back to article Pay to play: The hidden cost of software defined everything

An oscilloscope manufacturer this month slapped a hacking enthusiast's website with a DMCA take-down order after he revealed how you could unlock extra, low-cost options in one of the vendor's systems using a series of simple workarounds. Go ahead, chuckle – it’s an obscure dust-up in a lost corner of tech, but haven’t you …

  1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Another argument in favour of Open Source software (and proper/full hardware documentation) where deliberate hobbling is not possible.

    Hobbling through generally incompetent development failing to make things work properly is, as for closed source, still possible...

    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      > Open Source software... where deliberate hobbling is not possible

      Actually, it is. If the agreement you have committed to with a supplier includes limitations on the "what, how, when or how-many" you are permitted to use, it makes no difference whether you are physically or logically able to enable those features that you haven't paid for. Or whether any software that comes with (or forms) the product is Open Source or closed source. You know: all thise "I agree" boxes you tick. They can contain any limitations the author wishes to include.

      Even if the software comes with its source code, if you contravene the terms of the purchase / rental / usage then that is as much a no-no as if you'd cracked any protection schemes that prevent a user from access those additional features. Though with "free" software, this is mainly down to the honour of the user - to abide by the terms they agreed they would, than hard prevention.

      Hobbling can be implemented either in hardware or software - or in the contractual terms of use. It just comes down to how honest you are, whether you abide by them or not. For example, some "free" software disallows its use for military purposes. Other licences prevent the authors' "free" software being used in specific countries.

      1. The BigYin

        > If the agreement you have committed to with a supplier includes limitations

        Which is an argument for Free Software, no limitations can be imposed.

        In fact the only "limitation" (if you want to call it that) is to preserve the freedom of any subsequent derivatives you release.

        > for example, some "free" software disallows its use for military purposes.

        Then, by definition, it's not free software.

        1. chrisf1

          They would certainly not be OSI compliant - http://opensource.org/osd numbers 5&6.

          However restricting use of open source has been done

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tivoization.

          It cannot be done purely in open source software to my knowledge but can be done in combination with other software, hardware or service contracts. It can also be perfectly reasonable to do so if deviating from the restriction would create a liability somewhere else in the supply chain or cause issue with the procured services or for example invalidate audit and sampling processes.

      2. P. Lee Silver badge

        Is there something new?

        Not in theory, but in practice the PC world is used to being allowed to run software on faster chips to get additional benefit. Now we see what used to be general pc software (e.g. Checkpoint firewall-1) being priced out of usefulness and a substitute "appliance" range which could run anything down to a celeron. The also hobble not just features, but the number of cores used. That is new to PC's.

        Worse, this isn't just some washing machine built-in wearing-out date. Things go "obsolete" when the vendor says so, not when they are no longer fit for purpose. Same software, but you need to buy it new again and the hardware it runs on, or you'll drop out of support and we'll charge you more than ever. Add a complex infrastructure which has its own lock-in of complexity and it begins to look like extortion.

        Not only that, software is notoriously unreliable. Just look at the number of phone app updates. Hardware has to be right when it goes out the door because its hard to change. I know which one I'd prefer to use.

  2. foxyshadis

    Blame MPEG-LA for the Pi's codes

    The only reason Pi has to be activated is the MPEG-LA demanding their pound of flesh, otherwise Raspberry would be sued. In these cases you have to differentiate between vendors demanding more money because fark you pay me, and ones that are forced to by outside patent-holding entities.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Blame MPEG-LA for the Pi's codes

      I was thinking this when reading through the article.

      I don't actually have a problem with subscription services for things that have an external attached cost such as AV/IPS software (because I want the definition updates) and in general anything else where the supplier is licensing some shiny stuff from elseware on a per user basis.

      Obviously in those sort of cases then either the purchase cost has increase to cover the subscription for the lifetime of the device or you have to buy a subscription for the extra features that you want. I'm all for subscriptions in those cases.

      That said charging a subscription/unlock fee for basic functionality is taking the piss.

  3. Kraggy
    Thumb Down

    And this differs from, say, what Microsoft have done for years .. how?

    For years, Microsoft has shipped one DVD with all flavours of Windows on it which are selected by the activation code you enter.

