Sunday, August 23, 2015

Google’s iron grip on Android: Controlling open source by any means necessary

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Google’s iron grip on Android: Controlling open source by any means necessary
Android is open—except for all the good parts.

Google has always given itself some protection against alternative versions of Android. What many people think of as "Android" actually falls into two categories: the open parts from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which are the foundation of Android, and the closed source parts, which are all the Google-branded apps. While Google will never go the entire way and completely close Android, the company seems to be doing everything it can to give itself leverage over the existing open source project. And the company's main method here is to bring more and more apps under the closed source "Google" umbrella.

Every so often, I read articles or blog comments about how Android is superior to iOS because Google is "open" and Apple is "closed" and how Apple's "walled garden" is evil, but Google is good because Android is open source.

Not really. As this Ars Technica article from 2013 points out, it's not really true. While the core OS is open source, all of the stuff customers care about are not part of the OS - they're part of closed-source apps that can only be downloaded via the Google Play store. And any manufacturer that uses a custom fork of Android, for any reason, is summarily declared "incompatible" and is banned from the Play Store - meaning their customers will have no access to the apps and features that Android customers worldwide are demanding.

Is this pseudo-openness really any better than Apple's ecosystem, where Apple controls everything and there is no attempt to hide this fact?

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Be sure to read the fine print

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Today, while reading my morning comics, I saw an ad for a prepaid debit card with art from the comic strip on the face. I thought, "oh how cute" and that maybe it might be good in a few years when my daughter goes to college, in lieu of traveler's cheques or cash for spending.

Then I clicked on the link to see what the fees are. And OMG, was I blown away by the incredible rip-off this cute card turns out to be:

Monthly Maintenance Fee $5.95 (Waived if you direct deposit $800 every month)
Domestic ATM Cash Withdrawal Fee $3.00 (per transaction)
International ATM Cash Withdrawal Fee $3.00 (per transaction)
Over-the-Counter Withdrawal Fee Domestic and International $3.00 (per transaction)
Balance Inquiry PIN & ATM transactions, Domestic and International ATM $1.00 (per transaction)
Card Account Closure Fee $7.00 (Charged if a check is issued for funds on your Card Account and Card Account is closed)
Paper Copy of Statement Fee $2.00 (per monthly paper statement requested)
CSR Express Delivery Fee $20.00 (per card; when Card is expedited and reissued or replaced for any reason.)
Foreign Transaction Fee 2.95% (per transaction)
Replacement Card
We do our best to protect you. If your card is lost or stolen, contact Customer Support and we'll immediately replace your card and ensure your funds are secure.

So, in exchange for holding your money (without paying any interest, of course, you are expected to pay them $6 every month, plus $3 per transaction if you want to get any of your cash back and $1 every time you try to find out how much money is actually in the account. And should your card be lost or stolen, then they're going to charge you $7.50 to replace the card, plus $20 if you don't want to wait a few weeks to receive it.

In contrast, the debit card I have from my bank (an ordinary no-fee checking account) has none of these fees. They will propagate the Cirrus network's ATM fee if you use some other bank's ATM, but that's it.

So can someone tell my why anybody other than a complete sucker would ever want this card?