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Mac, Vista pushing the energy envelope (and why it’s a bad thing)

User interface specialists and aesthetes may love Mac chic, but coolness comes at a hot cost: increased power consumption. Before the Mac OS X made hipsters salivate over 3D effects, a typical home or business computer user was well satisfied with plain 2D graphics. Your typical word processor and spreadsheet, after all, is a 2D affair.

Inevitably, Microsoft followed Apple down the 3D maze. The beneficiaries would not just be Microsoft itself, trying to stay cool and relevant, but hardware manufacturers who would make a killing selling businesses and consumers “upgrades” to Vista-capable machines.

As it turns out these business benefits were illusory. Even worse, they will also suck enormous amounts of unneeded electricity off our overtaxed grid to power almost entirely unnecessary 3D graphics cards, purchased to bring computers up to “Vista capable” (or, more accurately, “Vista Premium capable”).

Moore’s Law gives us increasingly powerful chips, but rather than do more with less, we find new ways to do (very marginally more) with more. It’s a sick parallel to the automotive world, where hybrid vehicle technology gives cars more power with little or no mileage improvements. But as we’ve seen with SUVs, there’s little to stop rising consumption until a combination of high costs and cultural backlash take the edge off demand. Corporate purchasing officers wield vast power to stop this ecological calamity: may they find it in their economic and moral interests to do so.

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