    I don't recall anyone complaining about that method of distribution, so why is this any different in principle? Same argument could apply, why should I pay more for Windows 7 Ultimate when it's already on the DVD I used to install Windows 7 Home?

    The basis of this article is laughable, it's simply an example of today's entitlement culture.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: "The basis of this article is laughable"

      Not so funny when you have paid for seriously expensive test hardware only to find it is not going to do things you expected because they have deliberately hobbled it in the application software.

      1. gc73

        Re: "The basis of this article is laughable"

        Surely if you're shelling out for a "seriously expensive" piece of hardware you're going to make sure it does the things you expect. Or do you buy for a gov agency?

        1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

          Re: "The basis of this article is laughable"

          @gc73, AMBxx,

          But it is not always you who does the buying. When the bean counters buy it...

      2. Kraggy

        Re: "The basis of this article is laughable"

        So you'd be happier if they sold the 'base' model to which you had to apply upgrades (or send back to the manufacturer) that are 'sold separately'.

        Would you?

        It totally makes sense for the manufacturers whose products are software-defined to build umpteen variations of the hardware simply so that they can contain various software versions depending on the price being paid.

        I say again, this is a silly argument from those who seem to want everything at a basement bargain price and clearly don't agree with the idea you get what you pay for.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Not the point

          The point of the article isn't that manufacturers enable extra features for extra money - that's reasonable.

          But if somebody enables that extra feature without paying that is a contractual matter between the maker and the purchaser. Using a draconian copyright order to prevent a news site talking about it is unreasonable and is the point of the article. It is also becoming more common.

          Whats next?

          Report that a certain car bursts into flames when rear-ended? Can't do that anymore , any mention of the car comes under the DMCA.

          A ban on explaining that they don't need to buy the expensive duplex version of a printer because they can turn the paper upside down and print side 2 ?

          1. Grey Bird

            Re: Not the point

            The news site your talking about didn't talk about it, they gave detailed instructions on how to hack the software which isn't the same thing. Also, the car example is totally bogus, since the DCMA doesn't apply even remotely. The paper example works depending on the software you're using. Some software, like MS Word, can be told to print 2 sided on a single sided printer and it tells you when to turn the paper over and sometimes even what direction.

            There are probably legitimate examples of companies suing to stop legitimate disclosures, but there aren't any in your comment and you misunderstood what happened at the Hackaday.com site. They were issued the takedown specifically because they "posted instructions for how to hack [Tektronix'] modules and thereby violate Tektronix’ copyrights" as they detailed in a later posting. The reason hackaday posted the instructions in the first place was because the security of the "key" was astoundingly unsecure and hackaday modified the post to remove the specific instructions while still reporting the actual story of the horrible security snafu that was the key.

      3. SundogUK

        Re: "The basis of this article is laughable"

        That just makes you an idiot for not checking what you are paying for...

      4. Joe 35

        Re: "The basis of this article is laughable"

        Not so funny when you have paid for seriously expensive test hardware only to find it is not going to do things you expected

        =====

        That is nothing at all to do with this practice, and everything to do with being inept at purchasing. IF there are things you "expect" then write a list of them down and ask the vendor if they are included or to price them in

    2. AMBxx Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: And this differs from, say, what Microsoft have done for years .. how?

      I was going to say the same thing, but looks like people are getting upset, so I'll shutup!

      If you find what you're buying doesn't do what you need, you've either been misled or bought the wrong thing.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: And this differs from, say, what Microsoft have done for years .. how?

        "you've either been misled"

        Yes, the salesman bamboozled the PHB and the techs are left with the POS that only does half of what was expected.

    3. Charles Manning

      Re: And this differs from, say, what Microsoft have done for years .. how?

      Exactly right. Nothing new at all. I've been in the electronics/software industry for over 30 years and it has always been thus.

      Back in 1982 or so I worked for a company that used ICL kit. We had a huge line printer that came in two speed grades. We'd bought the low speed option and paida lot to get a speed upgrade.

      The technician opened the case pulled out a jumper and closed the lid, leaving with the jumper in his pocket. Job done.

      Does it really matter what the technician did to speed it up from 300lpm to 600? Nope. We saw value in the faster printer and were prepared to pay for the value. If this had been achieved by pulling a jumper, changing formware or installing new meachinery makes no difference.

