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    An alternative could be requiring companies to provide hardware specifications and/or open source the software if they want to drop software support for hardware.

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      Something like, “We no longer profit by this, and so we must have no reason to prevent others from maintaining it, at their own cost, if they choose to do so”?

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        This approach may not be practical – successive generations tend to retain a large chunk of older generation codebase while adding new features. In my experience, code is only added, rarely removed. :-) Also devices today are not isolated, they have a huge amount of ecosystem from other manufacturers. Maintaining old devices will also require commitment from the ecosystem, which rarely have any incentives to do so.

        I don’t know what the practical approach is, sadly. :-(

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      I don’t see how a law mandating software updates would solve the problem that an un-updated PSP can no longer connect to commonly-used WiFi networks in order to perform the network because the protocol itself has changed.In any case, eventually communications protocols will change so much that old hardware is no longer physically capable of connecting over them. Is it reasonable to expect that, say, Apple should still support a circa 1998 iMac? Is it Apple’s problem that the original iMacs didn’t have a WiFi radio at all, and the only way to apply the update is via 56k modem or (probably 100Mbit? ) ethernet?

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        Also given the article is talking about the PSP, what would you need WiFi for anyway? The games are on UMD anyway (unless you bought the PSP Go in which case good luck) and perfectly playable. I believe if some of the games need a newer firmware, the appropriate firmware is actually also on the UMD.

        So, you could connect to WiFi to play multiplayer games. On a console that is older than the PS Vita which is also discontinued. So you can imagine how many players are gonna be online even if that worked.

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        The ethical thing to do would be to release the software source code and hardware designs once a product has reached its end of useful life. EOL on a product comes, how to maintain it becomes open knowledge. This would enable easier deconstruction, life-extension by enthusiasts and repairers, etc. No laws necessary, because patent-protected things remain patent protect (the merits of IP is a separate argument).

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          It may not be practical as EOL devices do retain a significant chunk of codebase that is in use in newer generations as well.

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            that seems like a red herring. even if the released code is not used in newer generations, it would still hurt profits, as the older products would be more useful for longer.

            whether “practical” is a fair substitute for “acceptable to tech companies” is another question.

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              You’re right. IP registration provides some protection, but not really enough: only punishment for unlicensed use with a high cost of adjudication and questionable likeliness of restitution.

              If we assume that IP registration and protection always inhibits innovation in order to encourage investment and profit, what’s a tenable way to balance the rights of users with the rights of inventors? That’s the stupid hard question.

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            No, what we really need is to properly plan for software end-of-life. Nothing lasts forever.

            “We Need Software Updates For 1000 Years” would be a dumb suggestion, yet “forever” is even more. It’s longer than the history of civilization. It goes right up to the heat death of the universe, and beyond. Asking for software to be updated “forever” is just obviously totally unreasonable. Oh, you didn’t mean forever forever? OK, how long did you actually mean?

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              And let me guess, you also don’t want a subscription payment for your 15-year-old PSP? How ’bout a pony?

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                But even if [the added costs] fell wholly on the purchaser, consumers would, I suspect, be willing to pay a few dollars more for a gadget if that meant reliable access to software for it—indefinitely.

                That seems completely at odds with reality to me. I mean, okay, some consumers would be willing to do that. Clearly there’s a market for more expensive devices with higher-quality support. But judging by the market dominance of low-end devices, it seems to me a lot of consumers are far more eager to pay a few dollars less for a device that’s good enough for the moment.

                And it probably won’t be “a few dollars more.” The purchase price of the device will basically have to fund a perpetual annuity that will cover the expected cost of keeping an engineering team proficient enough on an increasingly obsolete platform that they can provide the mandatory updates. And you can’t get there by just charging a few dollars for an annual support subscription, either: as the device wanes in popularity, the number of subscribers will drop too low to support the maintenance costs, and you’ll have to raise the subscription price for the remaining users. This will probably not go over well with people who expect “a few dollars more” to get them a limitless amount of engineering time over the span of decades.

