The Green Party has claimed that Microsoft's latest operating system, Vista, could lead to a mass upgrade of PCs that will result in old machines being dumped in landfill sites.
Speaking ahead of the official UK consumer launch of Vista on Tuesday, Derek Wall, Green Party male principal speaker, warned that migrating to the operating system would result in many consumers and businesses having to buy new hardware and bin perfectly usable old kit.
"Vista requires more expensive and energy-hungry hardware, passing the cost on to consumers and the environment," Wall said. "This will also further exclude the poor from the latest technology, and impose burdensome costs on small and medium businesses who will be forced to enter another expensive upgrade cycle."
Some early adopters of Vista have already reported that the new operating system has forced them to upgrade their hardware. "I've had to take two trips to PC World already, which included taking back a very hot video card," said one user who contacted ZDNet UK.
Microsoft has published the minimum specifications required to run Vista. "Windows Vista-Capable PCs will be able to run at least the core experiences of Windows Vista... [while] Windows Vista Premium-Ready PCs can deliver even better Windows Vista experiences," the company said.
Rather than opting for another proprietary OS, the Green Party argues that businesses should look into free software alternatives — such as Linux — as they don't require high-specification hardware. "Free software can run on existing hardware, reduces licensing costs for small businesses and affords important freedoms to consumers. The UK government should capitalise on this opportunity to promote the use of free software in public bodies," added Wall.
The business version of Vista was released on 30 November, 2006, but the consumer launch is set to happen on Tuesday with a special guest appearance in London by Bill Gates.
The Green Party's warning about the environmental impact of Vista follows a similar statement from the British Computer Society (BCS) in December last year. Nigel Shadbolt, BCS president, said the release of Vista could eventually see large numbers of PCs being upgraded and many old PCs discarded. "PCs contain many toxic components, so if they end up in a landfill we are creating a real problem for the future. It can be really easy to pass on the old machine to be reused, and if it's beyond use, to recycle it," Shadbolt said.
The BCS is advising companies to think about disposing of old PCs through organisations such as UK IT charity Computer Aid, which refurbishes machines for use by schools and the public sector in the developing world.
Upcoming legislation such as the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive will also impact businesses' approach to IT disposal and recycling. The directive, which was enacted into UK law in January 2007 following a string of delays, sees producers, retailers and consumers forced to contribute to the safe and environmental disposal of electrical equipment.
Microsoft had not responded for requests for comment at the time of writing.