- There was nothing at all wrong with OS2. As ATM operating systems go, it was robust, stable, secure. And — when IBM quit supporting it at the end of 2006 — as obsolete as an audio cassette.
"I think the upgrade from OS2 to Windows in general was probably quite a hard one to do because at that point in history, I'm not convinced that Windows was a better operating system than OS2," said NCR Corp. marketing director for ATM software Robert Johnston.
In time, though, XP acquired the same robust, stable and secure reputation that OS2 had once enjoyed. So now comes Windows 7. And once again, said Johnston, the question: "Why do we need to change?"
Thomas Hailey of Cord Financial Services has heard pretty much the same thing. Though most of Cord's business is retail placement, and most retail ATMs operate on the simpler embedded Windows CE platform, Hailey said Cord does have customers running XP who are now scratching their heads about the changeup.
"The software works, people like it, people are used to it," he said. "So any time you bring in new software that changes how you program [the ATM] and how you operate it, of course they're going to be a little nervous and say, "Why do I have to learn something new now? I don't want to do this. Plus I have to pay to upgrade all of my equipment."
Pros of Windows 7
In fact, FIs and others that now run Windows XP have a number of reasons to consider the change to Windows 7:
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1) Security. Support for XP will end on April 8, 2014. As of this date, there will be no more general release security updates from Microsoft, which means that any deployer running Windows XP will be exposed to increasing security risks over time, putting them in a place that Johnston called "a risky backwater.
Beyond updates, there are built-in security features of Windows 7 to consider. Among these, a keyboard filter to prevent unauthorized use of functions such as control-alt-delete that could provide unauthorized access to the system, and Session Zero Isolation that makes it harder for malware to gain entry.
2) Efficiency. While there are considerable costs involved with updating — not only with the operating system, but also with the rest of the software stack so that it will interface with Windows 7 — there are also payoffs.
Deployers who update existing machines will find that installation, startup and shut-down are all faster with Windows 7 than with XP, which expedites maintenance. Additional options in the program might enable the deployer to reduce communications, security and other operating costs. And, said Johnston, deployers who must replace machines too old to upgrade will realize savings in their maintenance costs.
3) Functionality. When support for XP ends, deployers will find it difficult to add new features — both back-office and consumer-facing — to their network. "So if one of their rivals introduces some fantastic new deposit application, but it only works for Windows 7, they won't be able to respond," Johnston said.
Again, Microsoft has already built one feature into Windows 7 to entice ATM operators bent on differentiating their customer experience. Windows 7 steps beyond ordinary touch screen functionality, said Johnston. "Suddenly, you can make an ATM look like an iPad," he said. The program offers single- and multi-touch capabilities and gesture-based controls, such as swiping, object selection, rotation, zooming and scrolling.
In fact, said Johnston, this is the feature that has won over some NCR customers. "[S]uddenly they can see significant scope for differentiation … and strong branding in front of the consumers. And of course, then, the more forward-looking banks are thinking, 'Well, we want to get there first.' So it's kind of woken banks up to the fact that this is actually worth doing."
'Expense after expense after expense'
Hailey said that while retail ATM operators might be impressed with the new touchscreen functionality of Windows 7, few would be willing to pay for the upfront and maintenance costs. "Casinos, higher-end hotels … might want touchscreen. But your convenience store chain or your smaller hotel, they just want a machine that works. They're going to stay away from that 'high-tech' stuff."
Besides, Hailey said, independents have had their fill of upgrades, with Triple DES, then ADA and, now that it's beginning to seem inevitable, EMV. A non-obligatory software change would be at the bottom of their "bells and whistles" wish list. "There's just been expense after expense after expense," he said.
For deployers who do decide to upgrade to Windows 7, the EMV question could well factor in: Would it be best to kill two birds with one stone? It might work for some, said Johnston, but not all. "Some people will view that as a very high risk thing to do, where you're changing so many parts of the software stack in one go," he said. "They'll be wanting to maybe do EMV first, stabilize that, then do Windows 7."
Laying the groundwork
While the both the hardware and software sides of the ATM industry have worked on their own changes to accommodate Windows 7, some XP users have spent time working on a plan to implement — and pay for — a Windows upgrade. Others are still thinking about whether to make the upgrade at all. "There are some who have worked out their strategy, they're pretty much ready to go. But there's still quite a lot who I think it's something they don't really want to deal with."
Those who are on the fence should keep in mind that, as with ADA, there will be a rush to upgrade when the XP end-of-life date gets close.
"Customers should be aware that the industry as a whole has a finite capacity to assist them with deploying new operating systems and new technology at any given time," Johnston said. "If everybody waits until March 2014 to do the deployment, you can imagine it's not going to happen in a month's time scale, so when banks and deployers are making their plans for Windows 7, the earlier they move, the better ... not just for that reason of industry capacity to serve them, but also from the point of view of getting themselves locked down, stabilized and in good shape before the XP finally is discontinued."
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photo: Flickr/Francois Schnell