back to article Product release cycles are killing the environment, techies tell British Computer Society

Bringing an end to the relentless nature of annual product release cycles is something that should be top of the agenda for the soon-to-run 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26. Or so says the BCS, formerly known as the British Computer Society, which reckons cutting electronic waste is the most …

  1. alain williams Silver badge

    Conflict of interests

    A company can boost its profits by selling more stuff if it makes life-cycles short. The environment is not its problem. Profits are for today, environmental problems are in the future. Even if a company does the right thing it will probably find that its competitors will not.

    Much like what will happen at COP26. Politicians want benefits in the current electoral cycle, climate problems are in the future. Even if a country does the right thing it will probably find that other countries will not.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Conflict of interests

      Interests can be steered.

      In many countries a lot of equipment has to meet safety requirements to be placed on sale. Looked at in the broader sense repairability can be seen as a public safety issue.

      If the choice is a longer life-cycle and selling of reasonably priced spares versus being not being allowed to sell products at all I'm fairly sure most companies would be able to decide pretty quickly to do the right thing.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Conflict of interests

        Not if it would be cheaper to lobby to get the standards changed in the name of the economy. Nothing like taking the most popular ball in town and threatening to go home with it...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Conflict of interests

      In short: end the software<->hardware innovation^W "bloat/arms race".

      yep, not seen much real innovation esp from the cartels owning the market,

      for eg Winslows 10 monthly updates run at 0.5-1GB per month (do the math, is BG really Mr eco?).

      Modern dev release/CI tools also eco-unfriendly (build and deploy everything when only one routine changed).

      1. Citizens untied

        Re: Conflict of interests

        I wonder what a world with "solutions" designed to solve actual problems would look like compared ours; where the only problem being solved is how to maximize ROI. Even the definition of "R" could be tweaked...

        Can't upvote enough the idea that BG, his ilk, and their influence on what constitutes "smart" are a very big part of the problem.

      2. SundogUK Silver badge

        Re: Conflict of interests

        Can we have this in English please?

    3. juice

      Re: Conflict of interests

      > A company can boost its profits by selling more stuff if it makes life-cycles short.

      But that's generally not what's happening here.

      Electronic device robustness and reliability is generally higher than it's ever been[*], thanks to a combination of mature production processes, the shift to solid-state storage/wireless connectivity and the increasing integration of things into a single SoC.

      Ironically, the latter may well hamper efforts to make things repairable, but when it comes out of the factory, it's pretty much guaranteed to work and keep working, even at the low end of the market.

      A far cry from Sinclair's calculators and black watches ;)

      The problem - as with fashion-clothing - is that people are upgrading because they have a perceived need to get the latest shiny. And far too many simply discard their old devices, or shove them in a drawer.

      We need to change the perception that old = boring and new = best. But that's a concept which has been firmly embedded in human society for millennia, so will be tricky!

      [*] I'll make a specific exception here for the various wireless bluetooth headphones which have become increasingly popular, since they are effectively unrepairable and the tiny batteries are exercised far harder than in other devices. But still, that's an artefact of the form factor, rather than an indictment of the technology!

  2. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "annual product release cycles"

    At last someone has shouted this in public. The WEEE mountain is horrendous and needs to be drastically reduced. However the problem is complex, and not just related to phones. Extending the life of hardware means extending the duration of compatibility, which means ensuring that OS, drivers and software will run on older kit. So the entire technology ecosystem has to adopt a move to durability before much will be achieved. Unfortunately, because revenues derive from sales, that probably means a shift to perpetual leasing with all its problems for users. Not only does the ultimate cost of "ownership" become very high, there's also the hazard of the provider turning off the kit or terminating the contract. What the best ultimate solution would be remains to be seen, but it's going to take a lot of careful thinking out. One possibility of course might include improved durability plus optional maintenance contracts for those who don't want to undertake their own repairs.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: "annual product release cycles"

      "which means ensuring that OS, drivers and software will run on older kit"

      The OS, drivers and software that ran on the older kit will continue to do so. If you want something he older kit didn't support then you will need something newer although the older products might need continuing security releases.

      The real clash comes when the old kit has some very expensive, much longer life machinery attached, such as a PC running W7 controlling some expensive machine tool or medical diagnostic equipment. That case could be dealt with by requiring the source code to be placed in escrow and released if the software is declared EoL before the equipment it was controlling.* If the S/W vendor doesn't want that then they have to look on provision for continuing support as part of the original cost of doing sales.

      "Escrow and release would also be the solution for security releases in general.

      1. Bartholomew Bronze badge

        Re: "annual product release cycles"

        And the same for NDA documentation. Want to EOL a chip, then you as a company need to release all the documentation related to that product.

      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: "annual product release cycles"

        The problem is, there is new software, but it is linked to new hardware. "An upgrade for a Win 10 compatible version of our CNC machines? Sure, we can do that, you just need to buy a new CNC machine!"

        That is the problem. We just isolate the hardware from the network and carry on. You can work around things like that.

