Top Ten worst uses for Windows

Blogger Richard Stiennon's top ten worst uses for Windows.

After all these years I am willing to admit that Microsoft has won the desktop and server wars. Thanks to VMWare Windows is spreading throughout the datacenter. And, of course, there is only one operating system to use if you are dependent on Microsoft apps like Outlook, Word, and Excel. While I have joined the chorus of security folks who rail against the Microsoft Monoculture I still cannot believe some of the uses for Windows. Some of them are just downright silly, some you may claim are criminally negligent.

So here is the Top Ten List of Worst Uses for Windows:

1. To display a static green arrow over the open TSA security lanes at Detroit Metro

I kid you not, at the main security checkpoint to get into Detroit Metro there are monitors over each metal detector. The ONLY thing those monitors ever display is a big green arrow pointing down. Oh, occasionally they display a blue screen with a Windows error notice.

2. Ticket scanner at Frankfurt airport

Another example of too much horse power for a simplified task. In this case I saw a Windows boot up screen on the little laser scanner for checking people on to the plane. Why not program some stripped down embedded system for that task? IT would be open source most likely and would not need to be updated every month.

3. Gift certificate dispensing kiosk

I am responsible for this one. Back before the turn of the century I needed to sell printed gift certificates from kiosks in downtown Birmingham, Michigan. All I could find was a manufacturer in Seattle who charged me $10,000 a piece including the touch screen and beautiful purple stand. The OS was Windows NT. It meant that twice a week I had to deploy a technician (me) to each kiosk to reboot them because they would freeze up due to memory leaks. Eventually the manufacturer came up with a fix. I downloaded a script to each machine that would reboot it automatically every day at midnight. It may be hard to comprehend today but Microsoft effectively trounced Sun, DEC, HP, and IBM in the enterprise with products that were so flawed that they needed to be rebooted every 24 hours. (That's scheduled downtime, not used in calculating five nines.)

4. Job application kiosk

Now we get into security. A little retailer in the Boston area used stand alone kiosks for presenting job application forms. Hackers found it convenient to compromise the Windows based machine and steal tens of millions of credit cards from the retailer. Yes, it was TJX.

5. Train engine controls

This one would apply just as well to any moving vehicle such as a ship, earth moving equipment, etc. I was on an Amtrak train from San Jose to San Diego a couple of years ago. As usual we had to pull off the main track to allow a freight train through. After that the train would not start again. We were told the engineer could not reboot the computer. Now, I did not get confirmation that the train ran on Windows but it is telling that that would be anyone's first assumption. And products like this locomotive control system do run on Windows.

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Richard Stiennon

Network World

5 Comments

Anonymous

1

In Windows defense, sort of.

Okay, first and foremost- Windows is without question the easiest and most familiar operating system available- and it's been that way for over 10 years now. (honestly, most people really don't have a clue what the hell they are doing with OSX when they try and use it)

Additionally, while Windows is the most widely used operating system- it is also the biggest, most supported, and versatile development platform. Thus you can make all kinds of things run on it / communicate with it, without having to completely engineer some embedded system that can only accomplish a single task. (That kind of thing is expensive btw...)

Lastly, not really in 'defense' of Windows- but bottom line, no excuses: THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO REASON WHATSOEVER that critical infrastructure should EVER interface with a public network. Our power grids and oil pipelines, etc... should generally be safe from virii / malicious users, as long as we are serious about restricting access to such systems...

Anonymous

2

Re: In Windows defense, sort of.

First and foremost - I question that Windows is the easiest and most familiar operating system available. No doubt it is the most widespread consumer OS. And the statement that most people don't have a clue what they are doing with OS X was thrown out as a casual aside with no basis in reality.

I'm sure there are some uses in embedded environments where Windows is the right tool for the job. It seems like overkill in the applications mentioned in the article. There are a plethora of tiny, real time operating systems that would seem much better suited to the task (tinyOS, VxWorks, QNX).

Anonymous

3

FUD

This is FUD. It's pretty obvious that things like medical equipment, building controls, etc, are NOT running standard Windows XP (2000, NT, or any desktop OS), but the very well designed Windows CE. In the embedded real-time OS world, you basically have Vxworks, Windows CE, and a handful of others, and Windows CE is a viable, and yes, stable option.

Windows CE is also "open source"

http://www.windowsfordevices.com/news/NS2632317407.html

I'm sorry, but Windows CE is stable, and secure. As to your last points, Windows CE is frequently used on Satellites produced by companies to be launched into orbit.

Anonymous

4

I was with you!

I was with you for a minute till you made the statement that Windows CE was open source.

Windows CE is not open source. It's shared source. There is a difference.

The big difference is that not everyone can get access to the source. Only registered developers approved by MS and OEM's approved by MS can see the source. It’s not "Open" to anyone else. And that is only kernel source. The rest of CE is not even that open.

It even says it in the article that you linked:

"Microsoft's shared source license currently is not, however, approved by the Open Source Initiative as an open-source license."

Also a lot of the devices that were listed in this article are running on standard windows and not CE. Because CE is pricy to use in devices. You have to pay runtime royalties depending on how the app uses CE.

I also do not think that people would use Windows CE for satellites as it is designed more for people who need a GUI in a real-time OS. I am sure in orbit you don’t need access to a GUI.

I would need to see more proof on that one.

KDO

5

CE is less than impressive.

Actually I've found a lot more embedded devices running embedded linux than I have Windows CE or XP embedded. You just hear a lot less about them because most people don't advertise the fact. You also won't see evidence of failure as blatant as the BSoD.

Next to QNX and vxWorks, Linux is the most robust and versatile mainstream embedded OS out there. Windows CE is primarily relegated to smartphones these days and it even sucks in that area. Windows CE is also horrible for realtime applications.

If I had to bet my life on a device just working, I'd choose vxWorks or QNX. For other situations embedded Linux would be my second choice. Embedded Linux is far more popular for network appliances than Windows CE will ever be. XP embedded sees a lot of use in kiosks and ATM's. That's about it.

I've seen a lot of Diebold Windows XP based ATM's in recent years though. Diebold's reputation has been seriously scarred because of their horrible Windows-based voting machines though.

I'd like to see someone name ONE example of a mission-critical NASA sattelite or probe running Windows CE.

Anyone who uses any Windows OS (CE or XP) for mission critical apps where lives or massive amounts of product can be put in jeopardy is seriously asking for it. They are paying twice as much for a bloated and inferior product. In fact DOS would be a better bet for embedded apps such as an ATM machine or voting machine.

And yes, DOS lives on in many embedded devices.

And BTW, MS Office is NOT the end-all be-all. I've quite successfully migrated my 200-user network to OpenOffice without a hitch. Outlook/Exchange can be replaced with a good web-based PIM/collaboration package or Lotus Notes quite easily. Or groupwise....or evolution and one of the various open source server packages. Or even more drastic, MacOS X and MacOS X Server with the iCal server.

You have choices, you're not locked in. You always had choices. You just made poor ones or your CIO made them for you and the industry has suffered a horrible backslide for the last decade with everyone losing faith in computers in general. NT was a bad path to take from the start.

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