Which OS for life critical applications?

Recently I was a guest at a local hospital for a few days, staying with a relative. All over, they had portable PC stations using HP mini desktops mounted to portable stands on wheels, with LCD displays and pullout keyboard trays.

Recently I was a guest at a local hospital for a few days, staying with a relative. All over, they had portable PC stations using HP mini desktops mounted to portable stands on wheels, with LCD displays and pullout keyboard trays. I couldn't help but notice what operating system they were using so I took a look. I wasn't surprised to see them all running Windows XP. Windows is used everywhere, so why not?

Later on, I overheard the doctor who was sitting down at one of the permanent stations at a desk. He was apparently trying to log in and check on something, but I heard him ask the nearest nurse why a particular popup message was getting in the way. She answered "oh it always does that, just click OK". Apparently he was able to click OK and that allowed him to get to what he needed.

The next day I happened to notice one of the unused portable stations sitting by itself and on the screen I saw a "Microsoft Visual C++ Runtime error" box sitting there. Really? And why would they choose Windows when it has a reputation for not being the most solid platform out there? We've seen jokes and comics for years, portraying situations where the computer runs Windows and needs to be rebooted for some unforseen problem. Unfortunately, this wasn't the first station I saw this error on either. I saw a handful of others (not in use) that had the same exact error. My best guess as to why they run Windows, is that the software that they need probably doesn't run on any other OS, so they manage to get by with what is available. To me this is not going with the best option, but the most convenient option, on behalf of the vendor writing the application software.

In conclusion, if I was a patient at a hospital and I knew they were relying on an operating system like Windows that is known to cause popup errors, or reboot, I wouldn't exactly have a warm feeling inside. What if a patient was having an allergic reaction and a nurse needed to quickly look up their profile, only to have the computer lock up or error out not allowing them to get the critical information they need? Sure, no computer is perfect, but why not minimize the risk? In a life threatening situation, I think institutions need to be running the very best OS and application software. The OS could be Linux, or it could be Unix, which have decades of proven reliability behind them. With proprietary systems like this in a medical environment, applications can be written for any operating system, so the best operating system should be the one chosen. It boggles my mind that software vendors don't do more homework and choose the most stable OS, especially for niche applications like this.