Class Compliance and built-in obsolescence

You may have heard of the built-in obsolescence charge leveled at manufacturers, this would probably now be labelled fake news, prior to that it would have been labelled the CIA’s favourite put down – a “conspiracy theory”

Evidence to the contrary – proof even, does exist. Washing machine manufacturers seal bearings inside the drum, the bearings could be easily made replaceable, but are deliberately sealed rendering the device obsolete and not worth repairing, so not only is the old machine disposed of with all the energy costs and issues involved, a new machine has to be bought to replace the now “broken” one, so it has to be manufactured and delivered with all the financial and environmental costs involved. This includes the environmental cost of the person going out to work to provide labour in exchange for money to buy the new product.

This is where environmentalists are hilariously wrong. I use the word environmentalist somewhat disengenuously here to refer to the twitter campaigners and banner wavers rather than those that actually engage in research. They are obsessed with carbon footprints and diesel emissions.

The earth is a finite resource so every piece of steel that is produced is reducing the amount of steel available on earth unless it is recycled – for example, along with every single non-renewable resource on this planet, at the last count, that was EVERY SINGLE ONE.

So what the hell has this got to do with Class Compliance? If you are not familiar with the term, some information:

Class Compliant

In common usage, this means that a USB peripheral device is “plug and play,” meaning you can plug it in and it will work a Mac or Windows computer without installing proprietary drivers.

Mac and Windows come with generic USB drivers; there are several types, known as
“classes,” such as USB Video Device Class, USB MIDI Device Class, USB Mass Storage Class, etc. Peripherals that can work with those class drivers are referred to as “class compliant.” Because those “class” drivers are generic, they may not support product-specific or proprietary features — to access those non-“class” features usually requires a proprietary driver from the device’s manufacturer.

So that’s Class Compliance. The bit that Sweetwater missed (bless ’em, it’s a damn good description) is that class compliant devices that require no driver are automatically supported on all operating systems and platforms that support the concept – Linux for instance – or FreeBSD or OpenWRT etc.

So why aren’t all devices class compliant? The official reason given is in the last paragraph of the description. Ahhh.. so it’s exactly the same as the browser wars. One side implements a “feature” on top of an already agreed standard, to tweak the user into using the product they produce, so that websites then only support the funky new “feature” and that means the end use uses browser x instead of browser y.

MIDI is the same. Explanation to the uninitiated about MIDI – just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s rubbish. RS232, Mozart, pneumatic tyres, copper wiring, jet engines etc.

Two of the big MIDI device manufacturers decided to screw about with the standard and add their own proprietry standard on top. Roland has GS, Yamaha XG. Now both these are laudable achievements, I am just suspicious that it was an attempt to “get one over” on the competition. It didn’t work if that was the plan as everything manufactured supported the extensions eventually most of the time.

So back to class compliance. There is a problem with devices that have the extra add-on outside-any-standard proprietry “features”. They need drivers. For every single different operating system.
Some manufacturers are cool – they allow open-source guys to examine stuff and help them to produce drives for Linux, say. This allows cross-pollination of ideas and features, and can be extremely beneficial to the company. The end user also knows that since the drivers are FOSS, the device will continue to work under new iterations of the OS, and even in a worst-case scenario that support is dropped, the source code to work from is available.

Other manufacturers are openly hostile. MOTU is a prime example of anti-FOSS hostility. We are not just talking unhelpful, we are talking aggressive.

So is there a sub-set of non-proprietry commands? Sometimes. Roland/Edirol have been known to use hardware switches on their devices to allow “compliant” functionality – it is rare though.

So why would any company close source it’s drivers after making them proprietry for extra “features”?

Built-in Obsolescence. If the company does not produce drivers for OS whatever, the device in question is useless on that platform. Under Linux this seems laughable, but if you upgraded say, from Windows XP to 7, you will normally find (if you are a musician) that support has been dropped for about half of the expensive hardware you own. It’s boat anchors and door stops now. Landfill.

It has happened again and again. So the end result is a device that still works perfectly, is now deemed obsolete because the manufacturer does not release drivers for the product on the new OS.
So you go out and buy new hardware until this happens again. And again. And again. Or you can hobble along on an OS that the manufacturer repeatedly tells you is unsupported, by actually flashing messages onscreen at you to upgrade, and then sneakily tries to upgrade anyway by the old “opt-in” tick-box reversed with an “opt-out”. Thanks Micro$oft, thanks for the business I get restoring laptops and desktops your enforced 7 -10 upgrade screwed up.

If you go to sites like GearSlutz, these idiots and fanbois will actually defend the companies doing this. The argument goes like this “You can’t expect a company to support device X for ever you know! it would stifle new products and innovation!” yes – and revenue. The company in question wouldn’t have to support device X for ever – if they made the drivers open source to begin with. It becomes someone else’s problem. If the new products being sold are actually any damn good, people will migrate to them naturally. If you cut off support and just leave customers hanging – what message does that send to the customer? The company does not give a shit about you. You are bankrolling assholes.

So the real reason that manufacturers do not make devices class compliant, and then close source their drivers, and then refuse to assist any open source attempt is for one reason and one reason only. To get more money out of you.

So environmentalist banner wavers – try getting tech companies to release the driver software, it’s for the good of the planet.

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