      When you buy a scope or whatever, you're buying a feature set, not hardware or software. How the manufacturer chooses to deliver the feature set is their damn business - not yours.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's the old mantra of business: always go for lock-in and repeat business. That's why rental and lease models are becoming the norm, why meditech companies seek treatment regimens rather than cures, why the average home appliance doesn't last much past ten years, etc. The money you rake in allows you to quash the "nice guys" who try for the one-and-dones because once you sell a one-and-done, you probably never hear from that customer again (thus why one almost never hears of Kirby or Electrolux vacuum cleaners anymore--the ones that were sold long ago are still running).

  5. Richard Jones 1
    Facepalm

    Not Always a Bad Thing - But Only if You Know in Advance

    I was buying big devices a while ago that most people were paying about £2million a pop to obtain. Not having that budget and not needing all of the features, I negotiated a deal that brought the cost down below £0.5 million. Sure the incremental upgrades cost slightly more than the upfront cost, but we only turned on what we needed when the business existed, i.e. we had a customer with cash in their hand who wanted the upgrade.

    However, all features we considered essential to the operation were delivered and working on day 1 and everyone knew exactly what they were getting and expected to deliver.

    What is not acceptable is the hidden slicing that some appear to use. Oh you want to back up/disaster recover/obtain management statistics, etc,, that is an extra cost.

    No! Make sure your supply contract specifies what you expect and require, BEFORE you sign up to the deal.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not Always a Bad Thing - But Only if You Know in Advance

      No! Make sure your supply contract specifies what you expect and require, BEFORE you sign up to the deal.

      That's the idea of a TCO calculation - you go through your expected needs over the complete lifecycle. The next step is to get the provider to sign up to the same model so they can't come with creative upgrades that elevate your costs within an agreed margin. Doing that tends to immediately show up the players who go low in the bidding process with the intention to recover that multiple times over time (the basic trick played on governments).

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Not Always a Bad Thing - But Only if You Know in Advance

      No! Make sure your supply contract specifies what you expect and require, BEFORE you sign up to the deal.

      I've seen several cases of "this gear was exactly right for what we did when we bought it a year ago, but now that we're having more customers shoving more stuff at us to service/fix/tweak, it becomes increasingly limited unless we're able to add functions x, y and z. If the manufacturer can't add it, and it wasn't in the specs back then, we'll have to buy new kit"

      Buying a crystal ball first to divine what your future requirements will be tends to go down badly with the average beancounter; buying overspecced gear tends to suffer the same fate.

      Beancounter haruspicy is equally bad at predicting future developments, but has the advantage that the equipment budget can be better matched to the requirements as expected by the techies.

  6. Pete 2 Silver badge

    This is real "free" software

    The other side of the coin is that since customers are savvy enough (and have always been) to know that these extra features cost the supplier nothing, they are a nice, easy target during the negotiations when you are thinking about what to buy. (Obv. this is intended for corporate users, not people who just walk into a shop, wave the plastic and walk out with a box under their arm).

    When you are buying that $40,000 server - or, more likely, a few dozen of them, nobody actually pays the list price: most customers pay far more, since they will want an integrated package that includes warranty, support, training, installation and that funny "software" stuff - which can cost many thousands but comes on a 10p DVD.

    So during the negotiations, the buyer says "we want this, that and the other" to which the salesperson says "'scuse me, I'm just mentally spending the commish" then puts down the latest copy of Yatching World and replies "Ahh, but you'll also want X, Y and Z too" (and picks up the magazine again).

    Once the sales person thinks the deal is done, that's when the canny buyer drops the bombshell: "Oh, how about turning on the extra-turbo-whizzy feature, too? It's only a licence key and the feature's already there - so it doesn't cost you anything". Upon the prospect of their 24-footer (!) sailing away from them, the sales person will, at that point, agree to pretty much anything. And if you time the deal to be just before the end-of-quarter, they'd probably give you a go on their new yacht, too. Hence all those "features" are really just no-cost-to-anyone negotiating points.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is real "free" software

      I would think a savvy sales person would also be talking with a rival of said company, offering a similar deal on the basis that whoever pays the most gets the deal. That can counter an ultimatum with, "You know, I'm currently in talks with your rival as well. HE'S willing to PAY for that turbo switch license...AND X and Y on top of it. But if you're willing to pay for the switch, X, Y, AND Z, I'd be willing to close the deal out today. Otherwise, I can't guarantee it'll still be there tomorrow..."