        But what is important is that the operating system keeps getting security updates, whether that is on a $20 IoT device, a $200 smartphone, a $2,000 PC or a $20,000 server etc.

        People often use technology for a long time. My brother-in-law replaced his Samsung Galaxy S3 Lite and his wife's S4 Lite last year... Those were a good 7 years old and were only replaced because WhatsApp stopped working on them! But those things hadn't had security updates since 2014/2015!

        The problem is, nobody is willing to pay for support on those old devices, to get newer software or security updates, "we" have been conditioned to want the latest greatest new hardware, because that is the only way the companies know to make more money. Customer loyalty and satisfaction be damned! That leaves those that don't fall for the buying cycle, or how can't afford to replace devices on a regular basis are being put in "danger".

        Society and companies need to change, to make things last longer and keep those devices supported.

        That also means that we have to learn the value of that support and pay for it. The cost of the device usually has 2 years worth of updates calculated into it, then the user is expected to pay again for a new device. This needs to change, either the support for longer periods needs to be calculated into the price of the device (some high end devices already have this, to a certain extent, look at Apple's iPhone support lifecyles, for instance, or Microsoft's for PC, up until Windows 11, compared to Android generally being out of support after 2 - 3 years; it is slowly changing, 4-5 years is becoming more common, at least on high-end devices).

        Maybe it means we have to take out extended support contracts on our devices to keep them going. Or actually thinking about what you are buying and whether it actually needs to be smart...

        Our SmartTV is no longer connected to the network (and complains regularly about that fact), because it hasn't received security updates for 3 years now! No way I'll spend extra to buy a "smart" appliance again. I want to keep the appliance and the smarts separate to minimize untimely waste, by having to throw away a perfectly functioning device, just because it is too (cyber) dangerous to use.

        Does a dishwasher really need to tell you it needs more salt or cleaner? Do you really need to start it when you aren't at home? We bought a good quality non smart version. The same for the washing machine, it has a timer, that is good enough for us, we don't need to see how far through the cycle it is, when we are at work.

      3. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: "annual product release cycles"

        "The real clash comes when the old kit has some very expensive, much longer life machinery attached"

        Absolutely so, but the issue of drivers and applications is also present, e.g. drivers for new peripherals that are incompatible with an older OS, which is required because a newer OS can't run on the old hardware. There are also applications that refuse to run on newer OS, and sometimes for which there are no new replacements. We have to run XP on some machines in order to use some important electronics dev tools that suffer from this.

        1. Sometimes an Engineer

          Re: "annual product release cycles"

          Windows XP? Bah, far too modern.

          A few years ago (but still post-win10 release) I came across a CNC router that still ran on DOS. You had to upload the router code to the machine via a 5 1/4 inch floppy.

          And the best part was that DOS was a bolt on upgrade. The router actually took punch cards and the modification added a DOS computer that just bypassed the punch card reader part.

      4. DuncanLarge

        Re: "annual product release cycles"

        > PC running W7

        Wow, modern.

        Try win 3.1 ;)

        1. BenDwire Silver badge

          Re: "annual product release cycles"

          Surely that got upgraded to Win 3.11?

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "annual product release cycles"

        This is done already. The hospital lab where I work has XP, win2000 and win7 computers attached to various instruments. Of course none of the ancient stuff is connected to the network, or had a decent firewall in front of it.

      6. James Anderson

        Re: "annual product release cycles"

        “ The OS, drivers and software that ran on the older kit will continue to do so.“

        Not actually the case for windows 8/10.

        I the name of “enhanced security” numerous wi-fi, microphone and printer drivers ceased to function after a windows update.

        Had to ditch an otherwise perfectly good Epson printer the other day as the driver was borked by changes to Windows 8. It’s an Epson binary but they have no intention of fixing it as they would rather you bought a new printer. Which I did —- just not from Epson.

        1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

          Re: "annual product release cycles"

          I had to recycle a perfectly good 20 year old HP laser printer because W10 will absolutely not, under any circumstances, support PCL4.

        2. katrinab Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: "annual product release cycles"

          Usually I find this works

          Run the installer, and it will unpack all the files somewhere.

          Go to Device Manager, find the device and go to "Update Drivers"

          Point it at where it unpacked the files.

          It usually installs. You won't get all the other stuff that the installer provides in addition to the device driver. Usually that is a good thing. Sometimes it might not be.

          1. ITMA Bronze badge

            Re: "annual product release cycles"

            But the point is we shouldn't HAVE to faff about like this.

            What on earth does Windows 10 do that absolutely cannot be printed using PCL4?

            Fundamentally printing is making (predominantly black) marks on paper. That hasn't changed for a long time and printers today are still doing the same thing. So what is so earth shatteringly spectacular that Windows 10 can do when it comes to making (predominantly black) marks on sheets of paper that it has to use the latest PCL and can't do it with PCL4?

