Saving the world through software - Microsoft's green agenda

by Michael Smith

Software and the internet can play a great part in efforts to help the environment - as they did in winning the US Presidential election for Barack Obama.

This was the message of Microsoft's European chairman, Jan Meuhlfeit, when he spoke at a conference bringing together global business leaders in London recently.

Speaking at Green Strategy 08, Mr Meuhlfeit said that the huge public support - and funding - raised by Obama's campaign via the internet should be a lesson to those involved in the environmental movement.

"This is the first time that the internet and technology have played a key role in the elections," he said.

"Obama has said he collected 86% of the money for his campaign through the internet.

"If we're serious about the environment we should definitely use this way too."

He said the internet, although only 6,000 days old, was already shaping history and had a lot more still to offer.

"This is the first time in human history when the young generation uses current technology much better than the previous generation," Mr Meuhlfeit said.

"And I do believe that this generation is much more environmentally aware, so this will have a positive effect on society."

This can certainly been seen in a lot of the online fundraising in general now, via, say Facebook and such, and the book “Causewired” by Tom Watson (see review) talks about that in great detail.

While the benefits of the net as medium to get the message across were obvious, he said, that was not all the IT industry had to offer.

He spoke of the magic of software, highlighting how virtual meetings, conferences and other communication technologies could massively reduce the need for transport, thus reducing energy use and carbon emissions.

He also recognized the IT industry's need to cut its own energy consumption and gave examples of how Microsoft itself was doing this.

A new data center in Dublin, for example, will use only 50-70% of the energy of equivalent facilities due to investments in energy efficiency technology while Microsoft's base of operations in Reading is run on energy entirely from renewable sources.

The company's latest operating system, Vista, is also more energy efficient than its Windows predecessors, he said, and while that might not make much difference on a computer-by-computer scale, it soon adds up when one considers how many machines around the world are running on an MS platform.

100 million PCs running Vista rather than previous Windows incarnations, he said, was equivalent to taking 8 million cars off the road in terms of CO2 emissions.

Using Linux, such a Ubuntu and others are even better in this and are something that Vista can never ever meet.

Aside from Ubuntu there are other Linux distros and they all have a mu h smaller footprint on the computer and are not as resource hungry as are most of Microsoft's product. With Ubuntu – and other Linux distros – the entire OS with all office software, and other software, including games, comes on a single CD. This means the entire thing is less than 800MB. Some can be even smaller still. I believe the term “no contest” comes to mind here.

Many people are afraid of attempting to use other operating systems than Windows simply because they think that others need coding or do not have an intuitive interface and such. Well, rest assured that most Linux distros now have and many of them are better than Windows and much easier to use.

I have been using Ubuntu on one PC for a considerable while now as a workhorse for my writing work and have now, only in the beginning of December 2008, acquired an ASUS Eee PC 900 NetBook with the 16GB SSD and Linux and, well, it is great and I use it much more than the Vista laptop.

For one it is the speed that I like and then also the size, I guess, for it takes so much less space than that laptop. The other factor, no doubt, is because it is Linux.

Software and the right kind of hardware can do some work in way of saving the planet but this is not primarily Microsoft's domain. All MS is interested in, as w all know, is to keep its market monopoly and they guys at Redmond are rather afraid of Open Source.

© M Smith (Veshengro), January 2009