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: This is real "free" software

        "You know, I'm currently in talks with your rival as well. HE'S willing to PAY

        Maybe it's above my paygrade, but I can't see why a salesman would use that tactic when he can sell to both customers. So what if one customer gets a better deal, he still gets in the region of double the commission.

        1. YetAnotherPasswordToRemeber

          Re: This is real "free" software

          @John Brown

          You have a far too high a regard for sales people, thinking that there will only be one sale. He WILL be selling to both customers but has now managed to wrangle more money out of at least one of them

    2. The BigYin

      Re: This is real "free" software

      I know you put free in quotes, but as "Free Software" is already an actual thing (and not as restrictive as "Open Software" can sometimes be) I think we need a new term for this.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You have bought the device

    So the device is yours to hack around as much as you want.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You have bought the device

      Not anymore since most of the functionnality is now in software. This was the point of the article.

      Consider this like DVD or Blue Ray disks: you bought them, they're yours but you are not allowed to hack them.

      1. The BigYin

        Re: You have bought the device

        The disc is yours, the movie/song on it isn't.

  8. Steve Todd

    What's new?

    You've always had to pay for software. Client licence counts have been around for ages (Novel and Microsoft being prime exponents). Plug-in extra functionality likewise. The only difference is that the plug-ins have been pre-installed and all you need to do is activate them. Any IT manager worth his/her salt should have worked out the total cost of the features they want/need.

    Open source removes the need for licensing, but doesn't work well for vertical or specialised markets and adds to support costs (either in house or purchased)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's new?

      > You've always had to pay for software.

      Wrong. I'd like to cite every piece of Free Software and every piece of (truly) Open Source Software as examples. Let's pick one...umm...GNU/Linux. The world would stop in a heartbeat if that went away. Oh what next. HTML? I guess we an consider that Free & Open. TCP/IP? Free & Open.

      > [Open source] doesn't work well for vertical or specialised markets

      Wrong. By being able to re-purpose/re-implement pre-existing tools/protocols interoperability is massively increase. This is why F/OSS is found all over vertical specialised markets (supercomputers, share trading, automotive, telecommunications...)

      > [Open Source] adds to support costs (either in house or purchased)

      Wrong. F/OSS tends to have substantially lower support costs either because it's free (community/self-service) or because the systems are more efficient. The cost of an *individual* may well be more, but as they can accomplish more tasks, the overall cost is lowered.

      Hat-trick of wrongness!

      1. Steve Todd

        Re: What's new?

        "I'd like to cite every piece of Free Software..."

        Which costs you money to configure and support. No matter where you got it from and for how much, by the time it has been integrated into an environment then it has cost you. If you're a hacker at home then that cost is only time, for companies time is money.

        "By being able to re-purpose/re-implement...."

        Which is kind of like saying that it's easier to write an application in a high level language than assembler. It's easier again to take a pre-written application off the shelf, but if there's nothing available in the FOSS world then the tools and stacks are no better (and can be considerably worse, Eclipse still makes me shudder). Closed source dev tools also don't prevent you from using or creating open source components.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What's new?

          "Which costs you money to configure and support."

          So what? It's still Free (as in freedom) Software and that's the important thing.

  9. Adrian Midgley 1

    Closed source...

    Best avoided.

    Quite how open source makes support more expensive eludes me.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Closed source...

      It's a cardinal rule of business. You're not a business if you're not making money. If they don't get you one way they'll get you another way.

      Take printers. You can either have an expensive printer with decently-priced supplies or a cheap printer with expensive supplies. If you try to find a cheap printer AND cheap supplies, you'll find it won't last long.

      High-quality, inexpensive, long-lasting — Pick any TWO.

    2. Steve Todd

      Re: Closed source...

      Quite how open source makes support more expensive eludes me.

      Easy. Either you have to pay for your own staff that can build and configure the software for you, or pay an external company. Open Source techies are no cheaper than WinTel types (often they can be more expensive). Since Open Source companies make ALL of their money from charging for support they have no incentive to make things easier so it generally costs more in man hours to configure or sort out.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Closed source...

        "Open Source companies make ALL of their money from charging for support they have no incentive to make things easier so it generally costs more in man hours to configure or sort out."

