Microsoft has been pushing Windows 7 as greener than Vista or XP, designed with a variety of energy-saving options for both IT administrators and end users. At the same time, the software giant has been pursuing internal green IT initiatives such as ultraefficient server farms. But even with efficiency tools integrated into Windows 7, how much can an operating system lower IT's overall carbon footprint?
wants Windows 7 to be seen as green.
In an interview with eWEEK, Rob Bernard, Microsoft's chief environmental strategist,
insisted that the company's newest operating system will come with
environmentally friendly features baked into its infrastructure, creating
greater energy efficiency (and a smaller carbon footprint) than Windows Vista
or Windows XP.
"Windows 7 is the first [Microsoft] operating system to operate at this
granular level" of control over energy-saving options, Bernard said. For
example, "the server and client interaction allows IT [departments] to run
a power-efficiency diagnostics chart" and then use that information to
adjust PCs for optimum operation. IT administrators can use Group Policy, WMI
(Windows Management Instrumentation) and Powercfg.exe, a command-line power management
utility, to centrally manage power settings.
The Windows 7 developers were detail-oriented in their approach to energy
efficiency. For example, the operating system detects which hardware ports have
a device attached and powers those, as opposed to the old and marginally less efficient
method of tapping each port for a plug-in. Users can click on the battery icon
and select a "power plan" that offers choices over elements such as
System display brightness can account for as much as 40 percent of overall
system power consumption; with Windows 7, the screen can dim but not go
completely black when the system is left idle, saving energy but not
frustrating the user with the need to awaken a black screen. Windows 7 will
also reduce consumption in other areas, such as by reducing
power to the wireless NIC (network interface card) when the system is plugged
in, or placing the network adapter in a low-power state.
But how much of a change from previous operating systems do such steps
"The most important thing an OS can do for 'green' is to not subvert
the power efficiency measures that are built into the hardware," Steve
Kleynhans, an analyst with Gartner, said in an e-mail to eWEEK. "In the
past it was not uncommon to find that certain device drivers or the way that
some scheduling was done would prevent the processor from operating in its most
"Windows 7 has removed some of that and has become much more aware of
(and friendly to) the power management capabilities within the processor and
chip set. For the most part we aren't talking massive reductions in power, but
every little bit helps when you multiply it by the millions of machines that
will run Windows 7 and the thousands of hours they will operate."
The operating system's default settings-when it sleeps, for example, how it
utilizes resources when idle and how it manages processor power-have been
designed to deliver energy savings. Much of the reduction in IT's carbon
footprint, though, inevitably comes through hardware.
"The biggest improvements to the carbon footprint of PCs will continue
to be related to changes in manufacturing, hardware operational characteristics
and how users use the devices," Kleynhans said. "The OS can have some
impact optimizing how the hardware functions, and possibly can sway usage
patterns, but there is only so much it can actually accomplish."
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.