Goodbye First-gen Roku

I just factory-reset my first-gen roku N1000 in preparation for junking. A cursory ebay search shows these listed on ebay as “vintage.” While it seems like I was able to successfully stream netflix, amazon, and PBS kids through it recently, it was probably a few years ago. (This is what growing old feels like, I guess.)

I type this post on an AMD phenom-II x2 that is only a year newer than the roku, yet runs win10 just fine, and continues to function as a contemporary to newer hardware systems. (A predecessor system with twice the cores but only 4GiB memory did not fare so well.) I added a GTX1650 to replace the anemic on-board video, and my kids have had no complaints so far about their game performance. (They are big fans of Terraria, Minecraft, and Geometry Dash, but it also runs WoW classic at 60FPS.)

Back to the roku… the reason the N1000 no longer works for streaming is not a technical one. It has its hardware limitations of 720p, and I suspect only a fixed set of supported CODECs, but I have run brand-spanking-new software on hardware from the early 90s, so I posit the decision to discontinue support is economic. I wonder what the real or perceived cost in continuing to support roku channels on the N1000 was when they decided to cut it loose? The projected margin for sales new hardware due to upgrades exceeds the cost of maintaining a CI environment for new software on old hardware?

Hobbyists can afford to have a warped sense of economy. Reduction in cost is an indirect goal, not maximization of revenue. For me, the primary cost has been time, followed by power consumption. I can’t recommend running PHP on a 400MHz alpha if you care about speed, but it was functional. Spamassassin took ~30s per message when I moved mail from my dual-processor SPARC 20 to an x86 VM. The same phenom-II x2 that I’m typing this message on now used to host all my VMs, and was replaced a couple years ago by a Dell Romley system which consumes roughly the same amount of power, but with 8x the hardware threads, 16x the memory, and 1/3 the rack space.

Tonight I packed up my c64 which is still able to read most of its disks from c1990 and isn’t dependent on the whims of a vendor for it to continue working correctly. I have three nexus 6 phones in my household now which had support dropped by google in 2017, but are able to run a frequently updated android 10 thanks to lineageOS. My kids’ chromebooks from ~2015 are both supported until mid 2021, and I expect I could install a third party chromeOS distro to extend the lifetime.

The c64 isn’t dependent on a third party to continue functioning. My nexus 6 and chromebooks will continue to work after the vendor drops support, but won’t receive security updates. In contrast, the roku is effectively dead, even though the hardware continues to work correctly. It can play videos from USB media, but the streaming services it utilized have been discontinued.

I want a long tail to hardware. I want the computing equivalent of replacing a refrigerator from 1978 because it no longer efficiently cooling its contents, not because the vendor decided they didn’t want to support cooling for that model. I want the decision to drop support for a given product to be made over a congregation of known users and code escrow being handed over to a non-profit or placed in public domain.

Sorry to see you go, first generation roku N1000. You seem to be working just fine hardware-wise, but apparently I never really owned you, and your true owners have a different software development optimization point than I do.