Antifeatures

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Notice icon.png These antifeatures are submitted by random folks (like you!). As a result, Benjamin Mako Hill can neither take credit for them nor speak to veracity of anything written here. You can help Mako and others verify this stuff by presenting links along with your antifeatures!

Antifeatures are a way to describe a particular practice made possible by locked down technologies. Antifeatures, as I describe them, are functionality (i.e., "features) that a technology developer will charge users not to include. You can read my short article on the topic published in the FSF bulletin in 2007 for a series of examples and a more in-depth description.

One thing I want to do is put together as large a collection of these antifeatures as possible to use in a talk, a paper, or maybe even a book!

There is a list of antifeatures in comments posted on this this blog post. Many of those have been merged onto this page.

Hardware Antifeatures

EDA and CAD-Software

Flexible Lies Manager (Flexlm)

Most serious EDA-Software from Vendors like Mentor Graphics, Cadence, Synopsys are sold per feature. The flexlm license file controls with fine granularity which features of a full fledged installation you are allowed to use. Fortunately, flexlm holds to hw-ids like the host-id of a solaris machine (is an nv-ram and can be changed) or mac-address of pc-computer (is in eeprom and can be changed) So one can fight against flexible lies manager on this and other fronts, but this is mostly illegal, exept you hold a license and only want to exchange a broken machine with a new one without having to beg the ventor to kindly provide new license files. You just clone the old machine (mac-address, hw-id etc.) as seen from flexlm view...

Fridges

Coke Retail Fridges

Coca-Cola Company provide retail display fridges to many small retail food outlets for selling Coke and related brands. These fridges are expensive, up to US$20,000 each. Undercapitalized small operators often won't invest in these fridges themselves. However they still have other refrigerated products to retail, such as butter and cheese. These popular but smaller lines don't justify a fridge of their own. Coke's agreement with the retailers specify non-Coke products may not be stored in their fridges.

The anti-feature is in the latest range of these fridges, manufactured by Scope. Butter often comes wrapped in paper, whereas Coke is in a tightly sealed PET bottle. The electronic module controlled fridges somehow detect dairy products, and simply shut down. They will not run in the presence of dairy (and perhaps other) product.

Cameras

EyeFi Brand WiFi Enabled SD Cards

The EyeFi card is a SD memory card with an integrated WiFi connection that allows automatic transfer of photos directly from the camera. It comes in 4 versions each their own retail box and with a price ranging from $50 to $150. However the included cards appear technically identical, excepting a 4gb to 8gb size jump which should add trivial costs. Even the cheapest version is upgradeable to the most expensive through paying for a software upgrade. The jump from Connect to Geo and Geo to Explore are arguably not egregious anti-features as the involve usage of 3rd party geolocation data and hotspot access, respectively, which likely carry subscription costs. However the upgrade to the pro version is absolutely anti-feature as all the pro adds is RAW transfer support and ad-hoc Wifi network connections directly to a computer.

Panasonic Camera Batteries

Panasonic issued a firmware update with an antifeature which disabled any third party batteries.

Fujitsu ScanSnap S300 vs. S300M

Mac OS drivers for the Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M have been intentionally broken to prevent use of the technically identical, but less expensive S300 "Windows model" with Mac OS.

Printers

Printer Cartridges

HP printers have been supplied with cartridges that both report 'empty' when they have 25% ink still remaining, but also have a 'use by date' encoded into the chip, which disables the printer cartridge if it is used after that date (no HP printer will use it).

In general the business model of printer manufacturers has been to lose money on the printer and make it on the printer cartridges. This has caused such antifeatures as:

  • Reporting the cartridge as empty when (often substantial) ink remains.
  • Microchips that will report the cartridge size by number of uses rather than by amount of ink remaining. These will ignore any refilling of the cartridge.
  • accepting only regionnally bought cartridges (HP zoned the world the same way as DVD !!)

