Greenpeace summons Clippy to diss Microsoft's data centers

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Microsoft Clippy
Original Clippy
Having failed to establish a dialog with Microsoft on the issue of renewable energy, Greenpeace turned to Microsoft Office mascot Clippy to gain attention.

A group of Greenpeace activists, including one dressed up as the much-maligned paperclip, visited a Microsoft Store in Palo Alto, California Thursday.

For those who don't know, Clippy once offered advice (mostly unwanted) to Microsoft Word users. Thursday's Clippy look-alike held up a sign in the shape of an advice bubble, which asked if the Microsoft Store employees wanted to build a cloud based on clean or dirty energy.

Jakub Mosur, Greenpeace

The option to “Don't show me this tip again” was included on the signs.

The environmental group claims that Microsoft's data centers source much of their electricity from coal and nuclear power. Wyoming and Virginia, where Microsoft is continuing to build, are “tied to dirty energy,” Greenpeace says.

We're impressed at Clippy's lasting power. He was the default animated character in Microsoft Office Assistant, an interactive user’s guide that came pre-installed with Microsoft Office bundles from 1997-2003.

Greenpeace ratings

In April, Greenpeace released a scorecard for major tech companies' data centers. Microsoft received “C” ratings on energy transparency, energy efficiency, and renewables, and a “D” rating on infrastructure siting. Other companies, including Twitter and Amazon, fared worse, while Google and Yahoo earned higher marks.

But Apple, which was also criticized in the April report, questioned the group's findings at the time. Apple said that its Maiden, North Carolina, facility draws only one-fifth of the energy that Greenpeace claimed, and that 60 percent of its power will eventually come from a solar farm and a fuel-cell installation, which will both be the largest in the country.

Microsoft, in fairness, is now carbon-neutral across all of its direct operations, including data centers, which means the company buys energy credits and carbon offsets to compensate for non-renewable energy uses. But Greenpeace is not placated. “Those tactics may be good for Microsoft’s reputation, but they result in no less coal burned and no more renewable energy produced to power the Microsoft cloud,” the group said in a statement.

Greenpeace is more impressed with Google, which has invested more than $900 million in renewable energy and recently signed an agreement with a wind farm to help power one of its data centers, and with Facebook, which collaborated with Greenpeace on a renewable energy policy.

Failed contact

The group says it has sent more than 250,000 messages to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer asking for a plan to use more clean energy in its data centers. With no success on that front, Greenpeace decided to invoke the infamous Office Assistant.

The Clippy routine was obviously a publicity stunt timed with Microsoft's launch of Windows 8—Greenpeace didn't report anything Thursday that the group hasn't already brought up—but our ability to resist Clippy references is weak. Well-played, Greenpeace, well-played.

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