Linux Smart Home

Defeat Planned Obsolescence with Linux and Open Source Software

Bertel King 09-06-2016

Planned obsolescence. It’s the reason we can’t have nice things Planned Obsolescence: Why We Can't Have Nice Things How much money are you wasting due to "planned obsolescence"? In this article, we explain what that is, why it should concern you, and what you might be able to do about it. Read More . Instead of making high-quality products, manufacturers design them to fall apart or die.


This practice feels particularly arbitrary in the software industry. A new version of paid software is a chance to charge you again. Updates might be free, or they might be an incentive to pay for a license. Software requires constant support, leaving you out of luck when the developer loses interest.

This is not just a desktop issue. Unlike a 5-year-old PC, a 5-year-old smartphone can barely run any modern apps. Smartwatches, smart TVs, and smart fridges are trying to make us comfortable with the idea of regularly replacing products that used to have lifespans of over a decade.

We don’t have to buy into this. There are ways to enjoy the benefits of technology without falling down this wasteful cycle. And one of the easiest ways to do so is by embracing Linux and free software.


Linux is an open source operating system that’s free to use and distribute. No commercial entity owns the Linux code. Many companies use and develop Linux software, but most of what they produce is free for anyone to adopt. Take Red Hat, for example.

Plus Linux is adaptable. You can place it in anything from laptops and smartphones to appliances, robots, and medical equipment.


People can use Linux to create locked-down experiences, like what you encounter on a new Android phone. That’s why you want to check not only that you’re using Linux (or another open source operating system), but free software. Developers and companies that embrace the ethos of code being free as in freedom typically want to empower you to use software as you wish and for as long as you can, rather than view you as a customer.

If you view yourself as a customer, your computer will always remain a reason to spend money. To protect your budget and use software that you can trust to stick around, we’re going to change this mentality.

Getting Started

Making the transition may require a change to the way you approach the concept of computing. Unfortunately, most marketing and retail space will push you towards commercial solutions that will likely change or go away in a few years. Many of those options will also try to lock you in, forcing you to pay to keep access. To avoid this trap, you need to know what you want, conduct research, and avoid most mainstream products.

There’s a free and open source way to do many of the tasks we see advertised in today’s onslaught of tech gadgets and “smart” products. Let’s go through them, one category at a time.


1. Computers

When was the last time you replaced your computer? Was it because of genuine hardware failure, or was software starting to slow down and crash?

Windows doesn’t run as smoothly after a year or two as it did when you first powered on your new computer. No matter how many new versions have come out, this hasn’t changed. That’s because Microsoft has little incentive to fix the problem. The company wants you to buy newer versions of the operating system. Microsoft also partners with hardware manufacturers who would prefer you buy a new computer than revive the one you have.

Linux doesn’t have this conflict of interest. Most distributions don’t make money from downloads. There also isn’t much of a relationship between Linux developers and consumer hardware makers.

Instead, Linux developers focus on making software that helps them complete tasks. These programs may not be the most stable or feature complete, but you’re free to use them for as long as you wish.


Sometimes a program goes away when no one wants to continue development or maintenance. Even then, the software continues to work until it loses compatibility with the rest of your operating system. This is something you can plan around.

Free software changes your approach to computing. Rather than a laptop being a mere appliance, you have a say in how it works. You pick the operating system, and you pick which applications to use. You control when you upgrade and when you switch one piece of software for another.

The result is that you can use your existing machines for much longer.

Most computers come with Windows or Mac OS X, and on newer machines, replacing them can be a pain. Try buying from a company that supports Linux such as System76, ZaReason, or Think Penguin. They will sell you a computer running Linux and empower you to alter the software however you want.


2. Smartphones & Tablets

The mobileindustry is more volatile than the desktop market. Apple and Google are making bank, and other companies want a piece of the action. New devices continue to flood the market.

Most of these devices won’t receive updates in two years. Many will never see a single major upgrade. Manufacturers and carriers view major software changes as a reason for you to buy a new phone. And since even an ideal device wouldn’t last more than a few years due to rapid technological change, companies see little reason not to speed the process along.

This is wasteful behavior. Replacing mobile devices requires a steady supply of non-renewable resources and money. Keeping a phone around is better for the environment and our budgets.

