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[April 14, 2014]
What options for ATMs after XP? [Nation (Kenya)]
(Nation (Kenya) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Microsoft has had three CEOs since 1975. When he was the chief executive, Bill Gates assembled an array of products that became a staple in the corporate sector. Some have lasted decades, performing beyond expectation and refusing to expire despite numerous efforts to retire them.
The most memorable was the "die-hard" Internet Explorer 6. When it was released, it was a revolutionary browser. It had the unfair advantage of being bundled with Windows XP, and it far outlasted all the other Microsoft browsers put together.
Internet Explorer 6 may not be the formidable browser it once was, and many websites no longer support it. But it is still around, silently lurking in many computers.
The other product was Windows XP. Aside from Windows 1, this is the most famous Windows released to date, equally revolutionary. It respectably wore the "die-hard" badge.
On many computers in numerous small businesses, Windows XP still rules. Second-hand computers almost certainly come installed with XP. So do ATMs. Globally, almost every ATM runs on Windows XP.
The concern then is that with XP no longer supported, what will happen to ATMs? SUBSCRIPTION SUPPORT There is a painfully expensive temporary fix. Microsoft will support XP but at ridiculously high fees. Short-term, this fix works and the banks that are unprepared will likely take that route.
Microsoft, a profit-making business, will certainly milk this option for all that it is worth. Still, this option has a limited time stamp on it, and will be untenable as a long-term plan.
NO SUPPORT Of course the banks could "go commando", and many will. It will be a rationalisation challenge. If the machines have been ideally problem-free for extended periods without needing hands-on software support, why worry? Ironically, this makes the most sense and is cost-effective. However, the risk analysis on this reads like a horror movie script. Murphy's Law could come into play. Nonetheless, provided nobody complains and ATMs keep churning out money to customers, there will not be any worried souls. At some point, though, since there is no such thing as a perfect operating system (OS), failure will put those machines out of commission.
UPGRADE This is the route Microsoft wants ATM owners to take. But it is a catch 22 situation, inspired by Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO until February. Everyone could upgrade to Windows Vista or 7 and probably even 8, but who likes either one of them? XP was selected for its simplicity, flexibility, and reliability. After 2001, Microsoft forgot all that.
The paradox is simple: You could upgrade, but there is nothing to upgrade to. None of the other newer Windows are stable or reliable enough for ATM work. You see, ATMs are like a hammer. They need to be easy to use, with a more point and click interface. Available potential upgrades are guaranteed to be problematic.
MIGRATE This is the flip side of the upgrade. Migration would be Microsoft's biggest gamble, and one it is likely to lose in. When upgrading Windows, sometimes you may need to upgrade the hardware for the sake of compatibility. In simple terms, you may need to buy a new computer.
When corporate money grew on trees, Microsoft made a killing with upgrades. So did hardware manufacturers. They were guaranteed future periodic business.
But money is tight globally, so there is no sane institution keen on trading its working equipment for new equipment just for the sake of an upgrade. Hence, the option of migration becomes realistic.
Enter the world of Unix and Linux. Upgrades of these two OS rarely require hardware replacement. Both are flexible and adaptable. They do not require expensive licences and are known for their reliability.
For Microsoft, the writing is on the wall. Migration seems like the most likely route for many ATM owners.
In Brazil, ATMs are being moved to Linux. Europe and Asia will likely follow in that direction. Linux is known for its reliability and flexibility, and it comes primarily 'unencumbered'.
Thus, in that one Steve Ballmer-esque move, Microsoft has put their ATM game on the line, a business it is unlikely to recover in this generation.
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