Microsoft is applying for a patent that, if granted, would help computer users see precisely how much of an environmental impact their devices are making. We’ve all long focused on improving our personal carbon footprint, but very little information remains on our individual use – Microsoft seeks to address that.
According to the patent text, Microsoft’s primary concern involves user choice because, “where two or more applications offer similar capabilities, there is presently no way for a user to make an informed choice between the applications based on environmental impact.”
“Thus, while a user or designer can turn off or disable particular applications or features of the applications, there is no way to know the environmental impact of the changes. For example, there is no way to determine the impact on power usage of changed application usage behavior, changes in application design, changes in application features, etc.,” the patent adds.
This lack of avenue for environmental conscientiousness puts a damper on any initiative–be it a company-wide policy or personal choice–to make smarter and more eco-friendly decisions regarding power consumption.
It also has the ancillary detriment of potentially increasing wear and tear on devices inadvertently, making this patent equally about the long-term effects of pollution and the shorter-term ones.
In theory, the system described in the patent would create an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for software and the resulting hardware usage, taking into account “other factors” such as the perceived impact of cloud server usage to allow a service or app to function.
This is certainly more transparency than one might expect, but it’s welcome: The server operation cost for cloud services across the board is hugely impactful on environmental health.
The patent also explains that each of the services and apps investigated by the system would be categorized for user convenience, allowing one to compare programs that fall under specific functions, such as music players.
There are a few fringe benefits of such a system, most notably that it could cut down on Windows applications’ famed redundancy. Using this system could also help clarify and diagnose computing device issues early on, possibly extending the life of the devices in question and delaying their inevitable journey to the landfill.
With a clear line of action to take should one want to lower their energy consumption, this patent has positive implications for the future of both consumer and corporate environmental responsibility.