Microsoft, of course, has been playing this game since, well, pretty much forever. To take one recent example, when you first start running Windows 8 or RT, you're encouraged to set it up with a Microsoft account. It sounds great. "When you sign in with a Microsoft account," Microsoft tells you, "your PC is connected to the cloud, and many of the settings, preferences, and apps associated with your account can 'follow' you between different PCs."
Let's say you do that. What happens when you try to start your Windows 8 laptop somewhere without Internet access? You can't log in. Ain't that a kick in the head? You have to open a local account and then set everything else back to the way you like it.
In all of these developments, I see signs that we're heading to a new era of platform lock-in. Your choices will be Apple, Google, Microsoft and possibly Amazon. Each seeks to lock you in not just with its particular devices and applications, but also with Internet services that either aren't available on other platforms or are very inconvenient to use on other platforms.
Sure, vendor lock-in is nothing new, and I've bemoaned this new trend before, citing completely different developments. But let's not forget that "PC" stands for "personal computer." If a handful of top vendors are allowed to decide what Internet services we can and can't run, the "personal" in personal computing will go away. And we will have lost something important.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bps was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at email@example.com.
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