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Software Upgrades

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I just watched Dave's review of the new oscilloscope. Generally I personally can't decide whether or not I hate the idea of having to pay money to unlock features a device I own is fully capable of to begin with.

Pro: You don't need to go out and get a new piece of hardware.

Con: It's just such a silly concept. You have all these features on a device, but you can't use any of them unless you pay out the rear end for them. Why not offer a device with decent capabilities, and then sell it at a lower price? Need more features? Get a better device.

Going back to the example of the scope I think Agilent is really banking on people paying for these extra features down the road. It's good in theory, but then there's always people who are going to end up paying for the hardware but never end up unlocking it. I think it's wasted resources.

I can't decide whether or not it's a good thing. What I'm really afraid of is magpie managers ordering this to be put into devices that it has no business being in. Can you imagine if say, a programmer/debugger tool for micro-controllers had this going on? Similar to what the folks at Microchip talked about in their response to Dave's review of the PICkit3. What if companies really did start making people pay for silly little upgrades?

That's just my thoughts. What do you fellows think?

I don't like the idea at all, but if the end result is they're able to sell the product cheaper then i can't really complain.

It's hard to imagine it being cheaper to produce units that have hardware that will never be used in the entire life of some units but i guess that's just the way it is.

I suspect much of the savings that makes this possible, and counteracts the cost of the wasted parts that never get used, comes from all the internal business costs that are no longer needed. Costs associated with having a wide range of different products all requiring different service support, helpdesk, bug fixes, marketing etc..
When you're a company as big as HP/Agilent with lots of employees and branches around the world i imagine these costs are huge.

There is also the savings from only having to design and manufacture a small range of different units and all the cost savings associated with bulk discounts on the parts now used in higher quantities.

I think i would be happier about this sort of thing if they eventually released the full speed/functionality firmware for free X years after release, maybe when the next model arrived or something, but companies never seem to do that.

You can however look at the whole thing another way.  If you had a piece of test equipment with no disabled features or reduced speed then the chances someone will hack it and enable them is zero :P

It does, after all, give hardware hackers something fun to do.

I think this modified quote from Stargate SG1 matches up to this whole practice

Company: "We will put disabled features into these products you use, BUT. Be warned. Anyone attempting to enable them will be shown no legal mercy."

Hacker: "Well.. That certainly makes life more. Interesting..."


--- Quote from: Lance on February 16, 2011, 06:59:21 am ---What if companies really did start making people pay for silly little upgrades?

--- End quote ---

Or, worse still, you have to rent the premium features.

Next step, your new device is sold with a "trial size" three month subscription, after which the hardware you bought automatically bricks itself to extort more money.

I don't like it, it will make it necessary for companies to lock down their designs to prevent people from using options without paying. If it requires expensive parts (eg. different ADC's, or different PCB), you don't have to protect the details since people are less likely to implement them. It also promotes the concept that you should not be allowed to modify your own equipment. Another issue seen on equipment from the nineties is that they sometimes lose their configuration (dead backup battery or EEPROM). Since those options cost money and are often locked to the serial number, you can't just reset the memory. Only the manufacturer can re-enable the options (assuming they still have the software, i.e. it's no more than a few years old). But if we're lucky the equipment won't be around that long anyway ;).

--- Quote from: ziq8tsi on February 16, 2011, 08:56:08 am ---Next step, your new device is sold with a "trial size" three month subscription, after which the hardware you bought automatically bricks itself to extort more money.

--- End quote ---
They already do. I know Tektronix ships scopes with some option enabled for a limited time. You have to pay if you want to keep using them.

Uncle Vernon:
I understand companies need to recover R&D but even to this end crippling features or functions soon becomes immoral.

It's bad enough in test gear but when the concept is alive and well within medical electronics you really have to question it.

We have a successful company here that has pioneered world breaking implant technology. The products bought at reduced price by charities and third world medical services are set to offer poorer performance, to ensure none ever find their way back to first world countries via grey markets.

You really have to consider how managers can decide market protection of a more important than the hearing ability of a child in the third world.

Hardware and software disabling is a magnet for dubious hackers it just creates an environment where the greed of the illegal modifier is pitched against the greed of the corporations.


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