                And finally, are companies permitted to go out of business under this scheme? I’ve accumulated a bunch of spare hardware over the years, and a lot of the older bits of gear are made by companies that no longer exist. Who do I sue when the updates stop coming to me?

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                  are companies permitted to go out of business under this scheme? I’ve accumulated a bunch of spare hardware over the years, and a lot of the older bits of gear are made by companies that no longer exist. Who do I sue when the updates stop coming to me?

                  This would become a strategy: each product is its own company, the company folds when the product goes off the market.

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                    This is already a strategy employed by some real-estate developers to avoid liabilities. A new subdivision will be developed by This Specific Subdivision LLC, which builds it and then goes out of business. When, 10 years later, someone wants to sue over misrepresentation and/or corners having been cut, the company no longer exists.

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                  As I’m sure everybody here is aware, entirely too many things are being built with some dependency on some cloud infrastructure (because companies all want to try their hand at the recurring revenue game). Of course, when these companies fold, the infrastructure disappears (because nobody wants to keep paying the AWS bills) and the devices become ever more e-waste.

                  Additionally, when those companies fold, the assets (the software for which the OP wants perpetual updates) inevitably become owned by somebody/something else and they generally don’t give a hoot about our sense of ethics.

                  So I agree with many of the more dismissive comments here but I also agree that we could and should do better… and I suspect that organizations like ieee and acm are reasonable places to have these kinds of discussions.

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                    At first glance, this seems impossible. But with global warming and the environment in mind, I do wonder if it wouldn’t solve many our problems. It wouldn’t be be economically sane to offer infinite software updates for a one-time purchase, but for a recurring fee? That seems a lot more viable. Just sell the updates instead of giving them away for free. It is not even unthinkable, considering the massive movement towards subscription services that has been going on in the software world.

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                      I don’t think this kind of law would solve any environmental problems. The environmental impact of a piece of consumer electronics like a PSP is that it took some amount of energy to build it in a factory (and build all of its inputs, transitively, until you get to the energy cost of mining them out of the ground), and took some amount of energy to ship it from the factory to the consumer. Exactly like every other physical good that people use - there’s nothing special about consumer electronics.

                      The chain of reasoning that someone might perform to conclude that a law requiring perpetual software support of consumer hardware devices would solve the environmental problem of global warming is something like: a law would force manufacturers to provide software support for a longer period of time -> consumers would use their devices for longer than they currently do in the absence of such a law -> consumers would be less prone to buying new devices -> this would reduce demand at electronics factories to build and sell new consumer electronic devices -> they would use less energy as a production input -> less energy implies less burning of fossil fuels for energy -> less CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.

                      I can see multiple problems with this chain of reasoning; to pick one in particular, I don’t think people actually do buy new electronic devices solely because their old ones no longer receive software updates. I think people buy new electronic devices because the state of the art of electronics devices is actually advancing, and people want to be able to do new things that new devices let them do and old devices can’t. A PSP that still received software updates doesn’t actually replace something like a Nintendo Switch - I can’t use a PSP to play Breath of the Wild or Metroid Prime 4, and if economic conditions compelled video game manufacturers to design modern games like these for the PSP’s hardware, because it was prohibitively expensive to sell new hardware, they would likely be inferior games.

                      Something that people who are concerned about the environmental impact of human economic activity don’t think about clearly is that the environmental benefit of avoiding energy/resource use in a particular economic production process only happens if it is prohibitively expensive to use that particular energy or resources. A world where everyone was still playing video games on a PSP because after 2008 it became prohibitively expensive for companies to build a new video game system, would be one where everyone’s material standard of living was lower because all sorts of electronics made with similar manufacturing techniques would also be prohibitively expensive. If the cheapest smartphones cost $50,000, there would be way fewer smartphones manufactured because way fewer people could afford them at that price, and a billion people in the 3rd would would just not be accessing the internet.

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                        I don’t think people actually do buy new electronic devices solely because their old ones no longer receive software updates. I think people buy new electronic devices because the state of the art of electronics devices is actually advancing

                        Well, the size of the set of people who upgrade because a device improved is not empty, but is the size of the set of people who upgrade due to needless obsolescence fully empty? Two things can both be upgrade reasons to different people. There’s an environmental win if anybody stops upgrading, not necessarily everybody.

