DRM in welders


#1

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#2

How is this any different than a piece of software that has a pro version where you pay more for the extra programming?


#3

All it does is enable adjustable frequency, a feature that already exists in the hardware. This isn’t the difference between a free demo that has Save and Print disabled and the fully-functional version that you pay for. This is a $3000 welder that you have already bought that comes with a knob crippled so the manufacturer can nickel-and-dime you.

When you buy “pro software,” it comes with a license key and some facility to back up and/or replace installation media. (More likely re-download, these days.) But this SD card is copy-protected and apparently sold as a regular physical thing, so if it’s lost or damaged (in a metal shop environment, mind you) you have to buy a whole new one.

(Oh, and there are two different cards, one for adjustable AC freq and one for adjustable DC PPS, but there’s only one slot. (They’re $200 each, which I guess is where Cory got the $400 figure.))


#4

Well, the most obvious difference is that software is more blatent in claiming that it isn’t bought, but that it’s only a license that you buy. Software tries its hardest to distance itself from being a physical good you can own.

The biggest difference here is that in the past, if you circumvented whatever locks the manufacturer placed on the device, you voided the warranty but it was your device. You could manipulate it however you wanted. Now the manufacturer is declaring such circumvention illegal, and may even attempt to prosecute those who replace the DMCA circuitry altogether.


#5

I don’t know where this specific offering falls(much to my chagrin, welding is not among the things I even know enough to be dangerous about); but I’d draw a few distinctions in general:

  1. Some ‘unlocks’ are of additional software, that cost additional money to develop; and are better thought of as 'expansions. Some do nothing more than tell the existing software to stop rejecting certain inputs that it is perfectly capable of handling; and a pure ‘de-crippling’.

  2. In some cases, you only get some firmware with the device; but are free to attempt to DIY or purchase from a 3rd party if you wish(eg. a computer might come with Windows Home; but I can install linux, buy Windows Pro from anyone, run FreeDOS and play Commander Keen forever, etc.); in other cases, the firmware actively forbids any attempt to add new capabilities that hasn’t been cryptographically blessed by the manufacturer; even if you are willing to do the work yourself, or pay a 3rd party to do the work, the market is artificially constrained to a single vendor.

In the case of charging more for additional software; I can’t really find fault with the practice. I prefer to go FOSS rather than proprietary when I can; but if somebody writes software, they can certainly try to sell it.

In the case of de-crippling the software that was already there, it’s no secret that price discrimination is for the benefit of the seller, not the buyer, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth; though it is within the seller’s right.

Where things get into ‘hell no, purge with fire and sword’ territory is when DRM mechanisms are used largely to restrict the market to a single vendor. No, you don’t owe me your fancy algorithm for constant-current-something-something; but your firmware locks out my implementation; or one purchased from your competitor? DIAF.


#6

the welder isn’t crippled, it is adjustable frequency challenged! :slight_smile:


#7

For the nth time, why doesn’t a competitor eat their lunch?


#8

I would argue that welding is one of those wonderful fields in which everybody knows enough to be dangerous :wink:


#9

For this particular unit they probably do. I’m sure Miller has vastly higher sales volume on their industrial side compared to their personal/light industrial use products.

I mean for only $1300-$400 more you could step up to the Dynasty 210, which does more.


#10

I don’t get the outrage here. Sure they added functionality via software and charged a pretty penny for it, but that’s existed for decades now. I’ve seen sewing machines that had floppy drives to add in various programs and features. Or the what about an ancient version of Quark Xpress that my wife used in college that had a hardware dongle key, sure it came with it, but you were SOL if you lost/broke it.

Isn’t that the general idea of being a smart consumer? Look at the features and decide if you can live with the product and what the manufacture is offering…it isn’t really that hard.


#11

So it’s on-disk DLC?


#12

If you don’t need the extra features, why pay for them? If you decide you need them later, why take the loss that comes from selling one machine and buying another?


#13

Please don’t mischaracterise criticism as outrage. It’s irritating.

I don’t know much about welders, so feel free to correct me, but it looks to me like the welder hardware has to have these capabilities designed and built into the metal in order to be able to use them at all. It’s not a case of the software magically turning an ordinary welder into a more capable welder; it’s a welder which has been intentionally crippled after manufacture, and the software is more like a key to enable the extra features already inherent in the machine. Consider that with the features already built-in, the manufacturer still has to make a profit on each machine they sell which does not have the memory card installed. So the purchaser is still having to pay for the hardware features, even if they don’t buy the card(s).

So far, so bad. It reminds me of the (possibly apocryphal) IBM machine whose expensive upgrade to a faster model consisted of an IBM engineer opening it up and slipping a drive belt from one wheel to another. IBM was charging more for its slow model than its customers needed to pay and got away with it because it was IBM, then they charged the customers much more for the phony upgrade, which they got away with by making any modification by the customer — such as removing the cover and moving the drive belt themselves — a breach of warranty.

