Andrey Listopadov

We've become overdependent on the net

@random-thoughts ~5 minutes read

The title says it all.

No, really, I’m astonished at how much software is basically useless without an internet connection. Net is no longer something additional to your daily tasks, it is essential for your daily tasks.

Just recently, I installed GSConnect, a GNOME addon that implements the KDE Connect protocol. I use the Fedora Silverblue, and perhaps it doesn’t come with Open SSL, so the GSConnect complains about it:

Note the message: “Click for help troubleshooting”. When clicked, instead of the help dialog, the browser is opened, automatically trying to visit GitHub wiki:

However, it fails, because my PC is not connected to the net. What baffles me is that they know about the problem, they even have it on the Wiki, yet they refused to include a helpful message, instead requiring me to go to the web page. This could have been summarized in the notification itself.

Not so long ago, we bought a new laptop with Windows 11 on board. It was not for my personal use, and as much as you may like to suggest that I should just install Linux on the machine, I can’t, and the person would not want to deal with it either. What’s funny, though, was that the laptop refused to continue through the first boot welcome screen until we connected it to the net.

What’s the problem, you may ask? The problem was again the absence of a network around - the house did not have a PC for maybe five to ten years, so the net bill was pointless. 4G was fine enough on the tablet, and therefore when we bought a PC it could not connect to anything, because there wasn’t anything to connect to. What makes things worse, the mobile provider provides unlimited traffic but forbids tethering it from the device, so we couldn’t even use that to turn the laptop on.

Some people told me that if I press the connection button enough times, Windows gives up and lets you in without the net, but it didn’t work for me. I guess this was either added in the later builds or was removed by that point. The question is - why do I need the network connection to turn the device on at all?

Smartphones are the same - buy a new phone, and it asks for a SIM card, then for WIFI, although it is possible to skip these things. For now, at least. Funnily enough, old cellular phones from the 90s and mid-2000s refused to boot without a SIM cart too. Why? Who knows. Some even offered a “demo mode” - you could see what the phone can do, but could not use it until you put a SIM in. Oh well.

But let’s go back to the modern times. A lot of smartphone apps refuse to work without an internet connection. For example, when I used Spotify, on the premium plan you could download the music for offline listening. However, when the network is unavailable, i.e. you’re offline, the app refuses to play the song. Probably because it tries to connect to the server to check if your local date and server date are in sync, and if your premium plan is still active. Or maybe it is just a poorly written app, but that can not be, I paid every month, and I suppose a lot of this money was spent on the app development. Right?

The subscription model is handy for businesses that want to constantly get a lot of money without that much effort. For example, before the subscription model was a thing for Adobe products, each version of Photoshop featured a lot of additions and improvements justifying purchasing a new license. Now, however, years go by, yet Photoshop still frequently crashes and doesn’t see substantial features, and a lot of different software is catching up feature-wise, further dis-justifying the subscription model. Though, I don’t use Photoshop, so don’t take my word for anything I said - this information is provided by public reviews, and from some friends and coworkers who do have a subscription. And yes, a subscription model is not directly tied to the topic of dependence on the net, however, you usually can’t use your software without periodic checks, and paying also requires the network.

Another thing is the web apps. I don’t use such apps often, but speaking of Photoshop reminded me of Figma. It is not exactly a competitor, but it took away some of the userbase because it is a better fit for the task. Again, probably, I don’t know why people use it, I, myself, don’t. However, being a web application, it doesn’t really have an offline mode at all. All your work is constantly synced with the server, and again, I’m not sure why - local storage is right there.

Web technology has probably the fastest time-to-market so I can understand why it is probably better for a business to quickly publish a web app, instead of doing a proper desktop application. But then again, these apps, even though they are emulating a desktop application, usually don’t stop at local features, and provide features that are dependent on the net. For example, a recent rise in the popularity of Large Language Models resulted in a lot of apps including one as a “feature”. But running these locally comes with a huge performance cost, not everyone would agree to pay, so instead they run by a huge server somewhere, and are provided as a paid API subscription. Now we have subscriptions that the app developer has to pay, and these apps usually use a subscription model too, meaning that in the end, you pay for the API, even if you don’t use it.

I know, I know. This may sound silly. But just for a day, try to use your PC or, if you brave enough, a smartphone without an internet connection, and see how much work can be done. The reason I’m writing this post is that I simply don’t have a network connection right now, so I just noticed this issue. While I mostly do my work from Emacs, some apps still require a network, and I feel that I can’t use my PC to reach its full potential. It’s a shame though, as most of the things I need the network for can be, and were done without it before. Net just makes things easier.