Windows Vista Bad for Environment?

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This article was published by PristinePlanet.com Newsletter, issue #28, 2007-02-10.

During the five years that Microsoft was developing the Windows Vista version of their flagship operating system, organizations and individual computer users have had somewhat of a breather in the endless upgrade cycle that was introduced with the PC itself — in which users are forced to upgrade or completely replace their PCs every several years, so that those machines have the processing power and data storage space required to run the latest operating systems and applications. In the early 2000s, PCs with 128 megabytes (MB) of system memory, two gigabytes (GB) of free space on the hard drive, and a 300 megahertz (MHz) microprocessor, were — and still are — capable of running Windows XP — even the Professional Edition. The only other hardware requirements were the same ones seen in the 1990s, and accepted by everyone: a SVGA-capable display monitor, a CD-ROM or DVD drive, a keyboard, and a mouse. Most if not all of those PC users could reasonably expect that the next version of Windows would at least run on their existing machines (read: investments), albeit perhaps a bit slower, or at the worst, requiring a doubling of RAM to 256 MB.

But with the introduction of Windows Vista, released to the general consumer on 30 January 2007, those more-than-adequate PCs suddenly became less-than, and the previous hardware requirements seem almost quaint. Specifically, Windows Vista is a power- and space-hungry operating system/ogre, demanding no less than 512 MB of RAM and an 800 MHz chip — a more than doubling of the processor speed, and a phenomenal quadrupling of required system memory. But that is just the bare minimum for a PC to be deemed "Vista Capable" (barely). To reach the status of "Vista Premium" (i.e., the recommended specifications), a PC will need an entire gigabyte of RAM, a 1 GHz chip, 15 GB of free space on the hard drive (which can be no smaller than 40 GB), a DirectX 9-capable graphics card, a DVD drive, audio output, and Internet connectivity.

This is a dramatic increase in the hardware requirements just to run a PC operating system — or, more precisely, a Microsoft PC operating system, since Linux runs just fine on the older PCs, and may receive a large boost in market share as a result of Vista's requirements. This is in addition to the draconian limitations to consumers' digital information management abilities, imposed by Digital Rights Management (DRM), which has been embraced by Microsoft and other technology product behemoths.

Hardest hit by these changes will be individual PC consumers, who usually do not have the deep pockets necessary for frequently replacing their home(/office) computers. Upgrading their existing machines, will likely not be an option for most PC users, unless they have fairly new motherboards, because the bulk of the motherboards in use are not able to support 1 GHz microprocessors, assuming that they can even handle 1 GB of RAM. Those PC users who elect to open up their purse strings and take yet another step forward on the hardware upgrade gerbil wheel, will be buying new PCs, and for the most part discarding their old ones.

But what will happen with all that supposedly obsoleted hardware? Environmentalists worldwide are concerned that the junked PCs and individual components, will end up in landfills, where the plastics and heavy metals can degrade and make their way into the ecosystem, including our water supply. A spokesperson for the UK Green Party quipped that "Future archaeologists will be able to identify a 'Vista Upgrade Layer' when they go through our landfill sites."

Environmentalists and Windows critics alike are encouraging individuals, commercial companies, nonprofit organizations, and governments everywhere to consider the alternatives to upgrading to Microsoft Vista. These options include extending their use of less burdensome versions of Windows, such as XP or even 2000, or switching to just about any flavor of Linux, which runs natively on PCs. The latter option has the added benefit that it will make it easier to avoid any current and future DRM-induced problems in controlling how and where you can access and enjoy the multimedia files that you have purchased.

The online dictionary Answers.com defines a "vista" as a "distant view or prospect, especially one seen through an opening, as between rows of buildings or trees." Or piles of perfectly good computers in the junkyard, if this new operating system is any indication of what lies ahead for the computer world.

Copyright © 2007 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.