giving valuable information to the technology giants. The best alternative is Signal by Open Whisper Systems. It is completely private and available on multiple operating systems (including smartphones). 16 There is even a Linux version. 17

Conclusion

By switching away from the dominant technology platforms, users can help break monopoly power in the marketplace. Just as important as switching services on an individual level is telling others that they should switch too. While the transition to these alternative services may be difficult and even frustrating, it is one of the ways individuals can assist in breaking monopoly power in the technology sector.