      7. SImon Hobson

        Re: "annual product release cycles"

        The OS, drivers and software that ran on the older kit will continue to do so. If you want something he older kit didn't support then you will need something newer although the older products might need continuing security releases.

        Hang on a minute there.

        I have an old iPad, it still does everything it did when I got it ... except for the functions Apple nobbled. I can no longer transfer stuff like films (what I used to use it for most, when travelling) because they took the USB sync feature out of OS X. And they have a policy of not keeping anything but the latest version of any software around on the store - so while there would have been software that will run on it, Apple actively blocks me from downloading it. I'm no stranger to running older software on older hardware - but on typical desktop OSs it's not generally hard getting hold of older versions, but in the Apple iThing world it's actively blocked.

    2. Roger Greenwood

      Re: "annual product release cycles"

      Not just software. I keep old IDE disks as spares for some of our large machines. They acquired a much higher status when I was told "yeah we can get you one shipped from Japan but it will take a week and cost £500" (this was many years ago). Now my precious stash is dwindling.....

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: "annual product release cycles"

        I have a large box of old hard drive under my desk - I remove them from machines that are being retired for security purposes. The central IT lot want them ground up... they take up only the space of a small lockable filing cabinet that doubles up as a coffee machine stand, and it still has plenty of room in it.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: "annual product release cycles"

        I believe CompactFlash is still a thing, and their interface is based on IDE. Have you tried fitting them in?

  3. karlkarl Silver badge

    Obviously this will be good for the environment.

    However in many ways it will be sad to see an end to an infinite supply of cheap ex-business surplus laptops.

    And lets be honest, their "solution" won't be to improve the lifespan of hardware. It will be some sort of rental / DRM system.

    Stockpile those old laptops whilst you can. The days of "open" computing are fast coming to an end.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      " it will be sad to see an end to an infinite supply of cheap ex-business surplus laptops."

      The smart money says you'll never see that in your lifetime.

    2. BenDwire Silver badge
      Facepalm

      I think Win 11 will see a huge increase in ex-business laptops, and many will be less than 3 years old. The execs have to have the new shiny ...

      1. Col_Panek
        Linux

        ... and I want their old shiny, CHEAP, to put the latest Linux on and run til deceased (me, or it).

        No more buying brand new bottom of the line consumer gear. I want it high spec, and burned in first.

  4. DavidYorkshire Bronze badge

    Windows 11 is an obvious example of this, and Microsoft should be getting a lot more criticism than they are over the system requirements for that.

    1. karlkarl Silver badge

      Yes but some of the blame should be on the consumers who have just flocked over to it without any real consideration / compromise of if they need it or not.

      Yes, they are slightly blackmailed with the fear of "security" which I feel is verging on illegal threats to non-technical users who don't know any better. However IT departments are literally chucking out the next wave of hardware just to "refresh" on the new edition. It is madness.

      At least when the Apple fans jump to the latest iPhone gimmick, there are smaller numbers. The size of some of these corporations and the skips that they fill up with hardware is slightly absurd. Many of them don't even allow employees to buy the hardware in fear of "espionage". Even if they remove the sodding HDD.

      Everything sucks but I am also worried that if we push to hard, it will simply become "illegal" for peasants like us to own real computers.

      1. DuncanLarge

        > Everything sucks but I am also worried that if we push to hard, it will simply become "illegal" for peasants like us to own real computers.

        I will defend my stockpile...

        I have all sorts. Even if I must be forced to run a spreadsheet program on my C64 or Psion 3a THEY WILL NEVER TAKE MY COMPUTERS

    2. DuncanLarge

      > Microsoft should be getting a lot more criticism than they are over the system requirements for that.

      Especially since it happily runs on a Pentium 4!

      What did you say Microsoft?

  5. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Green agenda

    Green behind the ears that is.

    Don't get me wrong - I am all for reducing the waste (and there are several mountains of it already) but rigid policies (tied to a fixed date) are usually a terrible idea.

    Recent events include the E10 fuel fiasco [whatcar.com] where it will probably end up causing more pollution than before due to the damage it can cause to engines, fuel lines and seals, to say nothing of petrol driven mowers requiring replacement (where I live those are just about a necessity). The old ones will probably mostly end up in the tip as being uneconomical to upgrade.

    Way to go.

    Software vendors also need to be put in the spotlight as those with long memories know that many 'updates' to legacy software will not run on older but perfectly useable kit quite apart from outfits like John Deere who prevent 'unauthorised' repairs. At another company, we were using a PCI and VME bus analyser (I first used that particular type in 1998) and the move to Windows 7 completely broke the viewer so I had to get an older computer off network and use sneaker net USB sticks to view the bus traces. Ridiculous really.

    In my day job I am in the repair business quite a bit (some of the kit is 40+ years old) and it is perfectly possible to repair stuff even that old with the right equipment, although training the newer staff how to analyse it can be interesting (I am reminded of a scene in Space Cowboys where the new whizz kid was asking about the 'ancient' electronics).

