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 user 2009-09-29 at 11:04:56 am Views: 353
  • #22694
    Is Microsoft Windows to blame for an unnecessarily high amount of e-waste?
    of the unpleasant and infrequently discussed side effects of the
    worldwide information technology revolution is the enormous amount of
    electronic waste that has been generated by the collective buy it, use
    it, and junk it mentality that pervades society, especially American
    society.When personal computers were first invented in the 1970s, not
    that many people owned one. Today, personal computers are ubiquitous,
    along with smartphones, music players, and an array of other gadgets
    which are commonly referred to as peripherals. Computers and
    peripherals are fragile, complex instruments, and they inevitably
    either break down after they’ve been used for a while, or they become
    considered obsolete… even if they still work just fine.

    developments in technology have only bolstered the preexisting notions
    that serve as the tenets of our throw-away culture. What is considered
    “state of the art” one day may be seemingly outdated by the next day.

    e-waste has become a big problem – one that states such as Washington
    have only begun to address with new recycling laws.

    Such laws
    have been enacted thanks to the tireless work of many environmental
    organizations who have been trying to keep computers and peripherals
    (as well as their toxic parts) out of landfills.

    Recycling laws
    are crucial and needed. But the conversation about this issue needs to
    be about more than merely addressing symptoms (how to dispose of
    gadgets after they are no longer wanted). We should be thinking and
    talking about the causes (how gadgets become unwanted in the first

    One of the reasons computers and peripherals get junked
    is because people can’t get them to work properly. For example, a
    printer that won’t print is no longer useful. And often it’s cheaper to
    go out and buy a new printer than to exert the energy required to get
    the printer working again.

    Many of the problems that lead to
    nonworking peripherals are caused by software. Choice of operating
    system thus becomes very relevant to this problem, because an operating
    system that doesn’t reliably communicate with peripherals could result
    in discarded gadgets. Let’s go back to the printer example.

    have sitting on my desk a nice little HP OfficeJet all-in-one that is
    several years old. When I bought it, the latest version of Microsoft
    Windows was Windows XP. To get the HP OfficeJet to print and scan
    properly, I had to install the included device drivers from the
    included compact disc. (A driver is a piece of software that allows
    computer programs to interact with hardware components).

    installation wizard took, as I recall, what seemed like the better part
    of an hour to finish. I had to wait to plug in the USB cable until I
    was prompted to, which meant I had to sit there and watch the wizard’s
    slow progress until I was needed. After I had successfully installed
    the drivers, my printer functioned correctly for a few years, until one
    day, it suddenly stopped working. I was unable to open the HP control
    panel or do any scanning from my computer.

    Some investigation
    revealed that an update to Windows XP had caused HP’s badly engineered
    software (which relied on some outdated Windows components to function)
    to quit working. On top of that, the printer’s scan drivers somehow
    broke down, so I was unable to do any scanning at all from my computer.

    ended up hooking the OfficeJet up to an older desktop computer running
    Windows 2000, and I managed to figure out how to get Windows to share
    printers so that I could print to the OfficeJet from my primary machine.

    ended up expending quite a bit of time and energy just getting my
    printer to work again, when I could have just gone out and bought
    another inexpensive inkjet to take the OfficeJet’s place. But I didn’t
    see a reason to replace the OfficeJet since I knew perfectly well that
    there was nothing wrong with it.

    I doubt that most people would
    do the same. When a peripheral refuses to work, the easiest solution
    for non-techies is typically to go and get a replacement. That’s not so
    big of an issue if a product is new… take it back to the store and
    get an exchange or a refund. But once the thirty day returns period is
    past, the warranty is expired, and the company is no longer making the
    model… there’s a temptation to just do away with it altogether.

    many Windows users, my problems with peripherals have not just been
    limited to printers. At various times, the drivers for my computer
    dock, keyboard, mouse, and card readers have all malfunctioned, and it
    has taken extensive troubleshooting to get them working again. I’ve
    spent enough time trying to solve driver problems to appreciate how
    cumbersome Microsoft Windows truly is.

    Since I began having
    trouble with my OfficeJet, Microsoft has released Windows Vista and is
    now readying the release of Windows 7, Vista’s successor. HP, however,
    has not bothered to release a new driver that would make the OfficeJet
    fully compatible with any version of Windows beyond XP. HP also does
    not have a driver that would allow my OfficeJet to be hooked up to a
    machine running Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2008.So even if I
    wanted to make it possible to print centrally to the OfficeJet from a
    server without “printer sharing”, I couldn’t. Not using Windows.

    a consequence of not being able to print the OfficeJet directly, I had
    hardly been using it, because having an older desktop on constantly
    just so a printer can be on standby seemed like a waste of energy.But
    recently I started using GNU/Linux, or more specifically, the
    Debian-derived Ubuntu distribution of GNU/Linux. With Linux, adding
    peripherals – like my trusty OfficeJet – is a breeze. There’s no
    compact discs to insert, no executables to run, no wizards to go
    through. That’s because there are no device drivers to install. They’re
    already present in the distribution.

    When I plugged in my
    OfficeJet, it was instantaneously recognized, and that was it. There
    was nothing more for me to do. I could print or even scan immediately
    using the printer’s full capabilities. The open source drivers are so
    intelligent they can even display notifications from the OfficeJet
    (like a low ink warning).

    For someone used to the trouble of
    setting up hardware in Windows, this experience was unbelievably cool.
    Now I no longer chuckle when I see the term plug and play, because with
    Linux, that phrase really does describe how easy it is.

    Not all
    hardware works with Linux, of course, but there are fewer and fewer
    exceptions these days. The Linux Foundation maintains a database of
    supported printers, for example, which is pretty big. Chances are, if
    you’ve got old peripherals lying around, Linux will be able to
    recognize them.

    If everyone used Linux, people would likely hang
    on to their peripherals longer, because printers and gadgets wouldn’t
    be constantly breaking down due to unreliable proprietary software.
    That, in turn, would result in less e-waste.

    The same goes for
    computers. Upgrading a machine to use the next version of Windows is
    widely considered to be a pain. It’s easier to wipe a hard disk and
    start over, or, even more commonly, to just buy a new computer which
    comes with Windows preinstalled. Doing so negates a messy upgrade
    procedure and the need to buy a CD or DVD in a box. But it also means
    getting a whole new machine.If everyone used Linux, far fewer people
    would feel compelled to go out and buy new computers when a new version
    is released, because upgrading a Linux distribution isn’t difficult.
    The Update Manager reports that there’s a new release available, and a
    few clicks later, the Linux distribution is busy upgrading itself.Not
    long after, the computer restarts itself and comes back up running the
    new version. That’s all there is to it.The lesson is that great
    software makes almost any hardware last a lot longer. My OfficeJet is
    no longer supported by HP, and it won’t work properly with Windows. But
    Linux has given it new life, which means I won’t have to replace it for
    years. And that means less e-waste. What a happy thought.