        SO, without any evidence to support your claim, you accuse 'Open Source' companies of dishonestly over-charging their customers.

        1. Steve Todd
          Stop

          Re: Closed source...

          @NumberFive & @AC

          You seem to have failed to understand the point. It is not dishonest not to be interested in making something simpler, especially when you make your income from knowing how to do that something. You'd be putting yourself out of a job.

          Closed source companies make money from both selling you the licences and support contracts. It costs them money to employ support staff, so they'd rather make it easy to configure and get paid for tasks that apply to the whole user base (like bug fixes or service packs). This means fewer support staff in your own company also, and developers who only have to worry about tailoring packages for your company, not maintaining the platform it runs on.

          I've nothing against the FOSS model, providing you realise the motivation of the authors and companies that back it. If they aren't interested in the kinds of thing you do then you'll be out of luck. Hence the demand for an OS like Linux (lots of folks want an OS), but there is similarly lots of closed source vertical code running on it because the number of possible clients won't support the open source model for them.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Steve Todd - Re: Closed source...

        Otherwise with close source software you don't have to pay your own staff, they will just work for free because of the closed software. Now I understand why are you so against FOSS.

  10. Locomotion69

    Options extra?

    Go buy a car. Basic price may seem OK, but the option list is enormous, and so is the total price at the end of the quotation :(

    Nothing new. Happens everywhere.

    1. Duffy Moon

      Re: Options extra?

      Who's crazy enough to buy a new car?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Options extra?

        Who's crazy enough to buy a new car?

        The people that supply me with 1 year old vehicles to buy :)

  11. David Roberts Silver badge

    Looked at new cars recently?

    You can have the slug, the cruiser and the road burner.

    All the same engine size, strangely.

    Oh, and what is this ECU thing?

    Some kind of computer?

    The golden screwdriver is alive and well in the auto industry.

    So much so that modern cars have protection schemes to prevent the ECU being modified by third parties for a low cost performance upgrade.

    1. frank ly Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Looked at new cars recently?

      Ah, but that's for your own safety and for emission controls compliance.

  12. Stretch

    Perhaps 3D printing will allow designs to be perfected, openly shared and everyone to benefit.

    But I doubt it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Perhaps 3D printing will allow designs to be perfected, openly shared and everyone to benefit.

      Can they already 3D print servers?

      /confused :)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's the problem?

    "To the manufacturers, it is, in essence, a way to get a device into a customer’s hands, at or just above cost..."

    Isn't that the point? By shifting generic hardware that is limited (in software) to the customer's spec, the product works out CHEAPER for the customer than the alternative (hardware built to their bespoke specifications)?

    If the customer fails to specify fully the (software) options that they require, then surely they would also have failed to specify fully the hardware options that they require under the "old" approach? Both ways result in "hobbled" systems and more money must be paid for each to be made functional. I even suspect that it remains cheaper to the customer for that upgrade to be effected through software than hardware!

    The only real difference that I can see is that one may have been able to "shop around" for hardware upgrades, but only the original vendor may be able to supply the necessary software upgrades. Such lock-in has the potential for abuse, which is where strong competition regulation is required.

  14. Fihart

    Data is born free but is everywhere in chains.

    I vowed never to buy a Plextor CD writer after finding that firmware updates were apparently only available to those who who had registered the warranty. Useless as I'd bought secondhand.

    A privately authored net page showing how to renew the drive and laser in an expensive Arcam hifi CD player for £10 instead of the £200 (obviously including labour) charged by the manufacturer was marred by finding a link to a service manual pdf had been severed. Perhaps copyright issues, but bloody-minded nevertheless.

    Fortunately, these are rare exceptions to the well-intended (if not always perfect) web support offered by other large and small manufacturers the world over.

    1. Kraggy

      Re: Data is born free but is everywhere in chains.

      What is data?

      In the case of this article it's actually someone's IDEAS, there's nothing 'free' about what I think, I am thankfully free to charge what I want for them and you are free not to pay me .. but please stop this '60s hippy notion that everything that exists is your by right, free of charge.

      1. Fihart

        Re: Data is born free but is everywhere in chains. @ Kraggy

        I think it fair to point out that the examples I gave are to do with products that the customer has already paid for. Firmware updates are, for example, often made available to fix manufacturers' screwups.