                        I’m typing this from a 2013 era desktop that I could easily afford to replace. I don’t because it works, it’s updated, replacing it seems like effort, and I’m just too lazy. So I don’t think it’s true that I’d buy new electronics unless it’s prohibitively expensive - I just need moving to a new thing to be less convenient than using the old thing, which tends to favor the old thing unless the broader ecosystem actively rejects its ongoing use.

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                          The other part of this if were specifically talking about environmental impact is spare parts. Not just in the right-to-repair sense, but how long should Sony be required to keep the manufacturing line for PSP replacement batteries running? LiPos have a bad shelf life in general; they can’t really just produce 15 years worth of spares and stuff them in a warehouse somewhere because 15 years later they won’t be any good.

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                            But your new desktop allows you to use all the things modern desktops do (which is also why Android 2.3 has endured such a long time). Imagine a world where most modern software were not available for your machine. Sure, you get software updates for your 2013era Firefox 18 but nothing new is coming out, since all machines have moved to, say, RISC-V since and support for x86 was dropped entirely. This is the situation with the PSP.

                            Yes sure, I have an old MacPro 2010 that upgraded with a halfway decent graphics card makes it a power-hungry but feasible Steam machine for the kind of gaming I do, but this is because post-2010 software still runs on it. If I had been limited to software from that era it would be way less useful and its main use would be to be carted around to vintage computer festivals to show off how well it runs Hypercard or so.

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                              The fact that this is feasible for you reflects the fact that in many ways desktop PC technology has actually stopped getting better, at least meaningfully better, and the time where it topped out was very roughly around 2010. If the computer you had was of 2008-vintage rather than 2013 (just five years older), there’s a much better chance that you’d be interested in upgrading - you’d see that many things people can do with modern desktop computers, such as visiting modern websites, don’t work very well on that hardware, you’d be much less likely to have a SSD, which really did represent a noticeable performance improvement (and which uses resources and energy to make, just like a PSP or any other piece of electronics).

                              PCs themselves don’t generally have software updates in and of themselves anyway; rather it’s the operating systems on them that do (and various specialized components like the CPU or SSD might have their own separate and less routine firmware update process).

                              If you ran modern Windows on your PC, you would still get updates for as long as Microsoft supported it - so if you ran Windows XP on that machine you’d be out of luck, but if it was Windows 7 you might still be ok. Of course eventually Microsoft will stop supporting Windows 7, but will support some new version of Windows that you can buy (will such a law make it illegal for Microsoft to stop supporting a version of Windows? Force them to start supporting Windows XP again? Windows 95?). Perhaps Microsoft might want to stop supporting hardware configurations that don’t have any USB 3 ports, perhaps by only making it possible to actually install the OS over USB 3. USB 3.1 was released as a standard in 2013, so it’s unlikely that your computer has it (although you could still add it via a PCI card - another electronic component that uses energy and resources to manufature! - if necessary). Maybe the law would have to have a provision that made it illegal not to require OS manufacturers in the mid-2020s to assume that USB 3 exists…

                              Of course if you ran Linux on that machine, it would be supported for longer. But even the Linux kernel dropped support for i386 machines as of kernel version 3.8 - with Linus Torvalds’ full blessing. Dropping software support for 25 year old hardware doesn’t sound like a forever software update to me - maybe the Linux foundation would need to be sued or criminally charged under this law?

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                                If the computer you had was of 2008-vintage rather than 2013 (just five years older), there’s a much better chance that you’d be interested in upgrading

                                As luck would have it, I read your comment from (and am replying from) a 2007 MacBook.

                                you’d see that many things people can do with modern desktop computers, such as visiting modern websites,

                                That’s true, but not because of hardware. This 2007 MacBook is a great example of the lack of software updates forcing unnecessary obsolescence - the newest OS X it supports is 10.7, meaning it can’t run a modern browser and can’t browse a lot of sites. The hardware is fine. It had a user serviceable disk, RAM, and battery, so it’s had an SSD for a long time and its third battery holds a charge fairly well. From an environmental point of view, upgrading to an SSD seems less damaging than replacing the entire device.