There are other features of the printer cartridge industry that are anticompetitive (e.g. use of DMCA and patents to protect antifeature code) but do not involve specific software or hardware - i.e. they aren't 'antifeatures' per se.

HP's PSC-series printers came with a Windows driver that specifically was designed to NOT allow the printer to be shared over a LAN, so as to not cannibalize the sale of their (more expensive) network-oriented printers. This could be hacked around, by installing the (massive) Windows drivers on client machines and using a Linux box as the print server.

Printer Yellow Dots

Many printers produce a background of hard to see yellow dots on every page. This pattern is unique to the printer and can be used to identify the printer that produced a page.

This is not officially acknowledged by printer manufacturers, but appears to be as a result of a shady deal between government and the manufacturers.

See: http://seeingyellow.com/

GPS

Many in-car GPS systems prevent the GPS from being operated while the car is in motion. This is intended to prevent drivers from getting distracted from the road; however, it also prevents passengers from entering a destination on behalf of the driver unless the driver stops for them. In some cars, this antifeature can be disabled by a secret button combination; in others, an actual hardware modification is necessary to disable it, and it's less hassle to simply buy another GPS entirely.

Media

DVDs

DVDs include a whole collection of different antifeatures. These include things like region coding, DVD CSS, other types of DRM, unskippable advertisments and more. No user asked for any of these and you can pay extra for non-region coded DVDs, or DVD players that are nonlimited to regions -- which is just one example.

Mainframes

Unnamed Ye Olde Mainframe from the Bad Old Days of Heavy Metal

The CPU came in two flavours... cheap and slow vs fast and 'spensive.

Most victims (umm, customers), surprise, surprise bought slow and cheap... and found it too slow... and bought the upgrade.

So the field engineer would hove into view carrying a anti-static bag with a board inside saying, "Shutdown... your upgrade has arrived"

He would swap out the board, putting the old board into a spare bag, power up and off to the next vic..err.. customer.

On the way, he'd pull over to the side of the road, haul out the old slow board, flick a switch on the "maus klavier" (dip switch), and on to the next customer. "Tada... your upgrade has arrived..."

This was called a "screwdriver upgrade" -- on the IBM mainframes I saw upgraded the DIP switch was flicked in place and the customer was fully aware of the process. It depends upon the charging model as to if this was a anti-feature. For example, most IBM customers leased the mainframe per-MIPS. Upon requiring more MIPS they much preferred a screwdriver upgrade rather than the multi-year planning required for "forklift upgrade", where the entire machine had to be replaced and sometimes the software rebuilt (eg, the new mainframe hardware may have required a move from MVS/XA to MVS/ESA), with extended downtime and significant risk of deployment failure. Usually contracts for IBM-compatible mainframes explicitly requested the range of MIPS for the hardware, a mainframe with a lesser range being penalised as that implied a major upgrade would be required sooner.

Similar to the above

Server came with two sized hard drives 10 MB or 30 MB ( back in early 80's ) As above, an engineer arrived and flicked a switch to allow the server to access the other 20 MB, and yes, the bill was $10,000

Modern version

Today's IBM zSeries mainframes can still be leased with extra processors that the customer can pay to turn on. The offering is called Capacity on Demand.

Internet

Providers charging for ADSL Fastpath

Technically Fastpath is just a flag on the DSLAM, but most providers at least in germany charge you a monthly fee of about 3 EUR per month if you want Fastpath (lower latency vs. higher reliability in interleaved mode).

Television

Freeview Australia

Australia uses the DVB-T standard for digital television like many other countries in the world. To help promote the adoption, the big channels formed the Freeview consortium to certify devices and market digital television to consumers.

For an existing DVB-T DVR to gain Freeview certification, the fast forward and rewind features must be restricted to 30x maximum, and not allow skipping by less than 10 minutes. A certified device also must not allow the user to transfer recordings off its hard disk.

Processors

Intel Pentium G6951

Intel started to limit its processors capabilities by requiring users to pay extra $50 to enable some of the already-included (but disabled) features.

