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Data migration and the lock-in effect

Data migration, compatibility interfaces and the so-called “vendor lock-in” are currently hotly debated topics in the European Union. But what is the lock-in effect in the first place and how can data migration function seamlessly in a digital world?

The Lock-In Effect

In principle, one can always speak of a lock-in effect when the use of a product, whether digital or not, creates a dependency on certain technology, platforms or companies. This effect exists, for example, with printers that only support ink cartridges from the same company, razors that use proprietary blade attachments, or – in the past – electrical appliances that only support certain chargers from the same company. A distinction is made between “technological lock-in” and “vendor lock-in”. [1]

The technological lock-in effect describes the phenomenon in which the use of a particular technology by a large part of society puts pressure on the rest of the people to use it as well, or results in those who already use it not being able to stop using it (so easily). This effect occurs and has occurred in many areas of life in modern history. Smartphones are a fitting example in this regard. Over the past few years, it has become clear that the more people use them, the greater the social (and sometimes even economic) cost of not owning a smartphone. Of course, problems can arise here (think of purely digital ticket sales via smartphone app) and this kind of collective lock-in to a technology is often described in terms of the “prisoner’s dilemma” familiar from economics, i.e. a situation in which all those involved make an overall disadvantageous decision due to a lack of organization. However, technological lock-in is usually a side effect of a constantly evolving society, and it is being driven even further by digitization. However, it is rarely a pre-set or stated goal, and it is generally not the main effect. [1, 2]

A far greater and no less frequent problem is the vendor lock-in already mentioned, or being tied to one (or a few) vendors. This arises when only a few (oligopoly) or even a single company (monopoly) have complete market power. In the digital sector in particular, this can easily develop into a lock-in effect. It can also create social pressure on individuals, which is clear to anyone who does not have an account on some or even all of the popular social media platforms or messengers. If a company succeeds in creating a vendor lock-in, it is very difficult for users to switch to other platforms. A prime example of this is Microsoft’s market power in the area of office applications, which the company has defended and consolidated over many decades with proprietary file formats, among other things. But other companies should also be mentioned here, such as Acrobat Reader or the creative suite from Adobe (Photoshop, Aftereffects, etc.) and, above all, Google with a large number of (at least monetarily) free offerings that cover virtually the entire digital life. [1, 2, 3, 4]

Lock-In and Data Migration

Lock-in effects are particularly serious with cloud offerings, as many people have stored vast amounts of data, such as documents, images, videos and memories of their entire lives with one of the relevant providers. Migrating this data to another location is often impractical or even impossible. Providers of proprietary cloud solutions often make it artificially difficult to move to other platforms, thereby preventing the free flow of data.

A similar effect can be seen with social media platforms, on which young people in particular have often documented a not insignificant part of their lives. For many, simply “losing” this when changing platforms is understandably out of the question. [3]

A function to migrate data from one platform to another is needed. This means both the simple and comprehensive export of all data belonging to an account on one platform, as well as the import of such archives on another platform. This is not a trivial matter, especially with social media, since much of the content consists of interactions with others, and these cannot or must not simply be taken along. For files that you have stored yourself in a cloud and perhaps shared and edited with a handful of other users, a move is technically almost trivial.

The problem here is that platforms have no incentive to offer such possibilities. At least some providers offer import, but export is contradicted by the desire to keep users (trapped) on their own platform.

Effectively, only legislation can break a vendor lock-in. Although the European Union has already forced companies to provide export options for data and information, these are not nearly as easy to find or use as they should be. Furthermore, there is simply a lack of awareness of the problem in society, and only large-scale information campaigns could help.

ViOffice and Migration of Data

But what about our own cloud platform? We believe that users should choose the technical solutions that best meet their needs. We don’t want to tie people to us by making it more convenient to stay than to switch to a solution that suits them better. At the same time, of course, the barriers to moving to us should be as low as possible.

We believe that users should be as free as possible in their choice of cloud. One’s own circumstances are constantly changing, and so are the demands on a cloud platform or the benefits that one derives from such a solution. And even in the case of an actual, physical move (e.g. to another country), it can make sense to move to other local providers. Perhaps one would also like to operate the cloud platform oneself!

All this is possible thanks to Free and Open Source Software. And that’s why data migration must also be simple and practical. The ViOffice Cloud, which is based on the FOSS software Nextcloud, offers exactly this possibility. Here users can easily and instantly export all their data in one go: Files, tags, comments, calendars, contacts, profile settings and much more. If users switch to another Nextcloud (for example, one they run themselves), a complete archive of all information can be imported there, thus simplifying the data transfer considerably. [5, 6]

Moving to the ViOffice Cloud is similarly easy, especially when users migrate from a Nextcloud to the ViOffice Cloud. But moving from a proprietary cloud solution to ViOffice Cloud is also relatively easy, for example from Google Cloud, Dropbox or even Microsoft’s OneDrive. [6]


  1. The Linux Information Project (2006): Vendor Lock-in Definition. URL: www.linfo.org
  2. Jen Wasserstein (2021): My life without a smartphone is getting harder and harder. URL: www.theguardian.com
  3. The Independent (2010): Facebook may “lock in” its internet dominance. URL (archived): www.independent.co.uk
  4. DGeeX (2015): Top 10 Reasons why I hate Skype. URL (archived): www.dgeex.de
  5. Diedrich, O. (2020): Nextcloud migriert Daten von Dropbox, Google und OneDrive. URL: www.heise.de
  6. Mous, F. (2023): Streamline your move to Nextcloud Hub with our migration tools. URL: nextcloud.com
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Jan is co-founder of ViOffice. He is responsible for the technical implementation and maintenance of the software. His interests lie in particular in the areas of security, data protection and encryption.

In addition to his studies in economics, later in applied statistics and his subsequent doctorate, he has years of experience in software development, open source and server administration.