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Green IT and open source: is there a correlation?

Is open source a better solution for the planet from an environmental perspective. Not really, but it's certainly no worse.

I just read that Gartner believes Green IT is the number one concern for CIOs in 2008. I'm not actually sure I believe that (these "top 10" lists often read like buzzword popularity contests), but if you're into green, you really should consider open source. Here are a few reasons, according to 21st Century Citizen:

With the Open Source model, you can:
  • Use less packaging.
  • Increase the efficiency of shipping and receiving.
  • Speed up product development.
  • Get rid of resource-heavy validation management services and expensive anti-piracy campaigns.
  • Cut back on unnecessary print advertising.
  • Don't force customers to purchase more product than they need.

I'm not sure how much "green mileage" one would get from these measures, though the product packaging is very real. Some of them don't really have anything to do with the environment, like the "buy more than they need" statement. That's why the proprietary model has been so profitable: the "more" is a figment of a lawyer's imagination/contract, and tends to not be represented in armies of CDs/DVDs.

How about some of these other benefits?

  • Less hot air created. No more having to listen to a salesperson that parks in your office, blabbing on;

  • Because you're hearing the salesperson less, that also means they're traveling less, wasting less airline and car fuel;

  • Developers release products when they're ready, not according to a quarterly, corporate, arbitrary target date. Hence, less "midnight oil" burned. (OK, that one is a lie. Most open-source developers probably stay up later writing more code than their proprietary brethren. But hey! Maybe this means that they're actually writing code when energy is cheapest/most abundant! :-) ;

  • Open-source hardware that allows developers with a "green thumb" to invest their time into focusing on improving chip design to reduce energy requirements;

  • And more.

Ultimately, it does seem like open source is more eco-friendly than proprietary software, but not because of anything innate to it, and not to a degree that could justify open source over proprietary software on eco grounds. There's no reason that proprietary software can't mimic the benefits (real and imagined/tongue-in-cheek) of open-source distribution methodologies, at least to the degree to be environmentally meaningful. And many proprietary companies are already doing so, for cost and environmental reasons. (It's not as if they make money by shipping around manuals.)

But hey, if it nudges you to buy more open-source software, I'm not going to disabuse you of the notion that you're saving the planet when you download open source. :-)