Tom Leo's Blog

Free Software

Published on
    Ownership & Right to repair

I love the idea of "owning" things, and being free to use those things as you wish. If you own a car, you should be free to bring it to any mechanic you want. You should be free to install any parts in your car, from a new stereo to a new engine. This idea of being to repair your own things is often referred to as right to repair. It seems kind of silly, because of course you should be able to repair your own things. However recently companies have found it much more profitable to prevent you from fully owning things. A tesla for example cannot be serviced without the concent of the company. An Apple laptop deliberately locks down it's hardware so that you cannot install a different operating system. If you live on a far, chances are you're breaking the law by fixing your own John Dear tractor.

Ownership & Interops

The beautiful world of interops

If you want to hang a picture on your wall, you want to ensure the nail is going into a stud, and not just drywall. It's easy to find where the studs are behind the drywall because almost all house's studs are spaced 16 inches on center. By aligning on how walls are constructed, the owner of that wall isn't reliant on the builder of that wall on how to hang pictures on it.

When you plug-in a toaster it just works. This is because we have collectively decided on the voltage each wall outlet should have, allowing any AC electric to interface with it.

You can place any bulb into a socket, and it will work so long as the wattage is correct.

Your car fits inside the lines on a road because all car sizes are standardized in order to be "street legal" i.e. able to "interopt" with the road system.

Interops is an incredibly powerful concept that allows for innovation and some level of autonomy and ownership of your devices. It allows you to replace a broken light fixture, bulb, or even build a new addition on your home.

The DRM dystopia

Unlike a toaster, increasingly technologies are specifically engineered with proprietary interfaces so that only products they allow can work.

HP for example tried to make it so that only their ink cartages work with their printers.

In the space of "internet-of-things" (IOT) smart light bulbs can only be controlled using particular protocols. Those protocols are usually built on-top-of your local-area-network. You quite literally need the internet to turn on your lights. What's worse is these IOT devices don't work with a simple infrared receiver, but rather use more complex protocols requiring a home network, a "network bridge", a cellphone, and a cellphone app that can interface with the bridge.

While IOT protocols are very powerful, there's no technical reason why an analog interface couldn't work such that you can control your lights from a switch which might have additional options for setting the color of the light (think a dimmer switch for setting the HUE). But companies don't want to do this, instead they're all fighting over different "walled gardens" of devices. In the end we have less control over our things, and more reliance on the maker of our things.

Companies like Apple create fantastic products, and care a lot about their customers, so long as their customers stay within their "walled garden".

The days of brining your car to a mechanic vs. a dealership are slowly ending as well, as increasingly car parts have digital pieces that can only be serviced by the manufacturer. Tesla in many ways is the Apple of car manufacturers in that you can't service your Tesla outside of their dealerships.

Another example is John Dear who use DRM laws to outlaw servicing your own tractors to maximize profit and better control the units sold.

© 2008 – 2023 Tom Leo

Except where otherwise noted, text content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons License.