    The 'new shiny' problem isn't going away but it certainly needs addressing.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    someone has to hold big tech's feet to fire

    Legislation is a (partial, small-scale) solution, but e-waste is only a minor side-effect, not the cause. The real problem, which I don't think can be solved reasonably, is that we've grown rich, i.e. past the basic problem of daily survival (food and shelter). As a result, we became wasteful and our whole civilisation model is based on 'disposable' / pump and dump. This was 'ok', when resources were thought to be 'infinite' and you could always dump your shit out of sight, out of mind, until we multiplied and now see the end of 'infinite' - and our own shit starts floating back too. But, until a point it happens on a masive, intolerable scale, we'll keep pretending all's well because, look here, we're doing something! Like spending 10 years on deciding whether to introduce legislation to force manufacturers to extend the 'repairability' of their junk by whole 3 years or such Hurrah for green! eco! sustainability!

    Nah, I don't think any amount of legislation or incoming bullshit (that conference in Glasgow starting soon and did I hear it right they're spending 250M on security alone?) is going to change human behaviour in a serious way. Such a change will only come (and come pretty quickly) when we do run out of resources and start drowning in our won shit, quickly and on a large scale. Obviously, a propa nuclear war would help to change behaviour too.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: someone has to hold big tech's feet to fire

      Shifting habitual thought is a bit like turning a supertanker. A pandemic and the consequences - problems it's raised with supply chains and discovering that having everyone in the office isn't essential - is probably starting to do that.

      It's going to take time to work out that cities as presently used aren't sustainable but there's a lot of money invested in them, together with more than half a century's planning dogma, at least in the UK. Things might have to bite very hard to change that but bite they will.

    2. SundogUK Silver badge

      Re: someone has to hold big tech's feet to fire

      I don't think we are any where as near to "end of 'infinite'" as people seem to think. I constantly see references to 'outstanding reserves' with the implication that once these are gone they are gone. This is not true as new reserves are being discovered all the time.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: someone has to hold big tech's feet to fire

        no, we haven't reached the bottom of the barrel, but this actually makes our problem much worse. If we were to run out of fossil fuels and deplete mineral resources, we'd be FORCED to switch to alternative / renewable energy sources, no matter the cost. But as long as there's something to extract, we WILL extract, until there's nothing left, and this process keeps fueling our whole, unbalanced civilisation model which snowballs into turning this lump of rock into an uninhabited one pretty fast. Only that we haven't got to the point of designing a reliable safety boat to take us all away to another lump of rock, oh, never mind, we will think of SOMETHING when it comes to that. One of those great human 'we have a cunning plan' moments. Gods will have the last laugh then.

  7. Paul Uszak

    Complete waste of time.

    :-( I can nullify every single argument anyone will ever make with one simple word: "Safety".

    1. DuncanLarge

      Re: Complete waste of time.

      I can nullify that with:

      "What safety?"

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Complete waste of time.

      You can try, but as I have no clue what you're talking about, it probably won't work.

      For that matter, what are you talking about? Extending software support harms safety? Allowing people to use repair parts harms safety? Recycling electronics harms safety? Generating waste electronics helps safety? Generating more revenue for manufacturers helps safety? Talking with you harms safety? What argument do you think you're nullifying, and does it even have a safety element?

      1. BitGin

        Re: Complete waste of time.

        Extended software support

        Our devices contain components with a certain lifetime. It would be dangerous to extend software support because of the risk of fire.

        Using 3rd party parts and or service engineers is dangerous as we cannot guarantee the quality of the parts or instillation. Poor quality parts or installation is a serious fire risk.

        3rd party service engineers present a serious risk to children's personal data as paedophiles may download their photos while servicing their phones. Just think of the children!

        Etc etc

        Not saying i agree with it but this is what will happen. Iirc this has happened to cars in Europe where it's technically illegal (or at least will be if the rule ever gets implemented) not to use original branded spares when you do repairs because it's clearly not safe to use an unbranded part from the same factory.

        1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

          Re: Complete waste of time.

          Iirc this has happened to cars in Europe where it's technically illegal (or at least will be if the rule ever gets implemented) not to use original branded spares when you do repairs because it's clearly not safe to use an unbranded part from the same factory.

          I wonder how that would affect a pal of mine (he's a fully qualified motor mechanic) who keeps his wife's Porsche Cayenne going with VW Touareg parts. Same factory, same parts, different logo, half the price.

          1. ITMA Bronze badge

            Re: Complete waste of time.

            You can sort of understand this approach when many "unbranded" spares are NOT from the same factory as the branded ones, but are instead cheap, very poor quality rip-offs from a certain part of the world.

            You have to see some of the horrors of electrical "cheap knock-offs" on Big Clive's Youtube channel:

            https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtM5z2gkrGRuWd0JQMx76qA

            Or Dave Jones EEVBlog channel, who is even closer to the source:

            https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2DjFE7Xf11URZqWBigcVOQ

            But that will always be an issue for as long as (say) a printer costs £50 but almost anything for the same printer classed as a "spare" costs more than the bloody printer!