Breaking free is harder on phones than PCs, but it can be done.

Android is the most popular mobile OS, and it happens to be open source. Communities have used to code to make alternative firmware to replace what’s on your phone How to Find and Install a Custom ROM for Your Android Device Android is super customizable, but to fully take advantage of that, you need to flash a custom ROM. Here's how to do that. Read More . CyanogenMod is the most popular option. Installing this custom ROM will give you more control of your software and may extend your phone or tablet’s life for years 12 Reasons to Install a Custom Android ROM Think you don't need a custom Android ROM anymore? Here are several reasons to install a custom Android ROM. Read More .

Sprint launched the Motorola Photon Q in 2012 with Ice Cream Sandwich. Official updates stopped with the first version of Jelly Bean, Android 4.1, in 2013. CyanogenMod users are running Marshmallow on the Photon Q [Broken URL Removed] three years later.

Depending on where you live, you have other Linux-powered phone platforms to choose from. Ubuntu Phones are making their way to market Meizu Pro 5 Ubuntu Edition Smartphone Review When a phone is released only to a select few enthusiasts, you wonder whether or not the hype is genuinely worth it. Let's look at one of the first phones to run Ubuntu Touch. Read More . Also take a look at Jolla’s Sailfish OS.

Making a smartphone last depends on more than hardware and OS. Today’s phones ship with apps that don’t work without Internet access. Say goodbye to advanced search, GPS, and music streaming services once companies decide to shut those things down.

Open source apps tend to be different. I only use free software on my Android phone by ditching Google and getting apps from F-Droid How to Use Android Without Google: Everything You Need to Know Want to use Android without Google? No Google, no problem. Here's a guide to going Google-free on your Android device to regain privacy. Read More . My GPS app lets me download maps. My music player manages files saved locally.

I may not be able to do everything I could with Play Store access, but I have a phone that can continue to do what it’s doing several years from now — without receiving another update and regardless of who decides to shut down their servers.

3. Wearables

There’s a certain comfort that comes from quantifying aspects of our lives. Want to know how healthy you are? Get a wearable! Use one to monitor your heart rate, count your steps, track your sleep, record your calories, map your jogs, and measure your weight. All you need is a Fitbit bracelet Fitbit Blaze Review Fitbit's latest device, the $200 Blaze, is rather mundane – but it also throws in a digital personal trainer called FitStar, which might completely change the way you work out. Read More , something similar from Jawbone Fitbit Flex vs. Jawbone UP: A Comparative Review In today's world, nothing escapes the fact that we are moving in a direction where quantifying and recording stuff obsessively is sort of the norm. We use Foursquare to check into places, we annoyingly take... Read More , or an Apple Watch How The Apple Watch Won Me Over When Apple announced their latest gadget, I wasn't entirely impressed. I ignored the hype, disregarded the reviews, and didn't pre-order one for myself. Obviously, I caved. Read More .

Except these gadgets lose their usefulness once their companies close down or move on. Some of these platforms integrate with others, but you don’t have control over your data, which you store on the provider’s servers. Worse, some of these products are designed to be impossible to upgrade Apple Watch Suffers Planned Obsolescence, Acer Commits to PCs, & More... [Tech News Digest] Apple enacts planned obsolescence, Acer loves PCs, Valve admits defeat, make video calls through Facebook Messenger, play as a girl in Minecraft, and the five stages of watching Marvel movies. Read More

The market isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with open source options. Startups and more established companies hope to lock you in and regularly sell you hardware. They can then take your cash and carry it to the bank.

Taking the open source approach to wearables involves getting your hands dirty, so to speak. With a Raspberry Pi, you can create your own smartwatch or an alternative to Google Glass 5 Wearable Projects You Can Build With a Raspberry Pi Have you ever thought about wearing your Raspberry Pi? Well no, of course you haven't. After all, you're perfectly normal. Read More . The Adafruit Flora development kit provides a chip you can sew into clothes and bags Flora Arduino Project Kit Review Introducing the Adafruit Flora wearable electronics development kit, generously provided to us by Newark Element14 for review and giveaway! Read More . Talk about wearable!

