Why An Online MS Office Will Be Good for Green IT

Why An Online MS Office Will Be Good for Green IT

Microsoft yesterday announced that its suite of Office 2010 software programs, as well as SharePoint Server, Visio and Project 2010, were all ready for testing and were thus one step closer to release.

What grabbed more headlines, though, was Microsoft's announcement that a stripped-down version of the Office suite will be available for free online to members of the Windows Live network -- in other words, to anyone who's had a Hotmail account in the last 13 years.

Beyond being another attempt to edge in on Google's turf, this is good news for green IT, for a handful of reasons.

First off, for individuals this move will expand the migration of individual computing processes toward cloud computing, which is one of GreenerComputing executive editor Preston Gralla's predictions for green IT in 2009:

For many purposes, cloud computing is inherently less expensive and more efficient than owning your own data center -- particularly in a utility-computing model, in which you only pay for the server power and storage you use.

Google and Microsoft are pushing their cloud computing services in a very big way, and 2009 will see that expanded. Because of that, cloud computing will become one of IT's biggest stories in 2009.

Where does green come in? Both Google and Microsoft are touting the greenness of their big data centers and cloud services. They'll compete not just on price, but on how green they are as well. And plenty of companies -- large, medium, and small -- will buy.

Both Microsoft and Google have extremely efficient large-scale data centers; both companies are aiming for an industry-leading PUE of 1.12 in their computing centers. Expanding the use of these services means more incentive to concentrate IT operations in these top-of-the-line facilities, and will continue the shift that individuals are already undertaking toward netbooks -- cheap, web-centric laptops that forgo much of the established abilities of desktops and full-sized laptops for more portability and lower price.

In addition to being cheaper, netbooks can also be much greener than laptops or desktops. Many OEMs have put energy-efficient netbooks on the market, including Eee, Samsung,MSI and others. And some netbooks are even EPEAT-certified, meaning they meet not just energy efficiency specs, but also use less toxics in their manufacture, are easier to disassemble and recycle, and use less packaging than typical computers. As GigaOM's Celeste LeCompte wrote in December, Lenovo and Asus both have EPEAT-certified netbooks. LeCompte also says:

The vast majority of netbooks are powered by Intel’s Atom processor, an energy-efficient chip inside of the laptops listed with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program. How efficient is it? Atom sports a maximum thermal design point (TDP) of 2.5 watts; compare that with Intel’s Core 2 Duo chips, which have a TDP of 25 watts. That not only makes the notebooks more efficient, it makes the machines using them cooler and quieter, a key feature for a netbook. Netbooks’ efficiency is likely to increase in the year ahead. More power-conscious ARM-based netbooks are coming in 2009 with chips that will use no more than 1 watt of power. [...] Energy efficiency can have other benefits as well. The reduced weight from a small battery can help shrink the carbon footprint involved in shipping them to stores and buyers.

But the benefits of a move toward online documents, and online Office specifically, extend to businesses as well, perhaps even more so.

In addition to being a recognizable name, and one that workers at every level of a company have been using for years if not decades, Microsoft Office will also include a key feature that will expand its adoption more quickly than Google Apps has taken root: Companies will be able to host Office 2010 on their own private servers, putting security concerns at bay.

Similar to how netbooks are spurring a shift to cloud computing, when enterprises are able to offer applications that are core to daily operations from their own data centers, it will make adoption of thin clients, virtualized desktops and other resource-sipping green IT practices much more feasible. From there, it's just as easy to imagine the obstacles to virtual offices and widespread teleworking crumbling, leading to a much more wholesale greening of the world's workforce.