    3. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Complete waste of time.

      Equally arbitrary power attaches to "safeguarding", "GDPR" and "that will invalidate your insurance"

  8. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Great idea

    If the starter motor failed on your car, you would go to the garage and get a new part, rather than chucking the car away.

    Don't worry, car makers are doing whatever possible to change that. For instance, proprietary software required to inspect and/or configure the car is now something common.

  9. TWB

    Business first

    Sadly so many businesses are run solely to keep the business going - that is their only raison-d'etre. The service or whatever they do/make/etc is tertiary and just that annoying thing they have to do to make money often for other lazy/greedy people.

    The human race seems addicted to economics and does not seem to see another way forward.

    Maybe in 50 years we humans will exist in a different way without money and economics as we know it, but things rarely change overnight.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @TWB - Re: Business first

      50 years ? Don't think so. It scares me to think humanity will not get that far. If we analyze facts and evidence using scientific method and critical thinking, we can't possibly get a favorable outcome.

      With a little bit of luck I will not be around when that happens but I can't say that for my son.

      The end is in sight either we accept/believe it or not. It's one of nature's laws humans have cheated for too long.

      1. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

        Re: @TWB - Business first

        “ we can't possibly get a favorable outcome”

        Nothing changes, we are and will be the same human.

        Even with the same “the End of the World is nigh” cries coming from a new quasi religion of “Global warming”, but still coming as it had for thousands of years before us.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @TWB - Business first

          Much of those thousands of years before us were spent in "dark ages" where thinking outside of a narrow band was harshly punished and war was a constant feature of daily life. Not unlike we see across much of the world today.

        2. Julz
          Coat

          Re: @TWB - Business first

          Yay, what happened to all the Nuclear Winter Sooth Sayers. They seem to have gone a bit quiet recently despite nothing much changing of the worlds nuclear weapons posture. Remember the next ice age is coming warnings in the early nineteen seventies but I guess the global warming threat has solved' that one. Also the various biological and chemical world disasters of which covid-19 is just a pale shadow, they used to be a big thing. Just can't have enough life threatening world disasters to worry about. Almost as if there might be some advantage to be gained from scaring the shit out of the great unwashed public.

          Perhaps I should just duck and cover.

    2. SundogUK Silver badge

      Re: Business first

      "The human race seems addicted to economics" is a really weird thing to think. Economics is simply how human beings describe how we allocate limited resources. Until we live in a post-scarcity universe(#), there will be economics.

      # Think Iain M. Banks' Culture.

      1. LybsterRoy Silver badge

        Re: Business first

        --Economics is simply how human beings describe how we allocate limited resources.--

        Maybe it should be but if it ever was it is no longer.

  10. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    A Mess

    There are several factors to the e-waste problem:

    1 - escalating hardware requirements caused by new kit - this not necessarily the phone/computer manufacturer fault. For example some new cameras are capable of shooting 8K video. Most computers will struggle to process 8K videos, computers computers otherwise perfectly serviceable.

    2 - inability to repair kit at a reasonable cost - my dryer died and I am having it fixed (or at least looked at) before I consider replacing it. The dryer is at least 10 years old but repairable.

    3 - too many what the latest kit even if they have perfectly adequate kit at hand - to some extent all are guilty though some much more so than others.

    4 - unnecessary escalation by software vendors of the hardware requirements for the 'latest and greatest' - see Bloatware 11.

    5 - ignoring the life cycles of other equipment - computer controlled CNC machines were the OS is unsupported but the CNC machine is still within its service life.

    6 - a tendency to want '1 size fits all solution' with considering the implications of such a solution.

    1. LybsterRoy Silver badge

      Re: A Mess

      --For example some new cameras are capable of shooting 8K video.--

      In what way is that not the manufacturers fault? Were people jumping up and down demanding video that is so fine grained?

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: A Mess

        People want to be able to crop the footage and still have a 4k output.

        At some point in the future, yes, people will move to 8k. It won't be as big of a leap in quality as from 1080p, but people with good eyesight will notice the difference.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A Mess

        well, it's the usual story about a chicken and the egg. But on this particular point I would blame capitalism, and more specifically, people who are never satisfied with having enough and, in order to get more than enough (and keep getting) 'generate' demand among those who can't be bothered to stop to consider whether they really 'want' and, more to the point, 'need'.

      3. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: A Mess

        It's a problem that some want something better than everyone else (a problem that has been around since at least the 1920's) and manufacturers trying find a new 'feature' to entice people to buy the latest version. They intertwined to some extent. Many have complained about 'featuritis' in software (where it is most notable) as vendors try to get you to buy the latest release as software basically does not wear out unlike your car.

    2. adam 40 Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Software Bloat

      For me, software bloat is the biggest driving force.

