Microsoft goes on green Vista offensive

After being widely criticised by green campaigners, Microsoft has released a report designed to prove the sustainability of its latest operating system

Microsoft has commissioned a report which claims the new power-management features in Vista can help companies "massively" reduce carbon emissions resulting from the use of desktop PCs.

The study, which compared energy usage between Windows XP and Windows Vista, revealed that the new operating system could help reduce the carbon dioxide generated by a 200-desktop organisation by 45 tonnes per year.

The report, carried out by PC Pro Labs, compared the running costs, carbon emissions and energy efficiency of three HP desktops running managed Windows Vista and standard XP. Two of the machines were from HP's current range while the third machine was around three years old.

Two HP laptops — nc6400 and nc6325 — are also recorded as being part of the test in an appendix of the report, but are strangely omitted from the methodology. When questioned on why the report did not refer to the results for the notebooks more explicitly, Microsoft claimed that the results were not included for reasons of space, but that the results were broadly in line with those of the desktops.

"Some of this was making sure it wasn't 500 pages, but no reason why we can't go in and pull that out," said Cynthia Crossley, director of the Microsoft Windows Client Business Group.

The report also examined the impact of running Windows Vista Aero graphics interface, which has been cited as one of the key reasons why companies have to upgrade hardware to run Vista. The researchers concluded that Aero had a "negligible" impact on overall power consumption.

The power management features of Vista include a sleep mode, which automatically activates after an hour of non-use. Microsoft claims that this is an improvement on the standby mode in XP, which could be blocked by third-party applications and drivers.

In addition the power management functions of Vista can be centrally managed via group policies, which means that companies can more effectively police energy usage by desktop machines, Microsoft claims.

Windows Vista product marketing manager, Paul Stoddart, said that although it is possible for companies to improve the power management of XP by setting policies and frameworks for employees to adhere to, Vista's group policies mean an IT manager can manage all this centrally. "Some of the things you can enable in XP, and it will have improved power management. But what you are asking to do is re-educate hundreds of thousands of people — millions of people — and we kind of put it in the same perspective of asking people to turn off light switches when they leave the room," he said. "We can continually ask that but organisations have bigger fish to fry so we have made it a default."

When asked why, if Microsoft is serious about reducing carbon footprints related to desktop PCs, the company has not made a patch or update available to improve the power management of XP, Stoddart claimed that this would require fundamental changes to the operating system. "A lot of the power-management features that were default in Vista were things that were not possible in XP. The standby and hibernate modes are fantastic in XP but drivers and applications could veto that, and that was written into the kernel level. So if you want us to change that, it means completely re-writing the operating system — which is why we created Vista," he said.

Green campaigners have railed against Vista as they claim that the hardware upgrades required to make use of the operating system's enhanced functionality will lead to thousands of perfectly serviceable XP machines being decommissioned.

"If a machine is perfectly adequate to run XP, then it will be adequate to run Vista as well. Are we saying that everyone has to go and buy a new PC — no? What we have shown with the research is that this is on three-year-old machines too. We don't think companies are going to roll out a 100,000 new machines overnight as part of a Vista upgrade, "said Stoddart.

A survey in December by US IT services company Softchoice claimed that Vista will be the most power-hungry Windows desktop so far. The report claimed that at Windows XP's launch, for example, the minimum CPU requirements were 75 percent greater than those for the operating system it replaced, Windows 2000. Vista's minimum CPU requirements are 243 percent larger than that of XP.

The Softchoice survey also showed that of 113,000 desktops checked from over 400 US organisations, 50 percent of the machines wouldn't be able to meet the basic Vista requirements.

In January, the Green Party criticised Vista for requiring "more expensive and energy-hungry hardware, passing the cost on to consumers and the environment." This point has been made by other experts in recent months.

Tony Roberts, chief executive of Computer Aid International, warned last year that Vista could lead to a glut of unwanted PCs entering the waste stream as users are forced to upgrade their hardware. "The new power-hungry operating system will require many users to upgrade or replace their PCs. There may be as many as 10 million PCs discarded in the next two years as they are replaced by Vista-compatible hardware," said Roberts.

Asked why Microsoft has not compared a desktop running Vista with a fundamentally more efficient set-up such as a thin client running Linux, Stoddart said that it was not the remit of the report. He also argued that calculating the energy efficiency of the server networked to the thin client would be extremely complex. "We were being asked about power management of a Windows environment. When you start to go into a thin client debate — you can go into a right rat-hole about which system is using more power than the other, " he said.


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