Pick a random consumer device lying around your house and imagine someone coming across it after 70 years of neglect. Part of the device no longer works. Would they be able to fix it?
Today, devices are designed to be cheap, short-lived and disposable. The assumption is that if something you buy breaks, the only solution is to throw it away. Repairability and longevity is simply not a factor in most consumers’ minds.
In fact, this “use and throw” mentality contributes to massive e-waste. The total e-waste around the world this year is estimated to reach a record 57.4 million tonnes–that is, more than the weight of the Great Wall of China
Being able to repair things we own is critical to extending their longevity. This past week the Library of Congress approved changes to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) that grant people the right to get into their consumer devices for the purposes of diagnostics, repair, and maintenance. This is part of an overall initiative to expand the so-called “Right to Repair” nationally within the US (there are similar efforts in the EU).
The core idea behind Right to Repair is to prevent companies from using the DMCA or other means to block consumers from being able to take apart, reverse engineer, and repair things they buy. Removing the legal risk is a big step forward, but we must move beyond the Right to Repair before the devices you buy are actually repairable. In this post I will elaborate on the problem of longevity in modern devices and some solutions. It starts with parts and ends with software.
This is a great post, Kyle, and I wholeheartedly agree. However, I do wonder about the long-term compatibility of this philosophy with the subject or your recent post “How Pursim Funds Free Software” There seems to be a tension there between encouraging your customers to fix their hardware on one hand (admirable), and funding sofware development with hardware on the other (also admirable), because when combined, the only way for Purism to stay in business is consistently increase market share. Is this a realistic expectation long-term, given the “average user’s” patience/attention span? Do you really think that Purism and the community can win duopoly consumers over at a rate to keep the company afloat? I guess pace is important, and the fact that Purism stays fairly lean in terms of personnel will only help that. Any plans to expand services, perhaps? That could be another revenue stream…
Well, our aim has always been to bring these values to the masses and not just pigeon hole ourselves to geeks. After all geeks aren’t the only folks who deserve freedom.
We registered the company as a Social Purpose Company because while profit is important to stay in business, these values are more important than sheer profit. As long as we are wise in how we grow, and wise about where we invest our resources, I think there’s plenty of business to go around–the global computer and smartphone market is pretty big after all.
Not sure as a lot of that would depend on what’s possible as we design a successor to the L5. At the moment we are still focused on delivering the first version and fighting all the supply chain issues.
While I await my ordered L5 I got a used(pristine condition) L5 off eBay. It is very cool indeed! I love the kill switches , replaceable battery , modem etc. Feels solid too. It was from a forum member. Reasonable price.
I’m keen to repair my own stuff and like the reassurance you can buy spares. I almost bought a Librem 5 used last month, but didn’t as outside the US, Purism don’t have spare batteries to buy on their own, and it put me off buying at the moment.
Hopefully this will be fixed by the time Purism reach shipping parity.
NOTE for customers outside US: We will not be able to ship any orders that contain ONLY batteries,
Purism deserves a lot of credit for the following activities which all aid in right to repair:
Selecting components which use FOSS drivers and gets updates from the manufacturer, so it is easier to keep upgrading to the latest kernel, and the community can keep supporting the hardware, even when the manufacturer no longer maintains the drivers,
Selecting components with longer support cycles from the manufacturers, so the hardware is more likely to receive proprietary firmware updates in the future,
Working to add mainline Linux kernel support for the hardware in the Librem 5, so it is easy to upgrade to the latest kernel in the future,
Designing Phosh as a thin overlay on top of standard Linux+wlroots +Wayland+GTK+GNOME, and upsteaming its changes to that parent software, so it is easier to upgrade Phosh in the future to take advantage of improvements in the ecosystem,
Working to make standard GNOME apps adaptive and touch friendly for mobile screens rather than designing their own apps that are likely to be poorly maintained in the future. In other words, Purism is improving the GNOME ecosystem, rather than trying to make its own siloed ecosystem like Ubuntu Touch, WebOS, Tizen and Firefox OS, which is hard to maintain.
Working to get much of Purism’s own software development (Calls, Chatty, libhandy and libadwaita) accepted as official GNOME projects, so they will be better maintained in the future.
Being the first phone manufacturer to promise lifetime software updates (which is a credible promise for all the reasons listed above that should lower the cost of providing kernel and Phosh updates in the future),
Providing Coreboot/PureBoot updates for its older PC models which are out of production.
Designing the first phone in history with whose wireless communications (WiFi/BT and cellular modem) use standardized connectors and form factors so they can be replaced or upgraded with standard parts,
Designing the first phone with free/open schematics since the GTA04 in 2012, which should make it easier to do board repair (although it would be much easier if Purism would release the CAD files so people can identify where each component is placed on the boards),
Releasing the STL files for the Librem 5 case, so third parties can design their own replacement cases.