      This comes from (for example):

      - 10 update policy - you must update or else you get hacked

      - 20 updates drag in even more bloated versions of libraries

      - 30 software/app suppliers keep piling in features and/or date-limit their product

      - 40 next version of O/S is even more bloated than the last (be it windows or linux (which makes me sad))

      - 50 bloated software runs even slower on a given CPU and more places to hide security flaws

      - GOTO 10

      On top of this websites are adding more and more crap to the user interfaces, requiring more and more bandwidth, storage and CPU power, and memory per browser window, and cutting compatibility with older browsers, another upgrade treadmill.

      I have a perfectly usable sony Z1 only 8 years old (and I recently replaced the screen myself for a tenner) However, the apps on it keep updating (some you can't avoid like WhatsApp has a date limit, but most I turn off updates) and google keeps loading 80MB of crap on there every day. Which I keep deleting. So the sheer s/w bloat is going to kill this phone, unless I delete all apps and just use it for voice + SMS only.

  11. Pete 2 Silver badge

    S & M

    The "pressure" to replace perfectly working and usable consumer kit with this year's model is due to advertising - Sales and Marketing. That is what creates the demand. Cut that back and the demand drops a lot. Just look at the cigarette industry.

    But when you do that, sales drop and income drops too. And as a company's income drops, so does the amount it can spend on R&D. Although this might be recouped by the savings from not pushing advertisements to disinterested punters.

    However, with old computers there is another consideration. As with polluting old cars, sometimes they should be taken out of service and replaced with better alterntives that do the same job but use far less electricity to get there.

    I had a 486 computer many years ago that apart from its function as providing blue light from its screen (yes, it ran Windows 3.1) it also acted as a room heater. Sometimes it would run programs. Now, something like a Raspberry Pi has far greater computing power and uses just a small percentage of the electricity.. Though that does mean I need a room heater.

    1. DuncanLarge

      Re: S & M

      > I had a 486 computer many years ago that apart from its function as providing blue light from its screen (yes, it ran Windows 3.1) it also acted as a room heater. Sometimes it would run programs. Now, something like a Raspberry Pi has far greater computing power and uses just a small percentage of the electricity.. Though that does mean I need a room heater.

      I disagree.

      If the 486 does the job, use it till it cant be repaired any more. It wont use much more power than anything else, thats a myth. The RPi will do more work for that power, but if you dont need that work, if the PI will sit there doing nothing most of the time, get the 486 to do it.

      You dont need a HDD, save power using a CF card. A modern ATX power supply will be way more efficient, yes you can use that on a 486 using the AT power standard with an adapter cable.

      Who says it needs to be on all the time anyway?

      1. Allan George Dyer

        Re: S & M

        @DuncanLarge - It depends. I had a P4 that needed to run 24/7 and was adequate for the job, why replace it? Then I realised a RPi would do the job and use 92% less power, saving the cost of replacement in less than a year.

        Plus, as it was in a warmer climate, I wasn't paying for the air-conditioning to keep a P4 cool. Now the question is, is it worth the CO2 cost of shipping a P4 motherboard to someone in a cold climate who needs a space-heater with processing power?

        1. adam 40 Silver badge

          Go green!

          I have been thinking along the same lines.

          So - an immersion heater NAS/compute server, that can fit into a cylinder inserted into your hot water tank through the immersion heater port.

          Yes, everything will run at a toasty 60C...80C but on the other hand all the power you use is captured to heat your water.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Go green!

            > So - an immersion heater NAS/compute server, that can fit into a cylinder inserted into your hot water tank through the immersion heater port.

            There have been several companies in France/Netherlands/Germany in the past few years that did wallmounted Xeon-server-as-a-home-radiator where they sell the processing power as part of a private cloud.

            Here's one of them: https://qarnot.com/en/the-radiator-computer/

            They also do what they call a "Digital Boiler": https://qarnot.com/en/heating-water/

      2. Richard 12 Silver badge
        Terminator

        Re: S & M

        486 to RPi is a no-brainer, when practical*. It's always true that replacing hardware that old will save energy overall, including manufacturing, unless the old kit is powered for less than around 10minutes a day (might be less)

        However, that 7-year old machine is very likely Just Fine. Sure, a newer hardware platform probably will use a little less energy to do the same work, but that's probably lost in the cost of manufacture and disposal.

        * It often isn't simple, as the 486 is probably running some form of custom hardware and software that would need porting or emulation.

  12. ecofeco Silver badge

    The Guardian had a great article on this

    Search for "Trashing the environment and hiding the profits is not a perversion of capitalism. It IS Capitalism."

    1. SundogUK Silver badge

      Re: The Guardian had a great article on this

      "Trashing the environment and hiding the benefits is not a perversion of communism. It IS Communism."

  13. chivo243 Silver badge

    Three P3s and one P4 just recycled

    After a bit of house cleaning, the Pentium 3s and the pentium 4 boxes were deemed too old. I checked a lot of distros for minimum specs, these boxes didn't have the oomph to support various distros. Sure I could trawl the archives for older versions that would install and run but they won't be getting any updates... Will they?

    1. DuncanLarge

      Re: Three P3s and one P4 just recycled

      They will run debian just fine.

