IS MICROSOFT WINDOWS TO BLAME FOR HIGH AMOUNTS OF E-WASTE ?
IS MICROSOFT WINDOWS TO BLAME FOR HIGH AMOUNTS OF E-WASTE ?
2009-09-29 at 11:06:41 am #22786http://www.nwprogressive.org/weblog/2009/07/is-microsoft-windows-to-blame-for.html
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“state of the art” one day may be seemingly outdated by the next day.Consequently,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.