For ATMs, why not Windows 8?

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

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  • Not logical !

    " They have invested a lot of time, effort and money in creating a secure maintainable environment based on Windows 7 "

    why didn't they switch their ATMs to Windows7 earlier then ??!
    • I'm guessing probably because there was a full-blown crash

      of the banking industry in December 2008 -- maybe you've heard about it.

      Keep in mind that something like FIFTY THOUSAND folks in the banking and financial sector industries were let go. It's not easy rebuilding the human infrastructure of an entire industry -- ESPECIALLY one where you can't just "take someone off the street", give them a week's training "and let 'em loose".
  • Not logical !

    " They have invested a lot of time, effort and money in creating a secure maintainable environment based on Windows 7 "

    why didn't they switch their ATMs to Windows7 earlier then ??!
  • Cost.

    Many of the ATMs would be reduced hardware focused on the task they are designed for.

    Using either Windows 7 or 8 would require new hardware.

    Much cheaper to just use a 32 bit linux custom configured to the task.

    Not to mention the easier security to set up.
    • But then they have to rewrite their entire application

      and many of the dev libs on Linux are viral GPL, and no bank is going to GPL their ATM code.
      • RE: they have to rewrite their entire application

        Most of it are Java based (so OS agnostic)
        • ATM interfaces?

          I think that unlikely - I can't imagine a worse solution. Remember, this is software that operates hardware, and Java's whole point is to abstract you from machine specific hardware, and work at the business logic level.

          I can't imagine a scenario more unlikely than Java for ATM operation.
    • Which hardware?

      "Using either Windows 7 or 8 would require new hardware."

      Which hardware?
      • the base PC

        Which hardware? I assume jessepollard is referring to the basic PC in the ATM. This isn't always true. The better ATMs are designed very modular and Diebold says that most of theirs are capable of running Win7 with some hardware upgrade.
    • Not really, if you understand the hardware in an ATM

      in most cases this isn't some off the shelf Dell mother board that everyone gets when buying a PC.

      Not to mention the security issue involved are no different then that of any other OS.
    • Reply to "Cost."

      The cost of the OS relative to the cost of the ATM would be small, basically inconsequential to the decision making. Moreover, many banks around the world are so rolling in dough that Windows on their ATMs is less than pocket change. The Bank of Nova Scotia, for instance, made net profits, in 2013, to the tune of something like 6.5 billion. They aren't going to worry about the 40 bucks it will cost them of a copy of Windows on an ATM.

      The problem with Linux is which Linux. Which kernel(s), which distribution(s)? What packages? Who will be responsible to support them? And on and on in the wonderful colourful wacky upside down world that's GNU + Linux.

      Whereas with ATMs and Windows, in likelihood, the banking applications will translate directly over from XP to Windows 7/8.1. The banks would be dealing with a single, business oriented vendor for the OS, a vendor which takes responsibility to regularly patch it and update it, and which can provide service and expertise when necessary.
      Time Agora
      • ATM OS

        The issue is the cost of upgrading and installing the hardware of the ATM. The cost of the OS and software is relatively small part of the cost of an ATM, so arguing which OS should installed is pointless.
        • Reply to "ATM OS"

          Right, the price of the OS is insignificant. And right again, there is really no point arguing, it's, hmm, mostly going to be Windows. Not to say other software systems potentially couldn't do the job, or are already operating some ATMs in some country, just saying that's the way it's going to be for the next round for most major banks: Windows.
          Time Agora
      • support

        Linux support is WAY past all the stuff you are talking about (since probably 2005).

        You can buy a support contract with RedHat or IBM or whatever big integrator you want.

        Linux is already used in many embedded, KIOSK like systems. Support has not been a problem for a while.
      • 40 bucks?

        Try 15K. As for distro- if you want control- you don't need a distro, you build it once and get updates for the kernel. You don't have to worry what to replace Win7/Win8 5-10 years from now.
        The big positive of Linux is that you have full control.
        • Reply to "40 bucks?"

          15 thousand for a copy of Windows on an ATM? I doubt it.

          And I highly doubt the banks have "full control" over Linux. I would doubt there are many people who know all the ins and outs of the RedHat distros outside of RedHat. It might as well be Microsoft. Oh wait, it is, that's the company banks use, Microsoft.
          Time Agora
    • Doubt New Hardware

      for Windows 7. Windows 8 maybe depending on the processor because of built-in security requirements Windows 8 requires of processors. But those have to be pretty old processors.
  • Windows 8.1? Perhaps. But not Windows 8

    An ATM needs to launch a desktop app on startup in kiosk mode. Windows 8 interferes with this by forcing you into the tiles.
    • Reply to "Windows 8.1? Perhaps. ..."

      At least someone is thinking today.
      Time Agora
    • They don't use the Windows desktop UI

      Windows boots directly into the ATM application. Metro vs. the old UI doesn't matter.

      As for the touch screen, they've been using their own drivers for that. Perhaps they can use Windows drivers now, but it's irrelevant to the UI itself.