From reduced packaging to energy savings to extended equipment lifecycles, Linux can help you green up your tech environment. Jack Wallen looks at some of the eco-friendly benefits of running Linux.

If you’re not beginning to think green, you’re a release behind. In today’s world you have to think green. But how do you do that without installing a roof of solar panels? If you are using (or thinking of using) Linux, you’re one step ahead of the competition.

In this article, you will find 10 solid ways to start thinking green in your IT department. It’s responsible, it’s smart, and it’ll save you money and time on this great planet.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Reduced landfill

With Linux, you can keep using that older hardware even while using the latest version of your distribution. When you use Linux, you don’t have to throw away ugly packaging that typically comes with software. And there are no transportation costs required to ship distributions from a warehouse to your retail store. According to a UK study in 2004, Windows users are required to upgrade their computers twice as often as Linux users: “Industry observers quote a typical hardware refresh period for Microsoft Windows systems as 3 – 4 years; a major UK manufacturing organization quotes its hardware refresh period for Linux systems as 6 – -8 years.”

2: Powertop

This little gem of an application can help you learn how to make your laptops (and desktops) more efficient. When you run Powertop, it will examine your system and give you tips on how to better your energy performance. When I run Powertop on my laptop, I get: “Suggestion: Disable ‘hal’ from polling your cdrom with: hal-disable-polling –device /dev/scd0 ‘hal’ is the component that auto-opens a window if you plug in a CD but disables SATA power saving from kicking in.” Some of the suggestions will even tell you how much wattage you can save by killing (or configuring) services. Even though the man page for Powertop states it is for Intel-based machines, it will work on AMD machines as well.

3: Netbooks

No matter how much you deny this, netbooks are not only here to stay but are growing faster than many predicted. Many of these netbooks are optimized for long battery life through minimal power usage. Intel has finally put a hand of cards into this game with its Moblin OS. Moblin’s primary goal is low-power and high battery life. Moblin is a Linux-based operating system and is only for netbooks. Another netbook feature that makes them especially green is their no-moving-parts-storage — which means they should exceed the lifespan of the standard notebook. So netbooks are one of the greener options available. And no matter how well Windows 7 is received, it can’t beat the cost of Linux on a netbook.

4: Zonbu

I have used the Zonbu (both the desktop and the laptop flavor), and I can attest that these pieces of hardware are in fact some of the greenest computers I have ever used. The Zonbu laptop has some of the best battery life I have ever experienced on a laptop (especially when running a lightweight desktop like Enlightenment). And the Zonbu Mini is like a netbook for your desktop. When using Zonbu, you can enjoy its Elastic Drive, which is basically remote storage. No extra hardware to purchase (or toss when it goes bad). And the Zonbu OS is Energy Star compliant and optimized for low power consumption.

5: Money savings

This may not seem green, but you can use all the money you save using Linux to “green up” other aspects of your business or home. Also, because you’re not spending money on boxed software, you’re not increasing the carbon footprint of the companies putting CDs and printed versions of EULAs (which no one will read anyway) in shrink-wrapped boxes and shipping via smoke-belching semis. Instead, just download an ISO of a Linux distribution (or binary of an application) and install away. No waste. No guilt.

6: Less energy-demanding desktops

If you’re like me, you enjoy using alternative desktops. In nearly every laptop I use, one of the first things I do is install Enlightenment because it uses far less CPU (hence far less energy) than GNOME or KDE. Using these desktops has another benefit. Because they will use fewer CPU cycles, they could, theoretically, extend the life of your machine. But even though these desktops will require fewer resources, don’t be tricked into using less RAM. Less RAM means more disk swapping and more disk swapping means more energy.

7: Custom-compiled kernel

If you have the skills for kernel compilation, you can roll your own kernel to fit your hardware perfectly. With a good kernel compilation, you can take out services and features you don’t need and add in services you want (such as the tickless kernel). Naturally, many Linux users have never compiled a kernel. But if you haven’t, you should look into it. It’s a real treat to have compiled your own kernel on your system.

8: Kpowersave, ACPI, and other power-saving tools

Some laptops will suspend and hibernate out of the box with Linux. But others can be a real head-scratcher. Having a laptop that will not suspend or hibernate is nothing more than a waste of power and battery life. Fortunately, tools are available to help you solve these problems. One of those tools is a simple user-grasp of ACPI will help you understand why your laptop will not suspend or hibernate.

9: Migration from Windows Server

Red Hat Linux has proven to beat Windows Server 2008 in 13 out of 16 power consumption tests. The tests included Quiescent test without power savings applied (Red Hat won three out of four); Quiescent test with power savings applied (Red Hat won four out of four); Active test without power saving applied (Red Hat won three out of four); and Active test with power savings applied (Red Hat won three out of four). When you’re looking for the most in power-saving, green computing, why wouldn’t you migrate to Linux? With the ability to tune your machine to specific needs (either by installing software or compiling your kernel), you can eke out every drop of power. With Windows, however, you take what you get and hope that Microsoft has tuned the kernel to save as much energy as possible. If not, you hope you can find efficient hardware to run the operating system on.

10: Only the daemons you need to run

This should be a no-brainer. There are always background processes you do not need. Bluetooth is one of the culprits. To find out what services are running, issue the chkconfig -list command, which will list every running service on your machine. You can dig through this listing to find out all the services you do not need. For instance, if you’re running a desktop machine and you see laptop-mode listed, you can kill that service. There might well be plenty of other unnecessary services.

Greener yet?

I hope after reading this, you will find that green computing is, in fact, much easier with Linux than it is with Windows. What do you think? Have you gone green? If so, have you gone green with Linux? Or have you managed to green up your PCs with Windows? Let us know.