Linux Could Reduce E-Waste


This article was published by Newsletter, issue #41, 2008-03-01.

In the ever-growing world of personal computers, Microsoft's Windows operating system may hold the lion's share of the market, but that does not necessarily mean that Windows users behave like sheep by unthinkingly upgrading their PCs every time the software giant releases and begins marketing a new version of Windows. Ever since 1985, when Microsoft introduced the world to Windows 1.0, every successive version has consumed more disk space, and required more system memory (RAM) and faster microprocessors, just to perform the same basic functionality as its predecessor. In some cases, upgrading a PC — such as installing a faster chip, or adding more RAM — would be needed for the end user to not see a degradation of performance and a concomitant worsening of the response times running applications or Windows applets. In other cases, upgrading or even replacing a PC was unavoidable, given that the newer version of Windows would not even run on the existing computer.

Upgrading or completely replacing a personal computer puts a strain not only on the pocketbook of the consumer, but also upon the environment, since many of the discarded PC components — such as hard drives — often end up in the trash and ultimately in landfills. Far too many computer users do not realize that the declining costs of hardware may make a brand-new computer financially cheap, but that is only because the purchase price does not fully include all of the environmental costs — both during the manufacture of the PC components, and after they have been discarded.

Furthermore, PC users may not know that their older machines could run equally well, if not better, using an operating system other than Windows. There are many such alternatives, but the most well-respected one is Linux, which is available for free, and in a wide variety of flavors ("distributions"). One of the most popular distribution, as of this writing, is Ubuntu. The entire operating system can be downloaded at no charge, or requested to be received on disk through the mail, again at no charge.

Even back in late 2004, many computer consumers were still hanging onto their copies of Windows 2000, and trying to avoid or at least delay switching to Windows XP. At the time, the UK government conducted a study that revealed substantial ecological advantages to switching from Windows to Linux. The primary reason for these benefits is that Windows users, on average, were being compelled to get new PCs twice as often as Linux users, thus generating twice as much electronic waste. The study, reported by and titled "Office of Government Commerce: Open Source Software Trials in Government - Final Report", noted, "Industry observers quote a typical hardware refresh period for Microsoft Windows systems as 3-4 years; a major UK manufacturing organisation quotes its hardware refresh period for Linux systems as 6-8 years." Similar results are likely to be found in the United States and all other developed countries making extensive use of personal computers.

With the release of Microsoft Vista, the increase in hardware demands has never been greater: a doubling of the minimum processor speed, and a phenomenal quadrupling of needed system memory. These onerous new system requirements may be the last straw for many PC desktop and laptop users, who will then perform their last Windows upgrade… to Linux.

Copyright © 2008 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.