Microsoft to Make Devices Easier to Repair, Bowing to Investor Pressure

A potential victory for right to repair.

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Microsoft has agreed to study and facilitate the independent repair of its devices following pressure from shareholders and an environmental nonprofit. It's a massive triumph for the right to repair movement.

The company, which makes devices including the Surface line of computers and Xbox, came to an agreement with As You Sow, a nonprofit investor advocacy group focusing on environmental advocacy, Grist first reported. In June, As You Sow filed a resolution asking Microsoft's board to prepare a report "on the environmental and social benefits of making Company devices more easily repairable by consumers and independent repair shops."

Due to the agreement, As You Sow will withdraw the resolution, and Microsoft will go above and beyond the initial ask. In a news release, As You Sow stated that Microsoft will study, with a third-party, the environmental and social impacts of making devices easier to repair and "determine new mechanisms to increase access to repair, including for Surface devices and Xbox consoles," as well as make some parts and repair documentation available to consumers, not just authorized service providers.

The company will be taking actions "by the end of 2022," according to the news release.

"This is an encouraging step by Microsoft to respond to the upswell of federal and state activity in the right to repair movement," Kelly McBee, waste program coordinator at As You Sow said in the release. "Excitingly, this agreement will begin to allow consumers to repair their Microsoft devices outside the limited network of authorized repair shops."

"Microsoft is committed to designing our products to deliver what customers need and want in a premium device and that includes increasing device repairability," a Microsoft spokesperson told Tom's Hardware. "We believe customers are entitled to repair options that are safe and reliable. We currently provide customers with repair services that ensure the high quality of repairs, safeguard customers’ privacy and security, and protect customers from injury." The spokesperson also pointed to the company's sustainability report for more information on environmental health and safety as well as repairability.

Similar shareholder resolutions have been filed with both Apple and the tractor manufacturer Deere & Co.

iFixit, which produces repair guides for many devices (and sells tool kits), tweeted that the agreement "is a big deal," and put Grist's story on its homepage. 

This agreement was announced shortly following the release of Microsoft's latest Surface devices, including the Surface Laptop Studio and Surface Pro 8. Over the past few years, Microsoft has made its storage drives more easily removable on its tablets with an easy open door, though its laptops require quite a bit more handiwork. The company told Tom's Hardware that customers replacing SSDs on their own would void their warranties, as Microsoft only intends for authorized service providers to make changes or repairs.

Microsoft's Xbox Series X and Series S aren't designed to be opened by owners. Instead, Microsoft relies on specialized external drives sold by Seagate to add more storage.

Some others have taken the opposite approach. The startup Framework has made a laptop designed to be upgraded by users over time.

More than half of U.S. states are looking into right to repair legislation, so if companies don't agree to look into it themselves, its possible that governments may force the issue.

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