What could possibly go wrong?
I received a spam email in my work inbox this morning. I say spam; maybe the sender claims some tenuous legitimate connection with me, but I couldn’t work out what that might be. It was certainly badly targeted:
Microsoft and ARROW invite you to attend our exclusive onsite event focusing around the availability of Windows XP Professional for Embedded Systems (Windows® XP Pro FES) through until 2016.
Woo-hah! If there’s one thing I love more than Windows, it’s Windows shoehorned into inappropriate applications. And the ‘who should attend’ list is an alarming checklist of ‘you’re doing it wrong’ stuff:
All technical professionals who are developing OS platforms for devices such as kiosks, ATM Systems, POS devices, industrial automation, complex medical devices or any other device used in a dedicated fixed function application and are looking for a solution for their next project.
I can’t argue with kiosks—XP might not be my choice, but it’s not a critical application. But industrial automation? Complex medical devices? That’s asking for trouble, surely. I’ve seen enough Windows XP error screens in non-critical embedded applications: pop-up alert boxes on advertising screens; blue screens of IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL death on railway departure boards. So what? I’ll live with not being advertised at, or having to check a different board to catch my train. But when you’re controlling an X-ray scanner, or a life-support machine, or several tons of industrial equipment, stability’s a bit more crucial.
Don’t get me wrong, Windows XP is a perfectly good consumer operating system—I kid; it’s a shit operating system, but it gets the job of emailing, facebooking, powerpoint jockeying and nudie picture browsing done with, if not aplomb, at least a modicum of competence.
Microsoft Windows® XP Pro FES is technically identical to the standard version of Windows XP Professional used for general purpose computing devices, however with different licensing terms that are suitable for fixed function devices such as kiosks, ATM Systems, POS devices, industrial automation and complex medical devices
That sentence captures everything that’s wrong with the drive to put Windows on every device, by suggesting that the issue is solely one of licensing. If XP Pro FES really is ‘technically identical’ to standard XP Pro, then it’s not really suitable for those applications. It’s designed and engineered for a different purpose entirely. For what it’s worth, I understand that it’s not really technically identical: it’s possible for distributors to remove certain components. Doing that, of course, takes away the ability to use it as a general purpose operating system. Which is the problem, really: what are you then gaining by running your life support machine on Windows anyway?
I guess what I’m getting at is that I just don’t understand how someone, faced with building the kind of machine that kills people if it goes wrong, would naturally find their thoughts turning towards Windows as the obvious solution for the operating environment.
But hey, if you’re just making an ATM, be my guest. I’m looking forward to the day when I go to withdraw some cash and, instead of being asked to insert my card, I’m presented with a Start menu. It could be very profitable!
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