      Heck the P4 will run windows 11.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Three P3s and one P4 just recycled

        And if course, now winter is approaching, running a P4 can heat your home.

  14. Elledan
    Happy

    Can still get that new fondle slab, if upcycling

    One thing which is rather frustrating about especially smartphones and kin is that these have rather fancy SoCs inside. Quad+ ARM processors that can go toe-to-toe with the Raspberry Pi 4, not to mention Snapdragon 888-equipped phones that are already being tossed out today for the new shiny, or just a busted screen.

    What if there was some way to pop the mainboard out of these phones when they're unwanted and re-use them as an SBC, perhaps on a carrier board, like the RPi CM system?

    That'd be a free-ish 100k+ quite capable SBCs in the US every day alone apparently that could go to schools, poor families, etc., or just sold on for more profit than e-waste would fetch.

    Samsung faked its way out of its earlier 'upcycling' program, but maybe a business plan like the above could appeal to the beancounters. Who doesn't want to make money on a product twice?

    1. keithpeter Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Can still get that new fondle slab, if upcycling

      https://www.neverware.com/

      Neverware (name always struck me as odd) was a start up that compiled Google's Chromeos with extra drivers and so forth and some management software (optional).

      The idea was that schools could use older recycled laptops to run ChromeOS and manage students work and all. You could run the OS from a USB stick or blam it onto the hard drive. Worked quite well on old Thinkpads.

      Google liked the idea so much that they bought the company.... so perhaps there is a business case here.

  15. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    10 years ...

    well thats reckoned to be the life of the machines I deal with on a day to day basis..... although few % are older than that.(a % are younger but they dont count)

    We never scrap anything we can use to make money.... not even the clapped out piece of junk running cell #7 why? because replacement has to be cost effective

    We have'nt got time to build and install a new production cell based on the latest and greatest just because "marketing" says its the latest and greatest, it has to have a measurable economic benefit to the company (usually based on how often its down and costing money to fix vs how much money it makes the company)

    Without that, we're not going windows 11 because m$ says its whizzy and secure.....because that would mean most of the machines would fail to start and our CAD/CAM software would fail to start too.. heck we had to get new dongles when we went to win10 from win7.

    Anyway its all academic for the floor .... everything runs on Linux because the machine/robot manufacturers are sick of windows :)

  16. Conundrum1885

    It sucks

    When companies use screens that fail literally for no good reason.

    OLEDs are notoriously delicate and the S7 Edge was a good example: flaws like coloured lines were

    seemingly caused by poor quality control and excessive use of glue causing stress on the then new

    flexible backplane technology.

    Also infuriating is when the same companes insist on bricking a perfectly good phone with a bad screen

    to cripple legitimate independent repair agents. (cough FaceID /cough)

    Even just disconnecting and reconnecting the SAME SCREEN can set it off.

    Included in "oh the humanity!" are other companies that deliberately use low quality backlight LEDs thus

    causing expensive failures on otherwise perfectly serviceable smart TVs that should last over a decade.

    Companies should offer a compatible replacement at a fair price or pay a to-be-decided penalty in carbon credits

    depending on how helpful they are to their customers when something does go wrong.

    Providing full schematics and repair data gratis should be grounds for paying lower taxes.

  17. rich_a

    Didn't we all point this out years ago?

    I'm sure when Apple decided that the user replaceable battery was "unnecessary" we, and their competitors, pointed out that it was a terrible idea that would generate ewaste. Yet the competitors decided that it was more profitable to hold their devices together with a ton of glue and follow the Apple way. Now we're in the absurd situation where my old 4G capable phone is practically worthless in value to a buyer/reseller, can still play most games and apps from Google Play, but will require a massive payment to get the battery lasting more than a couple of hours. Oh, and for extra fun, when it's glued back together by an unofficial service it'll likely lose its waterproofing and not look quite right.

    I'm quite happy to have a few extra mm and weight to my phone to have a user serviceable battery and screws so I could have a crack at replacing broken parts myself. Maybe I'm in the minority, though!

    1. BenDwire Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Didn't we all point this out years ago?

      Maybe I'm in the minority, though!

      Not around here you're not! I suspect most El Reg readers know how to wield a screwdriver, and would happily do so as required.

  18. mbee

    Lets solve the whole problem, nobody actually needs phone, tv , computers etc to live. Just put on your animal hide skin fur and live in that cave down the street. A tiny number of addled brains are not the rest of us. All the electronics are not killing the environment as every one can be recycled and a whole lot are.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @mbee - Don't worry!

      We'll get there anyway, with or without computers, phones and other stuff like that. For a very short time we will live in the ruins of our civilization. Maybe things are not as bad as we claim but situation is not as good as you claim either.

