Top Ten worst uses for Windows

Blogger Richard Stiennon's top ten worst uses for Windows.

After all these years I am willing to admit that Microsoft has won the desktop and server wars. Thanks to VMWare Windows is spreading throughout the datacenter. And, of course, there is only one operating system to use if you are dependent on Microsoft apps like Outlook, Word, and Excel. While I have joined the chorus of security folks who rail against the Microsoft Monoculture I still cannot believe some of the uses for Windows. Some of them are just downright silly, some you may claim are criminally negligent.

So here is the Top Ten List of Worst Uses for Windows:

1. To display a static green arrow over the open TSA security lanes at Detroit Metro

I kid you not, at the main security checkpoint to get into Detroit Metro there are monitors over each metal detector. The ONLY thing those monitors ever display is a big green arrow pointing down. Oh, occasionally they display a blue screen with a Windows error notice.

2. Ticket scanner at Frankfurt airport

Another example of too much horse power for a simplified task. In this case I saw a Windows boot up screen on the little laser scanner for checking people on to the plane. Why not program some stripped down embedded system for that task? IT would be open source most likely and would not need to be updated every month.

3. Gift certificate dispensing kiosk

I am responsible for this one. Back before the turn of the century I needed to sell printed gift certificates from kiosks in downtown Birmingham, Michigan. All I could find was a manufacturer in Seattle who charged me $10,000 a piece including the touch screen and beautiful purple stand. The OS was Windows NT. It meant that twice a week I had to deploy a technician (me) to each kiosk to reboot them because they would freeze up due to memory leaks. Eventually the manufacturer came up with a fix. I downloaded a script to each machine that would reboot it automatically every day at midnight. It may be hard to comprehend today but Microsoft effectively trounced Sun, DEC, HP, and IBM in the enterprise with products that were so flawed that they needed to be rebooted every 24 hours. (That's scheduled downtime, not used in calculating five nines.)

4. Job application kiosk

Now we get into security. A little retailer in the Boston area used stand alone kiosks for presenting job application forms. Hackers found it convenient to compromise the Windows based machine and steal tens of millions of credit cards from the retailer. Yes, it was TJX.

5. Train engine controls

This one would apply just as well to any moving vehicle such as a ship, earth moving equipment, etc. I was on an Amtrak train from San Jose to San Diego a couple of years ago. As usual we had to pull off the main track to allow a freight train through. After that the train would not start again. We were told the engineer could not reboot the computer. Now, I did not get confirmation that the train ran on Windows but it is telling that that would be anyone's first assumption. And products like this locomotive control system do run on Windows.

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Richard Stiennon

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