4. Smart Home

Smart home gadgets are the latest big thing. Take any household function or appliance, connect it to Wi-Fi, and boom, it’s smart! Many people see an allure to automating every aspect of a home. You can turn off the lights, activate the alarm system, and enable security cameras using a single app on your phone.

Smart home products do not agree on a single unifying standard. But unlike with Wearables, there is more of an effort. ZigBee and Z-Wave are two competing standards with corporate support.

Not every product supports an existing standard. Some companies only want to lock you in to their line of products.

There are several security risks to consider when investing in a smart home 5 Security Concerns to Consider When Creating Your Smart Home Many people attempt to connect as many aspects of their lives to the web as possible, but many people have expressed genuine concerns over how secure these automated living spaces actually are. Read More . Several of them are directly related to trusting your privacy to a closed source remote service.

OpenHAB is a mature open source home automation platform. It’s far from consumer-friendly, but you’re no consumer, right? Here you supply your own hardware, whether it’s a Raspberry Pi Getting Started with OpenHAB Home Automation on Raspberry Pi OpenHAB is a mature, open source home automation platform that runs on a variety of hardware and is protocol agnostic, meaning it can connect to nearly any home automation hardware on the market today. Read More or an Arduino DIY Smart Home Sensors with Arduino, MySensors and OpenHAB Smart home sensors cost a ridiculous amount of money. Wiring a whole house is the domain of those with silly amounts of disposable income. Let’s build our own with MySensors. Read More , and get to work.

Simpler products are in the works. Mycroft is an open source alternative to Amazon Echo that’s currently available for pre-order. It’s adorable, and it promises to let you control aspects of your home using only your voice.

What’s Next?

Planned obsolescence may be good for business, but it’s bad in many other areas. They hurt our own personal finances as we spend thousands of dollars re-buying hardware that, aside from unsupported software, would hold up for years. We waste resources creating devices that will only see a year or two of use before ending up in a landfill. And we deal with the psychological impact of perpetually lusting over the next big thing and forgetting how to respect and value what we have.

Breaking this cycle isn’t easy. Billions of dollars go into keeping us wanting more, spending more, and wasting more. You will have to actively resist advertising. Some people may think you’re weird.

But you won’t be alone. Products like the Fairphone exist because enough people care about changing the tech industry into something more sustainable Fairphone Review and Giveaway The Fairphone was quietly put on pre-order last year for an initial European-only run of 25,000 units. Read More . A growing movement is forming, and this means more options for you going forward.

What other ways can open source software free you from planned obsolescence? Have you kept old computers running longer using Linux? I’d love to hear your experience, so please share your thoughts below.

Related topics: Linux, Open Source.

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  1. Anonymous
    June 17, 2016 at 11:19 pm

    Definitely, keep old hardware useful!

    I run two 'old girls'; an 11-yr old Compaq Presario desktop, and a 14-yr old Dell Inspiron 1100 laptop. Both originally came with XP, which I ran till EOL.....then I switched to Linux overnight, just like that. Started with Ubuntu; sure, there was a learning curve, but Linux is way more user-friendly now than it ever used to be.

    Ran Ubuntu for a while, till Canonical's never-ending updates (as bad as Windows!) started causing graphics crashes and freeze-ups. Looked around for a lighterweight alternative, and found it; Puppy Linux.

    The Inspiron now runs 3 Pups, and the Compaq runs 9. I run Puppy exclusively, and love the fact that my machines now do exactly what I want them to, when I want them to do it. In all honesty, I have no time for Windows; I don't own a smartphone, or a tablet.....not interested in them. My sole concession to modernity is a few-years old Blackberry with the built-in keyboard; easier for texting!

    Advertising just goes over my head; it's like water off a duck's back to me. Yes, my family DO think I'm 'weird' ; but I've already converted a couple of people to Linux (Puppy, of course) can run it off a USB flashdrive, without installing it to hard drive, as Puppy runs in RAM; this is what makes it so blindingly fast!

  2. Anonymous
    June 10, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    I Wish Articles Like This One Were A Lot More Common.

    Before This Article, I Do Not Recall The Last Time I Read An Entire Article And All Corresponding Comments.