    2. Allan George Dyer
      Trollface

      Did you forgot the troll icon? Sure, individually we don't need modern technology to live, but it is necessary for our current population density. That cave down the street doesn't have a sewage system, and without the logistics industry you're not getting food. In medical science, try developing an mRNA vaccine to combat the next pandemic without computers and the internet.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ah, the old ones are the best

      And of course you have secured a year-round source of nuts and berries? And can hunt, kill and butcher, and preserve? And ensure the healthy mixture of nutrients your body requires? Jolly good.

      1. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: ah, the old ones are the best

        I'm still eating my walnuts harvested last year.... just sayin' and I have chutney going back to 2006 in the cellar. Yum!

  19. MacroRodent

    Repairability Requirements

    Repairabilty should be a strict condition for bringing a product to market, the same way safety is. Eg. if the user cannot change a battery using nothing more complex than a standard screwdriver, sales are banned. For electronics, schematics and other hardware descriptions needed for support must be published (there could be a 2-year escrow period, counting from the day the product is made available).

    If this prevents causes some vendor to not introduce some product, it probably was not worthwhile anyway. In the past, it was not uncommon to get schematics for a radio or TV in the user manual (I have seen this). IBM published the entire BIOS listings of the original PC/XT and PC/AT products in the technical manuals (you had to buy these separately, but they were available to anyone and not secret). Somehow the firms still made a profit. despite of not locking down and glueing shut their products.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Repairability Requirements

      It's 2021, so, on the same subject, images and audio, by Louis Rossmann:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xm3DIbr1zpw

  20. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    And this, alas, explains why dear little Wednesday Thunberg's belief that her generation will save the planet is so misplaced. Her generation is in reality by far the worst, because her generation (though not, of course, every member of it) is addicted to fast throwaway fashion, fast throwaway tech, fast throwaway everything. Just look at the drone shots of the 20,000 tents abandoned at Reading Festival to see how environmentally conscious the young are en masse.

    In due course they grow up and get mortgages, families and all the other things which soak up money and reduce the amount dumped by proxy in landfill, but by then of course there will be a new generation of kids demanding (a) a 50% reduction in global carbon emissions (b) the latest iPhone and (c) a long haul gap year.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I hate to agree, based on the observations of my teens, who are enthusiastic / concerned about 'state of the planet', but when I point out all the plastic packaging piling up in our kitchen 'recycling' bin, the pile that keeps growing each day (and briefly goes down when I shift the contents into the green outdoor recycling bin) - then I get shrugs, mumbles, blank stares, change of subject, silence, smiles, sighs, BUT NO ACTION. Yeah, I can blame the parents, there's the mirror on the wall, but I did try hard to teach them... I do try hard every day. Perhaps I try too hard? That said, I was, most probably, the same when I was their age (even though I come from an ex-commie country, where scarcity was the norm, so people re-used what could be re-used). I wonder, is hypocracy the major defining trait of our species? I expect to see a lot of it on account of cop26 in Glasgow...

      1. adam 40 Silver badge

        Part of the problem is that they don't know how it used to be 20-30 years ago.

        They never grew up with limited tech, hardly any plastic wrapping, etc etc.

        So they don't know what is possible and what to ask for.

  21. Ivan Headache

    Keeping up with the Joneses

    I think I mentioned before that on visits to my local recycling centre I am always amazed by the number of large (I.e. bigger than 42inch) to sets that are in the electronics skip.

    Recently I've seen huge (60inch+) screens in there.

    I seem to remember crt based tvs lasting forever - mind you, they had proper solder in them.

    I’m sure it’s the keeping up with the Joneses mentality that sees a whole wall of tv through the neighbour’s windows who don’t close their curtains in order to boast that they can afford £x thousand on a totally unnecessary item.

    And while I’m on about unnecessary items. I was baby-sitting at my daughter’s house yesterday. Trying to use the remote on her “smart” Sony tv was the biggest source of frustration ever (even worse than filling in a passenger locator form).

    Made me appreciate my dumb Panasonic and my simple Apple TV remote.

  22. Conundrum1885

    If anyone is interested

    I am looking into publishing my own repair guide for common devices.

    Included: how to troubleshoot things like failing components without opening up the device (!), how to replace a backlight LED

    without making things worse, care and feeding of laptops, etc.

    I also found out that many people inadvertently install counterfeit parts without intending to thus turning a simple repair into an

    expensive mess and putting them off in future from trying again.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sales Calls

    I have had a SIM-only contract with Vodafone for years. About 3 years ago, I moved my number to a different company.

    I still get calls from my old phoneco offering me the latest iShiny even though I have never owned an iPhone or iPad in my life. I know it is not the fault of the poor sap who will not get any money from selling stuff to me. It is the fault of, amongst others, Vodafone but they were ignoring my records. I don't do business with them any more and I have only ever bought Android devices.

    It is also the fault of Apple who will be trying hard to have me pulled into their walled garden where can do my bit to help their bottom line. I understand that US spooks are keen too as they get more cooperation from US hardware makers and quite a lot from Korean ones. My current phone is made in China. I have nothing to hide that I can think of. If the British police or spooks want to find out stuff, I will be very cooperative, I may not even need a court order or whatever for them.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon