Electronic Product Design

Tuesday, 31 May 2016 00:00 Written by

Old Tech Powering Modern Life

31-05-16 - steam driven technology 200When Windows 10 was released last year, a massive number of users immediately jumped ship, upgrading from Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. Windows 10 was largely hailed as a success and the vast majority of people had an excellent upgrade experience.

Not everyone was so keen though. It's easy for consumers like you and I to jump into a relatively unknown upgrade. If our mouse doesn’t work because of a driver clash, we can easily roll it back, or search for the latest driver. It doesn’t work that way in big business, and as such we see a massive number of Windows XP systems still in use around the globe, despite official Microsoft support ending nearly two years ago.

Why Still XP?

There's a broad mix of people using Windows XP. One of the largest marketplaces for older Windows XP machines is emerging economies. The rapidly expanding economies throughout South and Central America, Africa, and Asia need computing power, but often cannot afford to pay Western prices for the latest machines. While a new laptop might retail for £200 here, that could be many months pay for someone else.

So they turn to computers that have arrived by other methods. There are numerous programs to ship functional but dated technology to emerging markets, offering a chance to digitise aspects of the economy. Windows XP is alluring because of its relatively small size, minimal overall system requirements and, because of its age, accessing left over volume keys for activation can be easy. And if not activated by volume key, Windows XP was cracked long, long ago.

But it isn't just emerging economies using Windows XP. There are many millions of individuals using hand-me down terminals donated by family members when they upgraded, years previous. With no incentive to change what they know, these users continue to use the Windows environment they've become accustomed to over the years, not realising the a) lack of support, and b) security issues they're setting themselves up for.

Not Just XP!

It recently emerged that the McLaren F1 racing team were using a 20-year old Compaq laptop to maintain one of their finest creations, the McLaren F1 supercar. It seems strange, but the reasoning is very simple:

"The reason we need those specific Compaq laptops is that they run a bespoke CA card which is installed into them. The CA card is an interface between the laptop software (which is DOS-based) and the car."

CA (Conditional Access) cards were used in older systems to offer some sense of security and copy protection against would be attackers. Modern equivalents such as a smart card, or a USB with special access codes do not work simply because the McLaren F1 was never programmed to work with them.

This is another scenario which isn't completely unheard of. Many massive multinational industries still use aging or obsolete technology simply because it was built that way to begin with. Updating an entire industry isn't always cost effective, and it will more than likely result in a minefield of new bugs, errors, and issues to fix. However, proprietary software often works this way, and in many cases the adage "if ain't broke, don't fix it" applies, very literally.


Image courtesy of dan / freedigitalphotos.net.

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