However, an important component of right to repair is the ability to get replacement parts, and in that area, Purism has not done well. Kudos for selling replacement power adapters and batteries (and cellular modems for the Librem 5) on the web site and for using standardized form factors for the RAM, SSD and WiFi/BT cards that can be obtained from third party providers, but getting replacement parts for the non-standard components (screens, cases, keyboards, touchpads, circuit boards and heat sink/cooling fan) is a big problem.
I understand the economics of small-scale custom manufacturing, which make it hard for Purism to stock replacement parts, but I would encourage the company to try to order extra parts when manufacturing, so it has some in stock that it can sell, or maybe offer to buy or trade-in broken units, so it can resell the used components on its web site.
I make this recommendation, because I still haven’t bought the Librem 14 due to my fear that I won’t be able to fix it if it breaks, so I have kept buying Thinkpads, because I know that I can get replacement parts off eBay. On my own laptops, I have seen screens, cooling fans, keyboards, touch pads and hinges all fail, so I am reluctant to take a risk buying any laptop that I can’t fix.
I understand that Purism can’t publish the schematics and board views on their laptops since they are based on Intel’s copyrighted reference designs, but System76 will send the proprietary schematics for its Clevo laptops to customers who send in the serial number for their machines, which aids in doing board-level repair (like Louis Rossmann does for Macbooks). I would like to see Purism to match System76/Clevo in this regard.
That is true but it is not the only scenario. The company may well still be in business but the product or product line has been abandoned. In turn, that may be because the product has just been abandoned or because the product was part of a buy-to-kill acquisition of a competitor.
I remember the time that I bought TV’s, audio amplifiers (and the famous Philips motion feed-back loudspeaker box), all included extensive schematics with full component lists. Those days ('80s) no body seems to bother about factory secrets. And still the companies where able to make profits. To day we live in a world dominated by British/American law where lawyers instead of technicians rule. Kudos for Purism.
May I present the Framework Laptop which does this very thing?
It would be great if Purism and Framework worked together to make the Framework laptop just as free as the Librem 14.
I still have my Librem 13 v2 with a display that totally works, but has a display cable that is backing out of its connection making the functionality of the display limited. I have a new display and lid that I was able to buy from Purism, but to this date nearly a year later have not been given any instructions on how to replace the lid, and where to hot glue or solder the MANY wires from the new lid.
Issue like this are in stark contrast with this blog post.
Don’t get me wrong either. I don’t expect Purism to support their products until the end of time. I know that your OEM changed with the Librem 14, and that a large part of this was because of the poor service you received from the old one. Many of the things Purism was blamed for were because of this OEM. I get that.
But the customer at the end of the line is the one left holding the stick. My Librem 13 still works, but where is the right to repair it? It is a great buzz word, but for it to mean anything, parts, and knowledge must coincide with it.
There was a point where I was going to sell all of my other computers and just use the Librem 13. Sadly you can see why that never happened.
BTW, your antique calculators are awesome. Particularily the Monroe LX-160n you talked about in this post.
I applaud Purism’s overall stance on the matter 100%. This position is what attracted me to the company back in 2018. Nothing else. I’m still pulling for you all, but my own experiences cannot be ignored.
This is true of course. The main limiting factor here isn’t the will to provide spare parts, but simply the supply. Any parts we have need to go into devices customers have already ordered and are waiting on. The spare parts situation will improve once we get caught up.
You certainly have the right to repair it but in your case it sounds like the issue is more the ability to get parts and the know-how to repair it, which is different. With each iteration of our computers we try to factor more repairability into the design, but that doesn’t mean that we are at our ultimate goal yet, even with the Librem 14.
My post describes our values and our goals for repairability, and the world we are trying to create, but I’m not saying we have already reached our goals. Like with creating computers with 100% free components (which we haven’t gotten to yet), we are aiming toward a goal and trying to get closer to that goal with each iteration.
This isn’t a self-imposed restriction, but instead a restriction put on us by shipping companies. We aren’t allowed to ship those batteries by themselves internationally–they have to be part of the Librem 5 order. So to my understanding you can order extra batteries for your Librem 5 if you include them in the Librem 5 order (and that’s what we recommend international customers do).
Yes I get that. There may be other creative ways to abide by the rules and enable wider shipments of spare batteries.
Are your batteries made in China and shipped to the USA, then delivered by road in the US? You could replicate that in say Europe, ship to EU from China, then deliveries by road from a 3PL, avoiding air freight. Your battery manufacturer or their contacts, may already have the logistics worked out for something like this.
Sell spare batteries in a charger, fitted equipment, under UN3481