The British government recently claimed that systems running Linux are greener than those running Windows operating systems. Why? Quite simple—a report by the US Department of Government Commerce claims that comparing equivalent systems running on Linux and Windows, the Linux systems will require less memory and slower processors while carrying out the same tasks. This means lower power consumption and therefore less harm to the environment. Another reason that Linux systems would tend to cause less harm to the environment is the hardware life cycle. While Windows systems will require a hardware refresh every three to four years, a Linux system may only require upgrading every six to eight years!
Microsoft have come under heavy criticism from environmental groups after the release of Windows Vista; the new operating system is extremely demanding and has the potential to relegate half of the worlds computers to the scrap heap creating a deluge of toxic electronic waste. Most of the world’s e-waste currently ends up in scrap yards or recycling heaps located in parts of Asia like the Philippines and Thailand. Greenpeace Southeast Asia Toxics Campaigner Beau Baconguis said that “The idea that software innovation would result in more mountains of computer scrap ending up in the dumps of Asia and Africa, contaminating the environment, and affecting the health of communities, is both offensive and intolerable," Greenpeace argue that Microsoft should have considered this while producing it’s new power hungry operating system.
While the current evidence points fingers at Microsoft’s software for its high hardware requirements I think sooner or later the questions raised apply to all software producers. Should software manufacturers consider the environmental consequences of their new processor intensive applications? Should hardware manufacturers make machines more easily upgradeable? Will we see large distributors like Dell offering environmentally friendly disposal of old systems?