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Is monogamy good for technology?

Apple and Microsoft have long promised a seamless, trouble-free technology experience...so long as you commit to their ecosystems. What we need, however, is choice.

As a longtime Mac user, I can tell you that nothing works as well as an iPhone-Mac-iLife-iTunes connection. If you play completely within Apple's playground, it's nonstop fun with no bumps and bruises. Microsoft, which has long billed itself as a soup-to-nuts solution, doesn't even come close, despite diligent efforts.

Come on in! Don't bother leaving... Apple

The problem, of course, is that most of us can't afford to live exclusively within Apple's (or Microsoft's) ecosystem. Work often gets in the way of personal preferences, whatever they may be. We're also more and more inclined to experiment with new devices, and most of these aren't built by Apple or Microsoft.

When this happens, we're left scrambling for workarounds to the otherwise flawless experience technology "monogamy" provides.

Here's an example. As part of my new role with Canonical, I now use Ubuntu Linux, but still have my iPhone. Apple doesn't support syncing to Linux, so I've been left to manually change all of my iTunes library to MP3 (or, at least, to non-DRM-restricted AAC). It is a very manual process, and completely unnecessary. The only value provided through Apple's policy is to Apple itself: it wants the iPhone to serve as a one-way trip into Mac-land, and not as a brief stopover on the way to alternatives.

I'm a capitalist. I understand this. But that doesn't mean I like it as a consumer.

Nor is it the only way.

My iPhone contacts, calendar, and e-mail sync perfectly to my laptop, for example, thanks to Google. (I use Mozilla's wonderful Weave technology to sync my browser tabs, history, etc. between machines.)

Google's model is predicated upon monetizing attention--however long or brief--through advertising and subscription services. It doesn't need me to have a "monogamous" relationship with it, though it probably would like that, given the slew of new, interconnected services it has been rolling out.

But it's also comfortable being the transitory glue for my far-flung data. As a result, I'm happy to let it serve as the holding place for my data. The more Google enriches my experience shifting between the ever-increasing array of devices I use, the more I'm going to enrich it by giving it my attention and subscription revenue.

Which brings me back to iTunes. Apple COO Tim Cook suggests that the magic of Apple is its seamless interoperability with other Apple technology. Monogamy, in other words.

Rumors are swirling that Google is preparing an iTunes competitor. There are plenty of reasons why it should, and here's one more: monogamy doesn't work in technology, because no vendor dominates innovation once and for all. Apple's iTunes could become to entertainment what Microsoft Office was for personal computing:

A choke hold on innovation.

Apple creates wonderful technology. I've long been a customer. But I don't want it to be my only vendor, any more than I wanted Microsoft to be such. I'm therefore betting on Google to break the choke hold and will happily pay it for its troubles.