Lexicon Systems, LLC Blog

lex'•i•con: the vocabulary of a branch of knowledge. Thoughts on environment, health & safety (EHS), sustainability and information technology to support them.

Planned obsolescence

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Today I was reminded–again–of how things just don’t last the way they used to. We tried to repair a 2 1/2-year-old desktop computer that bit the dust. The extended warranty ran out at 2 years. So, it was back to the “big box” store to recycle yet another nonfunctional big ticket item.

Per Wikipedia, planned obsolescence is the concept of designing a product with a limited useful life, so that it will become obsolete after some time. This concept favors the manufacturer and stimulates the economy when consumers must purchase a new item to replace the obsolete one. Forms of planned obsolescence in the IT arena include

  • technical or functional obsolescence, where new technologies replace the old. Great examples are personal computers, software, hard drives and storage. A PC can last through about one operating system upgrade, or 3-4 years, before it lacks the speed and memory to run the latest software.
  • systemic obsolescence, where the product can no longer be maintained, and/or the manufacturer stops supporting it. With PCs, Microsoft will support Windows 2-3 versions back. When Windows 8 debuts this week, organizations and consumers will have a limited time to replace systems running Windows XP, which no longer will be supported a number of months from now.
  • obsolescence by depletion, where the product consumes a resource. All printers consume ink/toner, as well as items like print heads, belts and fusers. When my latest ink jet printer needed a set of four new print heads, it was less costly to buy a brand new one. I received a $50 credit for turning in an old printer, and got a replacement with new ink, new print heads and several technical refinements, including “e-printing” from smartphones and tablets and remote PCs.

Admittedly, the desktop computer did not fall neatly into any of these three categories–it simply stopped working, and a $100 1TB hard drive did not fix the problem. But it simply did not last even the 3-4 years we expected. At the same time, we have a fully functional computer that’s 13 years old. We upgraded the operating system a couple of times and installed a DVD drive years ago. It keeps on running.

 

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Author: Jill Barson Gilbert

Founder, President & CEO of Lexicon Systems, LLC, an independent management consulting firm in Houston, TX. Thought leader on environment, health & safety (EHS) and sustainability software. Trusted advisor on strategic planning and strategic marketing issues.

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