For ATMs, why not Windows 8?

Summary:Banks are only now getting around to replacing Windows XP on their ATMs with Windows 7, but why bother? Windows 8 should work at least as well and has a longer support life.

With all the controversy and anxiety over ATM operators only now getting around to moving their systems from Windows XP to Windows 7, a good question arises: Why stop at Windows 7? Why not deploy Windows 8 now? I dug into this and now I think maybe the banks are right.

Many people are unhappy with Windows 8, both for good and bad reasons. But none of those reasons are relevant to what an ATM does. Such devices have their own immersive user interface and Metro doesn't enter into it.

The hardware requirements for Windows 8 are essentially identical to those of Windows 7.

Even so, why not stick with Windows 7? It's widely agreed that it works well. This is why:

OS Mainstream Support End Date Extended Support End Date
Windows 7 1/13/2015 1/14/2020
Windows 8 1/9/2018 1/10/2023

Yes, Windows 8 has three more years of service life than Windows 7. If I were a bank coming out of this Windows XP unpleasantness, I would look at the possibility of a longer lifecycle with great interest.

I asked Dean Stewart, Senior Director, Self-Service Product Management at Diebold, Inc, why all the talk is of Windows 7. His response:

    The answer generally lies not with the ATM, but with the ecosystem the ATM sits in. Bankers are conservative by nature. They have invested a lot of time, effort, and money in creating a secure maintainable environment based on Windows 7. The environment is not just the ATM, but the teller platforms, thousands of PCs, servers, and other systems. They want to maximize their return on that investment. They will run Win 7 until the end of its extended support in 2020. Only a very few have expressed any interest in Windows 8.

Clearly I don't think like a banker. All these banks must be on Software Assurance, so they don't incur any cost to Microsoft for putting Windows 8 on rather than Windows 7. Why hold back? Because they're bankers and that's what they do.

Another point Stewart made was:

    Our industry tends to skip a generation in Microsoft product. This is evident from the fact that no bank migrated to Windows Vista. Most banks will probably wait to see what Microsoft offers as the next generation after Windows 8.

It's true; by the time January 14, 2020 comes along, Windows 9 will be a mature product. Who knows what it will be? And Stewart's not alone. I asked the same questions of Wincor Nixdorf, another major ATM company and got a similar response:

    Banks strive to operate all their PC-based systems (workstations, ATMs, etc.) with one uniform operating system and have opted with high priority in the workstation environment for the available and proven Windows 7 as the successor to Windows XP.

And in fact there are other good arguments for going with Windows 7 now: Ironically, one of them is something I've already said, that the system requirements for Windows 7 and Windows 8 are essentially identical. This means that future upgrades from Windows 7 to Windows 8 for ATMs in the field — if the bank actually wants to do it — should go well, certainly better than XP to Windows 7 upgrades. There should be few, if any software incompatibilities for the ATM moving from Windows 7 to 8.

It's also reasonable to presume that Windows 7 won't be the problem that Windows XP was. When January 2020 comes along, I suspect that lots of customers will want to stick with Windows 7 for many of  the same reasons we're hearing now about Windows XP : it does everything I need, I don't want to go through the hassle of an upgrade, etc., but then they may have more of an argument than they have now. Of course, that's almost six years from now and Windows 7 may lose some luster by then.

Maybe I was wrong. All things considered, the advantages of skipping a generation as a matter of (unofficial) policy are clearer to me. This is, at least partly, the price Microsoft pays for giving their products a ten-year lifecycle.

Topics: Security, Banking, Microsoft

About

Larry Seltzer has long been a recognized expert in technology, with a focus on mobile technology and security in recent years. He was most recently Editorial Director of BYTE, Dark Reading and Network Computing at UBM Tech. Prior to that he spent over a decade consulting and writing on technology subjects, primarily in the area of sec... Full Bio

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