Thursday, 19 March 2015

Extending Sustainability



Sustainability is a good idea, right? We can agree on the principle? If you are going to build or make something you should only build or make it from raw materials which can be recycled at the end of its useful life. No one wants any really nasty bits left over that will pollute or in any damage the environment.

It is just commonsense. We may be thoroughly materialistic but we have become self-aware, and the idea that we should not do any more harm to this planet has become fashionable. For goodness sake the word trends on Twitter on a regular basis.

However, what most people choose to ignore, or rather not think about, is that recycling is not the end of the story. It is a good start, but there is still more that we can do. What Hugh, I hear you cry out? Well, one thing that would make me happy is if software developers stopped doing things which renders equipment out of date so damned quickly.

I know there is a business case involved here too. Sustainability versus profit, and not surprisingly profit often wins. If you launch Windows 10 obviously it will help everyone if it wipes out a lot of hardware which will not have the power or capacity to cope. Well, it helps everyone who sells new hardware anyway.

Except business is traditionally slow to adopt new operating systems. Windows XP has only really died out since Bill Gates and co decided not to support it anymore. Partly this is down to cost; most businesses will not spend money unless there is a good reason to do so. Partly this is down to trust in the new software. No one was prepared to rush into Windows 7 and Windows 8 was clearly the work of Beelzebub, so unless the software you needed for your business had to have those systems behind them, people stuck with what they had.

I am a simple sort of bloke. Not a computer whizz at all really. I know what I need to know, normally around Microsoft Office. And as far as I can see nothing much has changed since good old XP. Well apart from when I spent a blissfully short time wrestling with Windows 8, which made getting to a programme I knew slightly harder than negotiating Spaghetti Junction in a blizzard with a balaclava on the wrong way round. None of the various machines in my life outperformed the others in terms of speed.

And yet there are constant updates to all sorts of things and I know that sooner or later my desktop with be rendered unusable, for no good reason. Is it really beyond the wit of man to invent and progress within the capabilities of the hardware?

That would be really clever, if they designed new software applications that worked within the universe their customers were already invested in. Because the hardware is the stuff that does the damage to the planet right? The same principle applies to cars. I am currently driving a ten year old Ford and the body work is fine. They have cured the rust problems of the past. So why isn’t there a market...a business case...a desire...to sell affordable upgrades/replacement bits to old cars?

The answer is obvious. Because Ford make money selling new cars. But true sustainability would be better served by selling me bits...and I emphasise the affordable here... to make my old faithful feel new again.

Built in...or designed in...obsolescence is a bad thing. Sure everything probably has a useful life and we all understand that, but we should make more of an effort to extend and refurbish. You want to keep on improving the orchestra but you don’t want to keep re-building the concert hall.