This will probably require all users of this processor to install proprietary software on their computers to be able to make use of their hardware and it will limit GNU/Linux users' abilities.

Software Antifeatures

Eurion constellation

Pattern on paper currency notes that scanning software detects and then refuses to scan. Documented at wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EURion_constellation

Vaio Freshstart

Sony started trying to charge its users to not install software on new computers.

CDs

Music CDs would be written as multimedia CDs with a data track which contained an autoloader to disable the music part of the CD, or limit access to it, on Windows machines. This culminated in the Sony BMG CD copy protection scandal, where the Sony copy protection software would add special drivers to Windows computers that allowed itself and anything else to hide their files from the operating system. Rootkits and malware were quick to capitalise on this, and the software also disabled or broke other pieces of the operating system. The handling of the whole issue also caused many problems for consumers, with the program supposed to remove the previous copy protection breaking anti-virus software as well as leaving backdoors into consumer systems.

Apple iPod

It seems that each new generation of iPods has a new hash algorithm to prevent the music player from playing music which you added from software other than iTunes. Each time the hash changes, it takes time for the free software community to reverse engineer the hash and unbreak the antifeature.

Apple Quicktime

Until late 2007 Apple didn't allow the use of a fullscreen mode in its free Quicktime version.

Useragent

Websites which check User-Agent and refuse to work when it doesn't match a known whitelist, even though if you fake your User-Agent the site works just fine, demonstrating that nothing except their arbitrary check itself stops you from using the site. [1]

HDMI

The idea that computer interconnects are designed with encryption to stop the user tampering with the signal, to limit people creating digital copies regardless of intention (legal personal use), how certain devices can not work with it and it can cause other devices to work less optimally (lower resolution output).

The input signal to your HDTV (either over the air or via Cable) is compressed. But HDTVs are only allowed to offer the uncompressed datastream (HDMI) as output (even though the input is compressed!). This is specifically to make it harder for people to record HDTV programs.

In Windows Vista, playing anything that the operating system decided was 'protected content' - the 'ding' of an alert box, for example - would instantly slow your network down to 1% of its full speed and disable various other communications devices for the duration. The theory behind this was to stop you being able to copy the 'protected content' off the machine in real time. This was regardless of whether your monitor or speakers were using HDCP.

Microsoft, in its Windows Vista guide to implementing HDMI and HDCP, encouraged hardware and software developers to go above and beyond the definitions and actively provide more features to restrict what users can do.

Shareware unregistered copy limitations

Shareware for the MS-DOS market typically came in two versions: the one that users pay for, and a feature-restricted unregistered version that had some limit on functionality to encourage the user to get the paid version. Restrictions included printing "unregistered copy of (application)" on printed documents, disallowing saving, limiting document size, and a "nag screen" asking the user to upgrade at startup.

Microsoft Windows Starter Editions

Son of a gun, this is so hlefpul!

Windows 7 Starter

Among other restrictions you cannot change the background image on Windows 7 Starter Edition without resorting to 3rd-party software (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_7_editions#Windows_7_Starter). At least this is not announced to be a feature (rather than a limitation) on the microsoft website: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/compare/starter.aspx.


Open Source Software Antifeatures

Amarok

The Amarok Player Development Team implemented a feature which downloads covers of Albums from amazon.com on the fly. Amazon forced the amarok team to implement a feature which deletes the downloaded copies of the cover art work after a week.

Miscellaneous Antifeatures

Phone Books

You need to pay money to have your phone number not listed in a phone book.

You need to specifically ask for companies not to use your phone listing to try to sell you things.

Mains Water

I have a 96 year old neighbour who still remembers when mains water first arrived in our suburb. He said at the time, that the government wouldn't allow people to build water tanks for their houses, because they wanted people to use mains water. Ah the irony...

Lecture Books

Some lecture books have graphs and tables printed on pages which have special colours hard to copy for overhead projector slides. Instead they sell a special "lecture" version for teachers, so they can sell two instead of one book.