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Crippleware has been defined in realms of both computer software and hardware. In software, crippleware means that "vital features of the program such as printing or the ability to save files are disabled until the user purchases a registration key". While crippleware allows consumers to see the software before they buy, they are unable to test its complete functionality because of the disabled functions. Hardware crippleware is "a hardware device that has not been designed to its full capability". The functionality of the hardware device is limited to encourage consumers to pay for a more expensive upgraded version. Usually the hardware device considered to be crippleware can be upgraded to better or its full potential by way of a trivial change, such as removing a jumper wire. The manufacturer would most likely release the crippleware as a low-end or economy version of their product.
Deliberately limited programs are usually freeware versions of computer programs that lack the most advanced (or even crucial) features of the original program. Limited versions are made available in order to increase the popularity of the full program (by making it more desirable) without giving it away free. Examples include a word processor that cannot save or print, and unwanted features, for example screencasting and video editing software programs applying a watermark (often a logo) onto the video screen. However, crippleware programs can also differentiate between tiers of paying software customers.
The term "crippleware" is sometimes used to describe software products whose functions have been limited (or "crippled") with the sole purpose of encouraging or requiring the user to pay for those functions (either by paying a one-time fee or an ongoing subscription fee).
The less derogatory term, from a shareware software producer's perspective, is feature-limited. Feature-limited is merely one mechanism for marketing shareware as a damaged good; others are time-limited, usage-limited, capacity-limited, nagware and output-limited. From the producer's standpoint, feature-limited allows customers to try software with no commitment instead of relying on questionable or possibly staged reviews. Try-before-you-buy applications are very prevalent for mobile devices, with the additional damaged good of ad-displays as well as all of the other forms of damaged-good applications.
From an Open Source software providers perspective, there is the model of open core which includes a feature-limited version of the product and an open-core version. The feature-limited version can be used widely; this approach is used by products like MySQL and Eucalyptus.
This product differentiation strategy has also been used in hardware products:
- The Intel 486SX which was a 486DX with the FPU removed or in early versions present but disabled.
- AMD disabled defective cores on their quad-core Phenom and Phenom II X4 processor dies to make cheaper triple-core Phenom and Phenom II X3 and dual-core X2 models without the expense of designing new chips. Quad-core dies with one or two faulty cores can be used as triple- or dual-core processors rather than being discarded, increasing yield. Some users have managed to "unlock" these crippled cores, when not faulty.
- Casio's fx-82ES scientific calculator uses the same ROM as the fx-991ES (a model with enhanced functionality), and can be made to act as the latter by strategically cutting through the epoxy on the board, and tracing the exposed solder joints using a pencil. This is also the case with the fx-83ES and the fx-85ES.
- Apple announcing it would charge $4.99 in order to enable Wi-Fi on some devices in 2007 (fee later reduced to $1.99) and blaming it on GAAP compliance, even though their interpretation of the accounting rules as mandating a fee was contradicted by a former chief accountant of the SEC and by a member of the Financial Accounting Standards Board.
- Intel Upgrade Service (2010-2011), which allowed select types of processors to be upgraded via a software activation code, has also been criticized in such terms.
Some high-end BMW cars in the United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand, and South Africa have the option to pay a subscription fee for features such as heated seats, advanced cruise control, and automatic beam switching. The components and functionality already exist within the vehicle, but BMW has a software block that prevent them from being used without paying.
Digital rights management
Digital rights management is another example of this product differentiation strategy. Digital files are inherently capable of being copied perfectly in unlimited quantities; digital rights management aims to deter copyright infringement by using hardware or cryptographic techniques to limit copying or playback.
- Defective by Design
- Hardware restrictions
- Walled garden (technology)
- Planned obsolescence
- Regional lockout
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- matt buchanan (28 March 2008). "AMD Phenom X3 Triple Core Processors Are Crippled Quad Cores in Disguise". Gizmodo. Gawker Media.
- Hilbert Hagedoorn. "Phenom II X3 - Enable and unlock the 4th core". Guru3D.com.
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- "Apple Gets a Bruise by Blaming A $1.99 Fee on Accounting Rules". The Wall Street Journal.
- "Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features". ZDNet.
this arbitrary software lock is odd in that Intel is offering to remove it for a fee. Basically it seems processors have become so powerful and so cheap, and the failure rates so low, that the only way that Intel can supply the low end demand is through artificially downgrading chips.
- Cory Doctorow (18 September 2010). "Intel + DRM: a crippled processor that you have to pay extra to unlock".
- "Crippleware: Upgrade fürs Auto". Die ZEIT Online (in German). 2018-06-13. Archived from the original on 2018-06-13.
- Dinsdale, Ryan (13 July 2022). "Some BMW Car Features Can Only be Unlocked With Microtransactions". IGN.
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- "Antifeatures". Blog entry, wikified list, talk and video by FSF-Board member Benjamin Mako Hill.
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- "Court order denying motion to dismiss of Melanie Tucker v. Apple Computer Inc. in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division" (2006-12-20)
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- "Western Digital's 'crippleware': Some lessons from history" The Register. Follow-up to original article. (2007-12-12)