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New U.K. study suggests software innovation to blame for escalating e-waste problem

This one will make you think next time you contemplate upgrade your entire computer just to accommodate the demands of one particular software application or a new operating system.An essay/study has been released by the Nottingham University Business School in the United Kingdom that suggests "software bloat" is a big culprit for the escalating problem of electronic waste.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

This one will make you think next time you contemplate upgrade your entire computer just to accommodate the demands of one particular software application or a new operating system.

An essay/study has been released by the Nottingham University Business School in the United Kingdom that suggests "software bloat" is a big culprit for the escalating problem of electronic waste. The timing of the report is particularly interesting, given the pent-up PC upgrade cycle associated with the Windows 7 release. Microsoft itself has said that something like 86 percent of businesses are running Windows XP or earlier versions of Windows. IDC has predicted 177 million shipments by the end of this year.

The Nottingham researchers, led by Professor Peter Swan, who is an expert in innovation and sustainability, write that the pressure to upgrade and the new hardware necessary to do so force the needless junking of something like 2.5 billion PCs by 2013. The study, called "Software Marketing and e-Waste: Standards for Sustainability," suggests that software designers should get better about working within the memory and design constraints of existing hardware and avoiding "featuritis," the use of memory-sapping features.

In a press release describing the study, Swann writes:

"The principal solution to the problem of PC e-waste is for developers and marketers to stop using strategies that contribute to bloat and enforced upgrading. An industry standard that discourages such dysfunction would surely be welcome by those vendors confident that they can prosper by selling new software to willing customers. It would also be welcomed by the many customers who are by now extremely weary of enforced upgrading and software bloat and the consequent e-waste."

By cutting off support for older versions of software just a few years into its lifecycle, developers exacerbate the situation even more, Swann argues.

Of course, to be far, virtualization software is an example of an innovation in software that helps people take better advantage of their existing server and push it to higher evolution rates.

The study offers suggestions for how to get around the issue, such as by making additional features an option or extending support. The other thing that could turn this around, of course, is the move to software as a service, which suggests that buyers/users will have more flexibility about what they use.

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