"Who pays the cost to fix old, out-of-date drivers and firmware? Is HP supposed to do it out of the goodness of their heart?"
Bullshit. A firmware update generally addresses some sort of bug or deficiency. By not patching it freely, HP is admitting that they sold you a flawed product. So I should be able to then demand my money back. It is their RESPONSIBILITY to fix it!!
As others have said, the worst company with this is cisco. The second worst is sonicwall. Fuck sonicwall and their paid updates!! I had to throw out a perfectly good VPN appliance whoes compact flash card had died because they would not let me download a firmware for the unit. Not because I didnt have a service contract with them, but because I didnt have a service contract for that one particular VPN appliance. I had another contract with another appliance which we purchased later.
If the fix is already made, then keeping it from former customers unless they pay up is spiteful ransom. A firmware update is addressing flaws in the vendors product. The vendor would do well to get them fixed, or you get a very bad reputation such as sonicwall has with me now.
If I had to maintain support contracts with every vendor i've ever done business with on the off chance that one day I will need an update, I would not be able to ever purchase anything new. Your old assets would become drags. This is similar to why I always try and find open source software alternatives for everything I possibly can. Specifically because in software world, it is very common to charge for every update. Result, I don't buy much paid for software when I have open source alternatives. With hardware, its a lot harder to change products when some bug is encountered.
All this is is a giant ad for dell servers, who I have never had a problem with getting drivers or updates for. If dell can do it, then sure as shit HP can. I was actually looking at HP servers for a friend, but I guess I will be recommending dell now. HP fails it. Short term profits trump everything and I am so sick of it.