  15. Mage Silver badge

    Obsolete gear

    I have a DVB-S test meter. Satellite TV now has a lot of DVB-S2. Now DVB-S2 needs new hardware. That's fine.

    My gripe is that the purely software update to allow the test meter to have a poor spectrum analysis feature (900MHz to 2200MHz approx) is hundreds of ££.

    I have an Archos with now uselessly out of date Flash on its browser and no way to load my own applications. Only Archos supplied applications. The flash / HDD bootloader is so crippled with DRM that if you ever replace the HDD because it fails the replacement will not work.

    Both consumer and professional equipment you can assume that support is stupidly expensive (cheaper to buy new model) or non-existent.

    Lots of electronics goes to landfill needlessly.

  16. russell 6

    Pay to Play question

    Forgive my ignorance, I don't work in tech but I'm curious about it. Reading this article got me thinking at a tangent about which I have a question as somebody with no knowledge whatsoever, so please be nice.

    The tangent I went off on is Software Defined Networking, from what I understand this is the future particulalrly for Big Data. My question is if in theory it could be applied to the internet in general and if so could it also be used for Pay to Play at ISP level with regards to certain elements of the internet?

  17. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    This

    has been going on for years in the industrial control game

    A certain popular Japnese company has some 16 8 bit number held in the permanent memory, each bit controls a different option such as 1 bit turns on the on screen clock and 3 bits defines how much memory you have (and you pay through the nose for those memory chips too)

    The along comes a german company that sells a control that has all the options turned on by default and a nice 200 gig HDD too and everyone buys japanese to stay compatable with all the software written before .................

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Warranty voided

    If I have bought a 'scope then it is mine to do with as I wish however if I do something that is outside of the Ts&Cs of the supplier (such as opening it up) then I have no room for complaint if it doesn't work properly afterwards.

    This includes changing some of the 1s and 0s in the memory.

    That I could read a website where someone has done just that and do it to my own bit of kit is irrelevant.

    One of the reasons why a manufacturer disallows 'unauthorised upgrading' of equipment is that of liability.

    If I was in business I wouldn't home bake 'upgrades' , nor would I use any equipment in an 'unauthorised' manner, if someone dies because of a bit of kit that was used properly according to the manufacturers terms and conditions then I want the supplier/manufacturer to be held responsible.

    If I blow myself up cuz I was tinkering with my own kit, that's my fault and I bear responsibility.

    I used to work for a company where we sold conversion cables for our kit to be used with a variety of other devices.

    We published the schematics of the cables so you could make your own if you wanted to, in the main engineers bought the ready made cables because they couldn't be arsed to roll their own and also they didn't want the liabilty if they messed up.

    Homebrew people wouldn't buy the cables anyway (no loss there) and if we didn't publish proper spec then they would hack it themselves, possibly causing more support calls (more cost there))

  19. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    This is NOTHING new

    Networking and PBX gear has done this for DECADES. You buy a license and it unlocks the disabled features.

    I guess you've never used freeware either?

    Often, it's because it requires a license for a propriety bit of software, often it's just to screw you over.

    This is NOTHING new.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cars Too

    Citroen hobble their cars too. The local Citroen garage wanted £60+ to enable the auxiliary input to the built in radio, the setting is held within the engine management unit apparently and communicated to the radio via CANbus.

    Whilst I can have some sympathy with the idea that there is a major piece of software code being released by the unlocking of modules for the oscilloscope at the top of the story, or for Windows 7 Home vs Ultimate. The change needed for the auxiliary input was trivial, no hardware needed, and the charge a way for the garage to make some easy money. (Actual result: I found an independent who unlocked it for a lot less and to who I've switched my car servicing needs to.)

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. noominy.noom

        Re: Cars Too

        Re: Cars Too

        I was going to say that here in the U.S. everyone has access to the service light. But I see you mention a DMCA so you must be a Merkin also? It is trivial to turn the light off, and otherwise do anything else you want. Granted, I've not bought a new vehicle for about four years and none of my friends has either. But I've checked the codes and cleared the alerts on both my 2006 Galant and 2010 Dodge. My son has done so on his 2009 Chevrolet pickup. And the local auto parts store has a list of codes in a booklet hanging on a shelf. The codes are readily available in numerous places.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Cars Too

          You can use a program (like Torque for Android) together with an ODB-II adapter to read, interpret, and clear fault codes.