    I Hate Freaking Planned Obsolescence With A Vengeance.

    3 Examples:

    A - My ZX Is A 24 Year Old Car,

    B - When Analogue TVs Were Discontinued, I Did Not Send Mine To The Garbage,

    - I Bought A Small New Digital Receiver, For Half The Price Of A New TV, And Continued To Use The Old TVs As Output,

    - If Any Of The 2 Halves Gets Broken It Is Still Half The Price Of A New TV,

    C - Regarding Full Tower PCs,

    - With A Volume License Key, And,

    - With A Site Like PCPARTPICKER To Choose The Most Personalized Modern Hardware, And,

    - With Lots Of Browsers Still Supporting My Beloved OS, I Can Keep Using It For Many Many Many Years To Come.


  3. Michael
    June 10, 2016 at 4:05 am

    I'll be honest, I love Linux and would make the switch but I have over 200 steam pc games that I don't believe will run on Linux (Lego games, NBA 2K, etc). If not for that, I'd make the jump in a heartbeat!

    • Bertel King
      June 10, 2016 at 1:23 pm

      You're not alone. At least the number of games coming to Linux is growing much faster these days.

  4. Matthew Miller
    June 9, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    This is the problem that most people face when using computers: either use an OS that purports to be easy to use by the consumer, but the trade-off is that you are being asked to trust a megalith company that has not the slightest interest in you, and just wants your information in a giant database to sell to the highest bidder, or invest time in learning an OS that is totally foreign to the traditional way in which they've always interacted with the computer (that is, they might have to learn to use the keyboard as the primary input device instead of the mouse), but offers total freedom in using your computer your way.

    The conundrum is quite simple, really. Windows was never designed with the consumer in mind (this sounds totally counter-intuitive, but hear me out). As a trade-off for using the computer in a more comfortable way (and to hide the complexity of the computer's operation from the consumer, such as security updates), certain compromises are made; one is to implicitly give trust to a company to keep your OS up to date, and to do nothing else). Instead, over the years, Microsoft has proven that it has only itself in mind, using the endless cycle of hardware and software upgrades to keep the money coming in. Some updating is necessary, because nothing lasts forever, but the voracious cycle in which this happens can only serve a corporation's purposes.

    Linux, on the other hand, has no incentive to lock you into a certain hardware/software configuration, and you are free to use your computer as you wish. No information other than what you willingly provide is given out, but you have to take the time to learn how to use the command line, a prospect that scares Joe Average. For an OS that has a legacy dating back to 1969, this is quite logical, as GUIs didn't exist as a commonplace item as it does today, and keyboarding was considered a perfectly natural way to interact with the computer. Of course, that was geeks and nerds who did this, but these same people built Unix with a fervor that is seldom seen inside a corporation, and in fact was not developed by corporations, but by university students aided by professors. A community effort, which resulted in the finest-quality software around, was born.

    Windows will always be about Microsoft, no more, and no less, and never about the consumer. Linux can extend our hardware in ways that no one who runs Windows can ever dream of. Eat your heart out, Windows users!

    • Anonymous
      June 10, 2016 at 12:54 am

      There you go, spreading 15 year old lies about Linux.
      When starting with no knowledge of any O/S, Linux is no harder or no easier to learn and use than Windows. Windows is no more intuitive than Linux. The difficulty comes when one tries to switch to Windows after having used Linux exclusively for many years, and vice versa.

      It has been a few years since the knowledge of command line was essential to using Linux. One can comfortably use most of the popular distros without ever needing to know any terminal commands. Just because MUO publishes articles on how to perform certain tasks using terminal commands does not mean that all Linux users MUST learn them. Command line offers the user a better control over their operating system, but that is also true about Windows.

      • Matthew Miller
        June 10, 2016 at 1:15 am

        Perhaps I should have made it clear that the people I was referring to were adults with previous experience with Windows, not young people just starting out with no knowledge of any OS. What I said is empirically true; some distros do require using terminal commands, and some newbies will be exposed to these when encountering Linux for the first time, and it is equally true that some distros don't require command line expertise. But it makes my statements no less true because I didn't specify this in my comments.

        • Anonymous
          June 10, 2016 at 11:31 am

          Now you're plating with semantics.