                                But to be clear though, I was just taking issue with your comment that the only way to avoid rapid hardware upgrades is to dramatically raise cost. That logic sort of implies that the instant consumers get money we go buy electronics, so if they cost more it’d take longer to get that money and we’d buy less. Tech incomes though mean most of us on this site can afford to buy new hardware tomorrow, so there must be a reason we don’t that’s not about money.

                                Updates “forever” seems unrealistic and I never meant to imply that it should happen. It’s still a valid question though whether it’s appropriate to end software updates when a majority of devices manufactured of a particular model are still in active use. When that occurs, it strongly suggests software updates are being used to drive hardware sales when users are otherwise happy with the hardware.

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                              Something that people who are concerned about the environmental impact of human economic activity don’t think about clearly is that the environmental benefit of avoiding energy/resource use in a particular economic production process only happens if it is prohibitively expensive to use that particular energy or resources.

                              This is a bit of a misrepresentation. All of the climate activism I have been to recently has emphasised the importance of economic and climate justice taking place at the same time. The point is to redistribute resources and to globally reduce emissions. For some this will mean getting by with less. For many more this would mean greater access to resources.

                              More accurate carbon pricing on products doesn’t have to mean that people who are currently poor have to do without, but for that to happen there will have to be massive redistribution through aid and increased wages for poorer people all over the world (which will mean increased product prices on many items that are currently cheap only because human time is valued so differently in the global south versus the north, though automation and efficiencies will also become more competitive as labour becomes reasonably priced and that can help here).

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                                This is a bit of a misrepresentation. All of the climate activism I have been to recently has emphasised the importance of economic and climate justice taking place at the same time. The point is to redistribute resources and to globally reduce emissions. For some this will mean getting by with less. For many more this would mean greater access to resources.

                                Unless a specific anti-carbon-emission scheme entails literally every human being in the world getting by with less resources whose production entails emitting CO2, it won’t actually work for the purpose of reducing CO2 emissions. What activists claim in the course of performing activism bears little relationship to what would actually happen in a world where a given policy actually exists and people make economic decisions in response to it.

                                More accurate carbon pricing on products doesn’t have to mean that people who are currently poor have to do without, but for that to happen there will have to be massive redistribution through aid and increased wages for poorer people all over the world (which will mean increased product prices on many items that are currently cheap only because human time is valued so differently in the global south versus the north, though automation and efficiencies will also become more competitive as labour becomes reasonably priced and that can help here).

                                It does mean that people who are currently poor (along with everyone else) has to do without, because “doing without” is the actual mechanism by which CO2 is prevented from being emitted into the atmosphere.

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                                  Less CO2 can be emitted at the same time as the carbon budget for most people increasing because of the massive inequality in global carbon emissions. See e.g. https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/consumption-co2-per-capita

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                                    This might be true; there’s a lot of economic processes producing goods and services that involve emitting CO2 besides consumer electronics manufacturing. Maybe flying planes turns out to dominate CO2 emission linked to economic activity and making it illegal to run an airline would reduce aggregate CO2 emissions more than everyone on earth being able to afford a cell phone. The point remains that if the specific thing you’re trying to reduce is resource consumption associated with inputs to making consumer electronics, the only way to do this is to make consumer electronics more expensive, so fewer people can afford to buy one, so fewer get physically made (making something illegal is one way of making it expensive - you could imagine a law saying that a person could only legally own one of a cell phone or a game console, and that would engender a black market in unregulated cell phones/game consoles, which would cost more money because of the illegality).

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                            No one must be obliged to provide such service. But they rather should provide the firmware as free software, so users can maintain it as long as it makes sense.

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                              Yes, and I need an airplane for my birthday.

                              How about something more realistic and focus on software that is not dependent on updates? We did this for decades, I see no reason why a good program needs updates.

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                                We need everything updates forever. That’s hyperbole, but this pattern is clearly needed way more broadly. cars, toasters, houses, software, communities, governments, crop fields …