  21. bpfh
    Boffin

    Golden Screwdriver - or Customer Paied Break

    I remember this one from my time in a big blue hardware company, where the grey haired field engineers told me about their times with customers, one of whom caught out an "inspector" (local name for the field engineer) sitting down reading a novel in the computer room. A processor upgrade was called for and the invoice was accepted, to add several hardware processors and 3 hours of time to install. Licencing also stated that the customer was not allowed to se the system internals via a confidentiality agreement and that the engineer was to be left alone for the duration of the upgrade.

    The field engineer rolled up at 11 AM with a large bag, closes the door, opens a side panel of the mainframe, reaches inside with a torch, flips a sequence of DIP switches, closes the door, then sits down, back to the mainframe, and reads a novel for the remaining 2 hours 50. An hour later, the IT manager swans in to tell the engineer that he is breaking off for a business lunch and will not be back for a few hours, and so to leave the intervention release sign off with his secratary... Explanations were requested and had to be told that the hardware was already in the system and just needed to be activated through a switch.

    All further system upgrades happened for that company around 11.30, and the field engineer was kindly asked to put the IT manager's lunch on expenses to keep him quiet ;)

  22. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    It's worse than simply incremental unlocks

    What they do is they tell you you can buy the "basic" version but then you find that it lacks some absolutely basic functions and you have to upgrade to some kind of "pro" or "advanced" version, with bells and whistles you absolutely don't need, just to get the real basic stuff working.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Raspberry Pi selling activation codes?

    "Take the poster child for cheap and open computing, Raspberry Pi, which is selling activation codes to enable playback of certain video types in hardware"

    Raspberry Pi isn't selling activation codes, they're re-selling third-party codec licenses for MPG2 and WVC1 and others.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Consider the case where a manufacturer of a product has some small proportion, say 10%, of its customers who would want and use a (software) feature. The base product is priced competitively and a price increase would hamper sales to the 90% of customers who have no need for the feature. The development and maintenance costs of the feature are non-trivial. The product manager is not going to invest in the feature's development unless the firm can make money from it. Developing a separate product just to include the new feature complicates everyone's lives and will incur additional costs. An additional cost to use the feature makes complete sense.

    Being transparent about all of this is the key to being considered a good corporate citizen. Of course, even if one is transparent, such mechanisms can still be used as a pure marketing gimmick, such as the "faster 9mm reloads". There are many shades of grey in between.

  25. Phil_Evans

    More subtly - There's nothing new here

    Yes, this concept that you pay for what you get has been around for years now and yes, you buy the 'version' you want to use (Like Office 20xx) and, well, use it without further concern.

    What this article touches on nicely is the wonderful world of the commercial datacenter (read cloud) that has cottoned onto the idea of measuring what you are using. I see a growing facility with all wares where you can use pretty much what you like, so long as you pay for it. This is the meter of things with mobile phones today. You can call your Granny in Tihuana from Marrakech if you really want to and talk all day. You would then, of course be bankrupt and facing debt orders for the rest of your life, subject to credit worthiness in the first place.

    So it will become(I believe a lot sooner than we think) in the world of software. AWS/Azure/other Cloud infra already allow you to ramp up as much virtual kit as you want/are allowed to do. There's no 'purchase' involved. No cost of ownership/capital shenanigans. And Office 365 and the ilk will be paid-as-consumed.

    For hardware, well, that's disappearing and let's face it, slabs are absolutely devoid of installed functionality unless you're hooked up to Google on 'droid or Appstore on iOS.

  26. heyrick Silver badge

    They used to do this with hardware

    Video recorders - when they stopped being boards piled full of analogue circuitry and became a single board with a handful of ICs, you could sometimes "upgrade" it by altering links on the board. After looking at the number of heads on my drum, and finding a service manual, I was able to upgrade a cheap VHS deck to Nicam stereo and SP/LP. Seems it was cheaper to build "a video deck" and make the model differences by wire links on the board, than the expense of designing and building several completely different models.

  27. my fingers stuck
    Linux

    This is real "free" software

    as with all sales pitches, the one who has the greatest need loses, be it the sales person needing a commission cheque, or a buyer needing a new gizmo thingy.

