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Crippleware is a term for hardware or software which has been altered so that it is no longer fully functional. It is generally considered to be a derogatory term, and is not a term which would be used by manufacturers to refer to their own products. There are a number of reasons to release crippleware, but they all ultimately boil down to economic issues. Many consumers dislike crippleware because of the lack of functionality and usability associated with it, and because it reflects a conscious effort on the part of the manufacturer to cripple their own products.
One of the most common and relatively benign versions of crippleware is a trial or evaluation copy of software. In this instance, the program may not be fully functional, but it allows a consumer to get an idea of how the program works. If the consumer likes it, he or she can pay for a registration key to make the software fully active. In some cases, a manufacturer may release a crippleware version which is entirely separate from the full version, to discourage cracking.
The term can also be used in reference to hardware. Some manufacturers release versions of equipment which are lacking some functions to encourage consumers to upgrade. The lower price of the crippleware induces consumers to purchase the product, but they ultimately upgrade because they are frustrated by the limited features. Computer manufacturers are notorious for this practice.
In another instance, software is released in the form of crippleware to encourage consumers to upgrade. Many cell phone companies engage in this, crippling the functionality of their phones so that subscribers pay more for extra features which are normally part of the phone. Freeware or shareware companies also do this, in the hopes of making money from upgrades, since the initial product cost is low or nonexistent.
"Crippleware" is also used in reference to music handling programs which use Digital Rights Management (DRM). DRM is intended to ensure that copyright restrictions are not violated, but some consumers feel that DRM is excessive, and in fact restricts their freedoms with music and movie products. Consumers in several nations have protested the embedding of DRM in digitized music, music management programs, and media discs such as DVDs. In some instances, DRM is also anti-competitive, leading to concerns about an open market for digital media, with some artists questioning whether or not DRM is a good way to manage their work.