My approach to tools has been a topic of this blog a few times. It’s also no secret that I mostly use the default tools. I even participated in the blogging game called defaults. 1 The post gives a picture what I use, now is time to tell why.

Some people have told me that I’m trapped in Apple’s walled garden, and they’re partly right. Some were also surprised that I supported the hegemony of the biggest player instead of smaller companies or even independent developers. They all are right. But not fully.

When choosing my toolset I always think about me, my values, my needs and my future. I cannot use something that clearly and openly hits my values, even if it’s the best tool. We live in a world, where everyone can tell whatever wants, and some CEOs use this possibility. And they made me averse to using their tool. I learn a few times, than even when I think someone shares my values at the beginning, they turn out, well, “not-so-nice” at some point. I try to avoid this kind of disappointments. That’s the first reason.

The second reason has to do with my simple and minimal needs. There are people I trust who make great specialized applications for a lot of things I just don’t need. Keeping track of movies or books, storing all my life’s data, using a specialized application to create a diagram, all these things are unnecessary hassle for me. If I can use a vector drawing program to create a simple diagram, I don’t need a specialized tool to do it. Of course, it would take me 10 minutes instead of half an hour, but… I might do it once a month. It’s not worth the effort. I’m not a “productivity guy” either, I don’t need to do everything faster, I don’t need to shave minutes off every task I do, and I believe that my value in the projects and initiatives I’m involved in is not in producing content faster, it’s in what I know and what I’ve learned. I prefer to focus on thinking more and doing less, which means doing few things and spending a lot of time thinking. I just need an app to write and an infinite canva to sketch my ideas and connect them later.

There is also a third reason, which is portability. There are some data that I want to be able to open anywhere and with anything. These are my photos, my documents, and my journals. And that’s about it. For these files, I use jpg, pdf, and txt file formats. What about the projects that I’m working on? Well, everything that’s done gets exported as one of those formats and I can open it anywhere. I keep editable files in proprietary formats and I think I’ll be able to open them in two or three years, but I’ll be honest with myself, I never wanted to open a project from ten years ago. It never happened, and I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in the future. Sometimes I want to review some information from the past, and that is where the PDF format comes in handy. There are other types of information, such as notes and tasks or calendar entries, that I keep in a proprietary format. These are trivial things for me, I treat this information as auxiliary information, I need it during the project or another initiative, I keep things there that I won’t miss. I’m not a keeper, it’s easy for me to say goodbye to a lot of things. If something is really important, it is exported as a txt or pdf file.

So I move on to the fourth reason, longevity. There’s a lot of common ground here with the previous reason, the most important information I keep in the most open format out there, the rest I don’t really need in the long term. I know, I remember that even the biggest companies have a history of changing file formats or data formats or whatever, so I don’t count on them to be able to read my information, I try to take care of myself and be prepared that one day I might need something that was made in a proprietary format. It’s my fault if I can’t open it, it means I should have thought about it earlier.

But longevity has a second meaning. I remember when I was using Evernote and I had to migrate because it was getting too expensive for me at the time. Later it turned out that I did not want to have too much in common with it morally. I used to use other applications and services that I invested my time and energy in, and at some point I had to migrate, sometimes the moral values didn’t fit anymore, sometimes the services ceased to exist, sometimes it went to subscription, and I didn’t want to be a part of that. There were many reasons, and I migrated a couple of times. I haven’t done that since I started using the defaults, first on Windows and later on MacOS. 2

This is also related to the fifth reason. The price. I don’t have a problem paying for the tools I use, but I do have a problem renting them. It’s fine to rent a drill when I need to drill a hole in the wall, but when I’m doing it professionally (or even as a regular hobby), it’s weird to not have my own drill and pay a monthly fee for someone else’s drill. This is how I see a subscription model. I know the arguments about steady income for developers, I get the idea that maintaining an application takes resources, I get it. And I don’t want to discuss that here. 3 There are people who are fine with that kind of distribution model, and that’s fine, I’m not, so I don’t use it. I think it is derogatory for a specialist to rent tools, maybe the fact that I was in the construction industry for many years has something to do with it. But again, that’s my opinion and it’s to do with me. I understand that some people like some tools and they don’t have a problem paying a fee every month. That’s none of my business.

A few times in the past, an application I liked changed its distribution model. It simply went from a one-time payment to a monthly payment, and some people were promised that they would be able to use the app they already bought forever. It turns out that “forever” means two or three years. I don’t want to change my tools every few years because I get an ultimatum, or I have to pay monthly, or I can’t use my files. I have seen so many applications and services disappear, sold, bought, canceled, that I prefer to stick with the free ones that come with the system, I am still not sure if they will be supported in twenty years, but at least I will be able to use my files as long as I have the old devices with those built-in applications installed.

Of course, there is a sixth reason, and that is convenience. Using system defaults means that everything looks and works the same. I don’t have to spend energy and time learning a new tool. I like to learn, I like to learn something new, but I prefer it when it’s not an application. There are so many things I don’t know that I’d rather learn them than a new note-taking app, because a note-taking app should help me learn things, so it should be transparent in the process.

The ascetics aren’t skippable, I like the way the standard applications look and work. That’s number seven.

The last but not least is the reason related with cognitive load. Doing my work, both professionally and hobbyist, is the most important thing, I like to focus on the work I have to do, and forget about the tools I use. I learnt that those built-in apps works the best in this aspect, they’re fully native and everything they do, they do in an okay way. They’re not perfect, they don’t have all functions I would imagine, and they’re behind third party tools in many, many ways. But they’re always here, just work and help me to do my job. The tool is the tool, not the clue to my work.

Regardless of the system I use, I choose the default applications for the reasons mentioned above. The reason I chose macOS and iOS is a different topic, but when I used Windows, Android, and Linux, I also mainly used basic default apps where possible. Keeping my most important things as basic, universal file formats also helps me move on when I decide or am forced to change the devices I’m using. Using default applications is not about locking yourself into a walled garden of one company or another, it’s about choosing the simplest possible tools to get the job done.

  1. I still feel conflicted about it, but that’s another story. ↩︎

  2. Yes, I used Windows for many years. ↩︎

  3. But I have an opinion here, of course I do. ↩︎