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The skinny on power management in Windows 7

Microsoft has gotten religion on energy efficiency and Windows by enhancing the default power management features for end users and IT pros, company executives say.

Microsoft has made energy efficiency a key design element of Windows 7, focusing on better power management for end users and centralized tools for IT pros, company executives said Friday.

Company engineers sought to make power management features more accessible than previous versions of Windows while at the same time, giving people the ability to customize settings.

The operating system, which will be released in October, by default is smarter about what to turn on when, according to company executives. For example, the Bluetooth wireless services won't be activated until a device is connected and the DVD spindle will not fire up as often.

Juice meter: Windows 7 lets end users pick power management from the battery meter. Microsoft

By default, there is an automatic sleep mode and laptop displays will dim after a short period of time. End users can adjust the power management settings from the battery meter on Windows 7 without having to go into the Control Panel.

"Just by providing that information when they hover over the battery and make a change with one click makes it really simple and we get the behavior we want," said Francois Ajenstat, director of environmental sustainability at Microsoft.

Microsoft is also working with hardware partners during the beta of Windows 7. The company will be sharing energy-related data in an effort to resolve driver conflicts that prevent a PC from going into sleep mode.

IT professionals, meanwhile, get enhanced tools for centralized power management, including a command line program that diagnoses why a specific PC is not running efficiently by identifying problems such as driver conflicts.

Windows Vista added 30 new features for energy efficiency and Windows 7 enhances some of those. For example, Windows 7 has a "wake-up LAN" feature so that Wi-Fi-connected PCs can get roused out of sleep mode to get software updates.

"We tried to make it so you don't have to change anything but if you have a specific-use case, you can make changes through group policies," said Jason Leznek, group project manager for Windows 7.

The savings for a business from active PC power management are significant. Continental Airlines, which has thousands of PCs, saved between $1.5 million and $2 million a year by using the tools in Vista, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft expects that there is still a need for third-party companies that also do PC power management. Verdiem, for example, generates reports and works with multiple versions of Windows, said Leznek

Because there are so many variables, Leznek and Ajenstat shied away from giving a specific number on how much more efficient a Windows 7 PC can be. But they expect a significant cumulative effect.

"Probably 70 percent of business users leave PCs on at night for various reasons. That's a lot of wasted energy," said Ajenstat.