Scheduled Obsolescence

I’ve grown up with planned obsolescence, so that idea is nothing new to me, but scheduled obsolescence took me by surprise.

There are various types of planned obsolescence. Psychological obsolescence is common in the fashion and automotive industries. Each year, the companies create new designs to make last year’s designs psychologically less appealing, though the product itself is still usable. Physical obsolescence is prevalent in other manufacturing fields, where the designers decide how long a product should last and then only use materials geared to last that long. (In a way this makes sense — if a vegetable grater, for example, goes dull after a year or two, there’s no real reason to make the thing out of expensive materials that will last long after the product has outlived any usefulness.) Often, manufacturers even go so far as to use inferior materials that will make the product wear out faster and speed up replacement time.

Some people argue that planned obsolescence encourages competition and improvement while others claim it increases waste. I don’t believe in waste, though I do understand the need to keep the economy going — if everyone was like me, the economy would have ground to a halt years ago. I mean, how many people out there bought a car forty-two years ago and are still driving it as their one and only source of vehicular transportation? (If you guessed the car is a Volkswagen you’re correct. Back then, Volkswagen bragged about not believing in planned obsolescence, which has worked in my favor.) And then there’s my poor hair dryer that died just this morning — it was only twenty-five years old! If you’re smart (or thrifty) you can often bypass planned obsolescence by doing such things as unplugging lamps and other electrical equipment rather than using the cheaply-made and soon-to-break on/off switches. As for fashion — well, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what was in fashion, either today or twenty years ago.

In some cases, planned obsolescence worked in my favor. Planned obsolescence (thank heavens for spell check! I have mistyped the word obsolescence every single time I’ve used it!) helps keep products cheap. When my camera died after only a couple of years (oddly, the screen burned out right after I took what turned out to be the last photo of my now deceased life mate/soul mate), it would have cost more to repair the camera than to replace it. And when that second camera died in a tragic fall shortly after purchase, I was able to get a replacement that works better than either of the others.

But I’m getting off track. As I said, I’m used to planned obsolescence, but last night I came up against scheduled obsolescence. The end of support for Windows XP made me interested in when support for Vista, my current operating system, will end. I discovered that the end had been scheduled for April 10, 2012, but that they extended it to April 10, 2017. Whew! I still have three years! By then, of course, my computer will be so outdated and so slow I will probably be glad to update my whole system. Or maybe technology will have changed out of all recognition making me want to hang on to this poor machine until its last byte. If nothing else, I could use it as a word processor, unconnected to the internet. That way any vulnerabilities won’t be a problem.

Still, it does seem strange to have the exact date when my operating system is scheduled to become obsolete.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

XP and the End of Days

End of days. Sounds like the world crashing down on our heads, doesn’t it? But in this case, all it signifies is that Microsoft is discontinuing support of its XP operating system. To hear tech people tell about it, it is the end of days. So many people are using this supposedly outdated system, that running a computer using Windows XP is a PUBLIC HEALTH RISK! Those outdated systems CAN BE USED TO INFECT OTHER SYSTEMS! They are a danger by becoming a part of a system of bots that ATTACK OTHERS online!

Yep, the end of days is here. And yet, how often have we heard the same old story? At the beginning, computers were called the devil’s work. The spread of computer technology was hailed as the end of civilization as we know it. The millennium bug was supposed to usher in an age of chaos. The current Heartbleed Vulnerability is supposed to make us defenseless against theft of personal information. And now the end of support for Windows XP puts us all at risk.

I suppose the risk factor is true. It is a matter of fact that the spread of computer technology brought massive changes to the world. The millennium bug did take one vast chunk of time to fix, averting disaster at the last minute. And there are always vulnerabilities in computer code that puts us at risk. That’s why we have constant updates to our systems, our browsers, the programs we use — to repair those vulnerabilities.

Apparently, what makes the XP problem so terrible is that more than 30% of personal computers still utilize that particular operating system. Microsoft obviously has never heard of the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Why else would they have followed up a program that worked, that people loved, with the excoriated Vista? But then, you don’t get to be one of the richest people in the world by embracing the status quo. Some people believe ending support for XP is Microsoft’s way of forcing all those customers to upgrade their systems, but the timing stinks since the newest system, Windows 9, won’t be available for a few more months, so people will be forced to buy soon-to-be-outdated systems.

Still, with so many people hanging on to XP, some because they trust the system, some because they can’t afford to upgrade, there will be plenty of support for “fixes” from outside sources — for a fee, I’m sure. 32% of all PCs is one huge mass of power.

I suppose I should worry about XP, but frankly, I’m more worried about my own operating system. I’m one of the few who have Vista who actually like it, though to be honest, it’s way too powerful for my needs. It’s geared to run the entertainment center for an entire household, and all I use it for is to run my rapidly aging laptop. I can already sense the doom for Vista. If support for XP has ended, can Vista be far behind? They have already stopped upgrading IE for Vista. IE9 is the best I can do, and there are so many bugs in the browser, it’s impossible to use at times. (For example, it keeps trying to open Adobe reader, and since the newer Adobe readers don’t seem to work with Vista, I have an outdated version of that, too, and it takes forever to load the page and the reader. Strangely, the reader has nothing to do with the web page, which adds to the absurdity.) Of course I also have Firefox and Google Chrome, but both of those browsers have features I don’t like and lack ones I do, so I’m never quite sure which one to use. I often have all three open (which is probably a technological mistake, but so far it’s the best I can do).

When Microsoft retires support for Vista, no one but me will care since most people have already updated their systems. There won’t be any furor, no rhetoric about end of times. Just a quiet sigh while I try to figure out what to do about the matter.

IGW_XP_EndOfDaysGraphic_V2

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.