        • Matthew Miller
          June 12, 2016 at 2:55 pm

          When starting with no knowledge of any O/S, Linux is no harder or no easier to learn and use than Windows. Windows is no more intuitive than Linux.

          I acknowledge your point, sir, and concede that I am "beating a dead horse", as the old saying would have it.

          I guess it's because I'm a older geek, and look at Linux differently than do most users; I have over 30 years experience with computers, and when I started out, GUIs were not yet in vogue; command line expertise was more valuable when interacting with the computer.

          Now it is different, of course, with computers being able to handle GUIs easily, and have done so for the better part of 20 years; distros can afford to use the extra horsepower to automate tasks that had to be done manually in years past.

          It's just that this whole concept of planned obsolescence has touched a nerve in me; in my experience, engineering ought to be focused on making things last as long as possible, instead of trying to make us spend money on the same things over and over again. But obsolescence is purely a marketing thing, and it is these departments that make the decisions on how their respective companies' products will be marketed.

        • Anonymous
          June 12, 2016 at 7:34 pm

          @Matthew Miller:
          I've been in computers since the days when IT was called Data processing and along they way I learned several O/Ss. I used Windows for over 15 years then switched to Linux and, as of today, have used it exclusively for more than 10 years. When my family has problems with their Windows computers, I cannot help them because I have forgotten Windows. Learning Linux was not easy but re-learning Windows is just as hard. The problem is not in learning the new O/S. The problem is un-learning the habits picked up whil working with the old O/S.

          "engineering ought to be focused on making things last as long as possible"
          Engineers do try to make things last as long as possible but they are not in charge. The bean counters and marketing weenies are. Profits are made on the quantity of product sold, not the quality of product sold. Our society and economy are designed to consume. If we do not consume, the economy goes down the toilet.

    • Bertel King
      June 10, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      These days users are interacting with new platforms all the time, but it a Windows laptop, a MacBook, a Chromebook, an iPad, an Android tablet, or a game console. Bringing this much diversity to the market is creating an environment where more people may find switching to Linux to be much less jarring than before.

  5. me
    June 9, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    You have to be careful because there are many security updates that come out regularly that you need and many linux distros are negligent in this regard.

    The default tool, iptables, for the firewall can block many of these things, but how many users know how to configure it properly. However, it is not fool proof there are still browser exploits, and people can still be tricked, easily, into launching email attachments and/or links that contain viruses. Some of the viruses won't work because your in linux, but if they figure that out they will just send you linux viruses which are less common. However, they still exist.

    I have found out by blindly accepting the version,provided by the distro, of the software installed I was missing out on many new features of the new version that had been out for 2+ yr already! Now I have to manually check the versions of the software I actually use to verify it is really up-to-date.

    The end result is that users who just want something that works still need to proactively learn about the operation of the computer so they can maintain it properly.

    • Anonymous
      June 10, 2016 at 1:21 am

      "You have to be careful because there are many security updates that come out regularly that you need and many linux distros are negligent in this regard."
      FUD! Quite the opposite is true. Linux security updates are disseminated as soon as they are ready. Linux developers do not wait for Patch Tuesday or for the next major O/S release to make updates available. For example, by the time tech press wrote their articles warning users about Heartbleed, the patch to fix it was already available for download.

      "I have found out by blindly accepting the version,provided by the distro, of the software installed I was missing out on many new features of the new version that had been out for 2+ yr already! "
      You must be using Debian. :-) Rolling update distros, such as Arch, release software as soon as it passes the alpha stage, using the user community as their beta testers. On the other end of the spectrum is Debian that tests software for almost forever. If you want bleeding edge and don't mind the software crashing every once in a while, you go with Arch. If you want rock stable software that never crashes and don't mind it being a version behind, you go with Debian.

      "The end result is that users who just want something that works still need to proactively learn about the operation of the computer so they can maintain it properly."
      Heck, that goes for just about anything. You want to live longer, you proactively take care of your body. You want your car to last longer, you do proactive maintenance. etc. etc. etc.

    • Bertel King
      June 10, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      This is good advice regardless of what operating system you use. Fortunately Linux doesn't prevent users from being proactive, unlike some proprietary software.