Where the IBM of old missed a bet, though, was in not having it criminally illegal to open up their machines. With the DRM laws in their present state, it is illegal for the customer to write their own software key to enable the capabilities built into their property, or even for a third party to write a card that enables both capabilities at the same time so you don’t have to keep swapping cards when you need both capabilities on a job. And so they can charge what they like for the cards, confident that a cheaper, better alternative isn’t available, and likely never will be.

It’s all very well to appeal to “free market” economics, for example, to justify price gouging of this kind, but price gouging of this level is anything but a free market. It is, in fact, the very opposite of a free market, an artificial constraint on the buyer that would, were the condition reversed, cause the manufacturer to pour their outrage on the nearest available legislator until they got the law changed.


#14

I’ve noticed that most of the time, when you see a dongle, it’s not because the product is amazingly advanced; it’s the exact opposite. Someone with limited VB skills labored for years to make some highly-specialised application for CAM or pattern cutting or astrological chart-making, and god dammit they’re going to get paid for that, even though the actual product is something Apple or Google could’ve done twice as well in a day if they cared to.

There need to be changes to IP law, but more than that people just need to stop being greedy morons who think that being very slightly more high-tech than most of their industry entitles them to become a dot-com billionaire. It doesn’t work, your competitors have all had the same idea, you’ll just create technical confusion in your industry, and in the end the market for welding machines will be the same size it always was.


#15

On a recent visit to Universal Studios LA I discovered that the soda vending machines contain DRM. The paper cups have chip in bottom of them that only allows a single use.


#16

Please don’t mischaracterize price discrimination as price gouging. It’s irritating.

The problem is you’re assuming that they didn’t add any cost to enable the features unlocked with the SD card. Hypothetical: they could make two hardware SKUs, a cheaper version without the enhanced capability (via cheaper components) and a more expensive version with it. After analyzing cost of manufacturing two different products, component pricing with lower volumes on each, stocking two big SKUs instead of one big one and the small SD card, and so on, they realize that it’s cheaper for them to build every unit to the higher spec. This means that their variable cost on the base unit is inflated, but they’re OK with that because the net variable cost is lower than building two different SKUs.

All that said, it’s still a higher variable cost for them to offer two SKUs vs. one. They also have a higher fixed cost to design the features in the first place. It’s reasonable that they charge more for these features even though the hardware is exactly the same. If they can’t charge more for the premium version, they’ll just cancel it and go with the simple version at a lower variable cost-- they’d make more money by doing so.


#17

Then why are you making the assumption (and being a poor consumer) that Miller is the only manufacture that makes a variable frequency tig welder? If you step down from the top tier industrial manufactures like Miller, Hobart, Lincoln you can get something like this:
http://www.usaweld.com/Invertig-201-Welders-s/27.htm
It’s less money and probably does more than the Miller. Again who is Miller aiming that Syncrowave 210 at? It’s probably not the casual homeowner, the price to performance makes it hard to justify - if you insist on a top tier brand then something like the Dynasty 210 makes more sense. Ideally it’s aimed at a company who needs a large mix of welders and happens to already have Miller equipment and support, so from that stand point price is much less of a concern.

Are “we” more upset at the fact that the DRM upgrade they are selling is illegal to crack or the fact they are selling an overpriced software patch that already utilizes the hardware you paid for? If it’s the DRM I sort of get it, but a low volume welder that has better second tier competition is probably a weak example - loading Linux on a PS3 is a much better one. As far as the over priced software upgrade, why does it matter? As a consumer you should have already weighed that option. Realistically I bet a bit of technical know how you could add features like variable frequency to a lot of inverter based welders. Kind along the lines of using a $0.05 cent resistor to change an ATI Radeon 9500 pro into a 9800 pro.


#18

I fail to see how this is different from what @Nelsie wrote.
You just called it something different without actually changing the evilness of the practice.


#19

Presumably, only if you’re a manufacturer or retailer. Whereas, “Why the outrage?” is a tired piece of trolling, and needs calling out when it appears in a forum.

You recognise that your hypothesis is a hypothesis, without any evidence or analysis to back it up? I’m not going to treat it as a true thing, even for the sake of argument. Miller is top tier manufacturer, I’m told, and they have a lot of items in their catalogue. I have no idea what the economics of offering n SKUs vs n+1 SKUs is, and neither do you, otherwise you’d have brought some actual data to the table.

Meanwhile, that SKU argument does nothing to address the criminal liabilities risked by anyone who objects to the way Miller are practicing their price discrimination and does something about it, nor the contempt for the law that such addle-pated laws encourage.


#20

Does it have to be one or the other?