Microsoft is funding green research and has granted half a million dollars to fund university work into environmentally-sensitive computing.

The company has also granted $750,000 to fund a distance-learning research effort over three years at the University of Washington. These grants were made at Microsoft's Research Faculty Summit where grants of six million dollars were announced in total.

The environmentally-sensitive computing grant is to fund "research in innovative approaches toward power-optimised system architectures, and adaptive power management solutions for maximizing the energy efficiency of computing infrastructure." Computer science researchers can now propose projects to be funded by this grant. The distance learning project will look at using video-conferencing for teaching in wireless-enabled classrooms.

For cash-strapped researchers the money will be welcome. For Microsoft, when set against its revenues, the cash is a microscopic fraction. The environmentally-sensitive computing grant is 0.0000113 percent of Microsoft's fiscal 2006 revenues. It probably spends more on coffee for the vending machines in its offices.

IT power inefficiencies have grown because of Microsoft. Compared to Linux for example, millions and millions of Windows servers and PCs take extra time to start up and shut down because of Microsoft's bloated software. Switching to Linux and using Open Office would likely reduce IT energy-consumption worldwide by millions of kilowatt hours per year.

According to a report Sailesh Chutani, director of Microsoft's External Research and Programs unit, said: "We think you can build systems today, theoretically, that consume 30 or 40 percent less energy, if designed right. So we want to stimulate research there, and this is going to be important for the industry overall."

Some will wonder if he is being serious. Microsoft is spending a small amount of money to devise solutions to a problem it has helped create.

Datacentres worldwide suffer from over-populated server farms because Windows is claimed by some to be inefficient. Attendees at a recent UK VMware conference heard of a hundreds of servers being switched off because VMware, it was said, could make one server do the job of 10 or even 15 Windows servers; that is, provide an effective framework for application multi-tasking.

According to Rick Rashid, Microsoft Research' SVP, the company is actively investigating how to reduce its own datacentre energy usage. Perhaps it will switch to VMware and switch off thousands of its own servers.