  28. Tony W

    Very old news

    I can only imagine that the author isn't familiar with modern hardware other than computers. Two old examples from my own field: digital hearing aids and high end sound level meters.

    Usually I'm reasonably happy to choose the price/features point that suits me. But I was caught out when something I thought was a basic feature turned out to be an expensive extra. I argued that I'd told the sales engineer what I needed the equipment to do, and eventually haggled the vital "upgrade" at half price. It taught me a lesson.

  29. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Easy come, easy go

    Back in the days when I ran a support department I knew a couple of service engineers who made good money performing "field upgrades" for customers who'd bought the cheap model and only needed a new set or ROMS and a link changing to have the top of the line model.

    I could never prove it of course and took the attitude that it was only the bean-counters who were losers in the end - we had happy customers who never complained (keeping their heads down) and service engineers who loved their jobs - win win all around.

  30. ecofeco Silver badge

    Eh? Spreading?

    It's been like this for a long time. One of the first business models of the Internet, but pioneered long before that with disk based software.

  31. poopypants

    Ah, memories...

    I remember writing code that implemented password protected "Golden Screwdriver" upgrades to an 8085-based statistical multiplexer over 30 years ago. Gave one of our sales creatures a nice little source of extra income on the side.

  32. Someone Else Silver badge
    Pirate

    Not just for supercomputers....

    If the customer wanted to activate the additional capacity at a later date, the customer would pay the fee and an IBM engineer would turn up and literally remove a screw, or in later hardware, install a software patch and the upgrade was complete. Because it was just a pure profit exercise, those upgrades were referred to as golden screwdriver upgrades. This was common practice amongst supercomputer manufacturers of the day.

    That is not just for supercomputers. A certain "midicomputer" manufacturer did the same thing: Pull off a jumper, and you get a set of additional "premium" CISC-style instructions. Pull off another jumper, and a different set of premium instructions were now available.

    (The name of this computer manufacturer shall remain unnamed, to protect the guilty. But the name included the name of a midwest pancake house chain, and a brand of white glue.)

  33. Andrew Jones 2

    Samsung TV!

    TV's annoy the hell out of me when they do this -

    In 2006 when I bought the 42" Samsung LCD TV for the Cafe to run our presentation on - I noticed when I got it setup and was playing with the menus that it had a demo for some mode (can't really remember the name now) which made HALF of the screen super super detailed and crystal clear which of course by comparison made the remaining half of the TV without this special tech applied look absolutely terrible - now I can't say for 100% certain that it was a software thing, but I'm pretty sure that the cost of making panels that are half new fangled and half old tech would be prohibitively expensive - that I can rule out it being a hardware thing. Now the thing that irritates me - is that if I wanted the entire screen to use the new fangled option - I would have to upgrade to the next model of TV - even though it is clearly present in the model I have just bloody bought!

  34. Mark 65 Silver badge

    "A lot of the NAS makers use a custom operating system. This means that adding additional storage costs you extra. Until your owner’s licence is upgraded, that additional disk capacity goes unused. You won’t find that in the pre-sales marketing material."

    Name them and shame them please. If they don't tell the customers before hand and it is an indisputable fact then we should be told.

  35. TAJW

    Wang was doing this on their office systems back in the 70's and 80's. If you flipped the right switches on the motherboard in the system unit you enabled the software which was already loaded on the system. Techs were told to swap the motherboard if customer who just bought an expensive upgrade was watching so they would feel like they were getting value for their money. They would likely be piqued if you just flipped a single DIP switch and suddenly the upgrade worked.

  36. tlhonmey

    Where did it go wrong?

    Don't know about elsewhere, but in the USA it went wrong with the DMCA, which made what the fellow with the oscilloscope at the top of the article did an automatic felony, even if no such terms were included in the sales contract. (It's very rarely prosecuted though, just used to extort money/behaviour from people) And I'm not talking about him posting the instructions, I'm talking about using the workarounds, on a piece of hardware he theoretically owns.

    Meanwhile, certain large interests *cough Disney cough* have managed to get the copyright term pushed out to over 120 years. And even once those copyrights expire, under the DMCA it will *still* be illegal to bypass the copy protection to make any copies...

    And so software and hardware lockouts are protected with the force of law. It will be coming to a PC near you next. Micro$oft is already requiring some platforms to be locked down so that they will not run any other OS without buying permission.

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