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Hemingway on Windows

Begin”, said the great Ernest Hemingway, “With the truest statement you can think of and the rest will follow”. In this case it’s that Windows NT 4.0 is alive and well and at a bank or business near you.

That’s the problem and it’s one shared by both Microsoft and business. The company may have discontinued support for Windows NT on the desktop in June of this year and will do the same for the Server next year but for a number of very good reasons NT is stubbornly refusing to take the door marked ‘Exit’.

This afternoon, I had a conversation with the Head of Security at a leading bank. “Blaster”, he tells me, “Was a wake-up call to all of us in the financial services industry. With tens of thousands of desktops and almost a thousand servers, we were planning a gradual migration from Windows NT, to Windows 2000 and then finally to Longhorn when it arrives. Windows XP doesn’t appear in our plans at all. However, not only did the events of the Summer give us serious cause for concern on the security front but they also made us worry over falling foul of the regulators, who are themselves concerned over levels of preparedness for whatever comes next”.

It appears that the reluctance to move up and away from Windows NT to Windows 2000 or even Windows Server 2003 wasn’t a software licensing issue but a total cost of ownership worry. Windows NT both on the desktop and the server still runs relatively cheaply on PC’s that are more likely to be found gathering dust in my attic today. Take 20,000 desktops , migrate these to Windows 2000 and multiply the result across the European banking sector and the cost in new hardware is not insignificant in an industry which claims it is struggling to be profitable.

Concerns over migration costs appear to have been left behind by worries over security and so in this example, the migration process will now be accelerated into an eighteen month Window, which will see Windows Server 2003 putting in an appearance, because it is robust and Windows 2000 rolled-out to fat-desktops and mobile users and potentially, a Linux-based thin client deployed to the bulk of transactional users. Either way, this won’t be cheap and credit card charges will continue to remain outrageous in the eyes of the public as a by-product of the banking sector’s rush to make itself as immune as possible from the threat from ‘The next big thing’ to appear from the 'darkside' of the Internet.

One further interesting comment I gleaned from my conversation, was that NT is no more or less insecure than any other Microsoft Operating System. Instead, it’s how the IT department manages the security of the Windows environment that counts and that Windows Server 2003 is attractive because Microsoft have made the tools and policies available that makes securing that environment easier.

Every dog has its day and NT has had its. Banks should know about security and they know a great deal about cost and if this one is a good example of current thinking, then squeezing the extra pennies out of a Windows NT environment is too much of a risk. Of course, the risk to Microsoft is whether what they choose next has Windows written on the box but having spent six months talking with financial institutions here and in Europe, I suspect that Bill Gates hasn’t any reason to lose sleep over the UK. Germany, quite possibly but that’s another story.

Hemingway also said, “Remember to get the weather in your God damm book. Weather is very important”. But then Hemingway had no Windows to look out of.


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