I’m an IT guy. Back in the day, my then employer (an oil company) had a large Control Data Corp Cyber mainframe. We’re talking a large room full of hulking metal cabinets. We’re talking the lights dimming when we had to perform a ‘Deadstart 0’ (power on) of this thing.
We had a whopping 32 MB of RAM memory in our Cyber, but it wasn’t enough for our needs. So we contacted CDC for an upgrade to 64 MB. The $$ amount they quoted us was enough for my employer to elect to lease the upgrade instead of buying it. And this was an oil company, remember.
Once the paperwork was signed, our resident CDC engineer (yes, resident. He was an employee of CDC but he had an office in our IT department) told everyone he was going to shut down the system in preparation for the upgrade.
We thought he was nuts. The ink wasn’t even dry on the paperwork, there was no way the extra memory could have arrived yet. He smiled, calmly walked into the server room, shut down the Cyber, and opened one of the access doors at the back of the memory cabinet. He then proceeded to pull a pair of pliers from his pocket.
You guessed it. Our Cyber mainframe had shipped from the factory with the maximum amount of memory already installed. There was a wire (technically, a wire wrap, connecting two pins) in place to disable half the installed memory. All the engineer had to do was cut that wire, and presto, we had 64 MB. My employer paid CDC a small fortune for this little snip. It was so easy that any one of us could have done it, had we known which wire to cut.
Needless to say, my employer was not amused. But legally there was nothing they could do. Was it ethical? That depends.
When you download a free 30 day trial of a software package from the Internet, that is very often the full product software package you’re downloading and installing. There is, bit by bit, not a single difference from the (often expensive) fully licensed version and the free 30 day trial version. All you have to do is purchase a license, then enter a code into the trial software. Once done, the exact same software package that you’ve already downloaded and installed turns fully functional.
There is one important difference, though. When you buy a car (or a mainframe computer) it becomes your property. You never buy software, you license it. You’re buying the right to use it, not the property rights to the software itself (with a few exceptions).
The reason I bring this up, is that the mindset of the car manufacturer is the same. In their minds, they sold you the V8S. You didn’t just purchase the hardware, you purchased the driving experience, a posted set of specs, and the status that accompanies the specific model you purchased. In other words, in addition to the hardware, you purchased a bunch of intangible goods as well.
By limiting horsepower in software, the vendor will argue that they have taken nothing away from you. You purchased, and now own, 1 engine block, 2 heads, 8 pistons, and so on. If you want the status and the driving experience of the higher priced SVR, you need to pay up.
It’s only a question of time before car manufacturers implement the equivalent of HDCP* in cars, where performing an aftermarket software upgrade (or “hacking”, as I’m sure the car manufacturers will call it) will be impossible. Tesla is already quite far down that road with their EVs. Tesla owners are already asking who owns the damn car, Tesla or them?
*) HDCP = High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection. It makes sure all components in a video system are approved to handle copyrighted content. If not: No picture. Car manufacturers can do the same. If you install software that’s not approved by the manufacturer: All other computers/controllers in the car will shut down and immobilize the car. The same could apply to aftermarket (hardware) accessories. If it plugs into the electrical system, the manufacturer can verify that it’s approved and take action if it’s not.