Microsoft is planning to cut off support for Windows XP next month, but the move won't have the major impact on the ATM industry that many pundits believe.
And contrary to what some bitcoiners say, it won't do anything to help the bitcoin economy of the fledgling bitcoin ATM industry, either.
Official support for Windows XP is set to end on 8th April, which has prompted many commentators to conclude that the ATM industry will be in a world of trouble as soon as the clock hits midnight. In some respects this echoes the 'Millennium bug' (Y2K) fear, uncertainty and doubt that spread 15 years ago as the year 2000 approached.
These statements also happen to be just as spectacularly wrong as the Y2K scaremongering. While the move by Microsoft is a nuisance and is already causing some problems for ATM operators, the impact of the decision has been greatly exaggerated.
What will really happen
Here are the facts. Microsoft is going to end support for Windows XP on 8th April. This is not exactly an unexpected decision, Microsoft has delayed cutting off support for a while. In addition, it will not cut support entirely. It will still offer anti-malware updates, although security updates will stop.
Approximately 95% of all ATMs run Windows XP and it is estimated that more than 60% of these will keep running the OS after the cut-off date. However, these worrisome statistics do not paint the full picture.
It is important to understand that ATMs run different versions of Windows XP, and a sizeable number run stripped-down, embedded versions of the operating system. Microsoft is not ending support for embedded XP – support for these units will continue well into 2016.
It is also possible that ATM operators with non-embedded versions will get a temporary reprieve. The fact that Microsoft will end support for consumer products does not necessarily mean that ATM operators don't have contingency plans that involve an extension of official support past the April deadline.
The logical upgrade path would require many ATMs to move to Windows 7, which might not be practical for some operators due to hardware compatibility problems or financial concerns. Effectively, it would mess up their hardware upgrade timetable and cost them money.
ATMs need to meet Payment Card Industry Security Standards (PCI SSC) in order to get a green light. Microsoft has said XP users will be considered "unprotected" after it cuts off support next month.
However, that's just part of the story. In fact, Windows XP ATMs will still be able to meet the requirements even without a new OS. The industry had plenty of time to prepare for the cut-off.
The PCI SSC clearly states that Windows XP devices will be able to meet its standards after the cut-off, provided their operators make the necessary adjustments. In essence, ATM operators will know what to do when the time comes, as they had plenty of time to prepare.
Even regular consumers and small businesses don't need to be overly concerned. Lack of official support does not mean that XP boxes will turn into malware-ridden botnet zombies overnight. Apart from the promised official anti-malware releases, security firms will also be offering vendors third-party protection.
Malwarebytes has launched an updated version of its Anti-Malware Premium suite this week, and the company says it will support XP users for life. As many as 20% of Malwarebyte users are still running XP.
Coincidentally, the company recently got a bit of love from the cryptocurrecncy community, after it started accepting bitcoin for its products.
Alternatives to XP
As pointed out, Microsoft's decision to cut support for Windows XP has messed up ATM upgrade timetables. But if an ATM operator has a unit that currently runs XP, but for some reason it cannot be upgraded to Windows 7, there are a number of alternatives.
One is, of course, to patch XP and ensure compliance without Microsoft. This is possible, in theory, although the solution is neither simple nor elegant.
The second alternative is to go for an alternative OS altogether.
This is not as farfetched as it sounds: Linux has a much smaller footprint than Windows 7 and, as a result, some ATM operators are considering a switch to Linux rather than the Microsoft product.
This would not be the first time ATMs have transitioned to a different OS. Before the industry moved to XP, most ATM's were running IBM's OS/2 operating system.
It's a matter of economics, not tech. As Computerworld points out, a new ATM costs $15,000-$60,000 and the typical lifecycle is seven to 10 years. This explains why some operators are reluctant to upgrade their hardware – it just doesn't make financial sense.
The bottom line is: don't buy into the hype or fall for the FUD. Come April 9th, your local ATM will still spit out cash.
Over the next few months, many ATMs will get a new operating system, or tweaks to the old one, that will enable them to meet compliance standards until they are replaced or upgraded. The vast majority of people won't notice a thing, apart from a nicer user interface on their local ATM.
People who think most ATMs will simply die without official support are probably the same people who bought into the Y2K hype all those years ago. Besides, even if they did, it wouldn't have much of an effect on digital currencies and bitcoin ATMs. That's a case of wishful thinking and nothing more.
What's more, the fact that bitcoin ATMs are manufactured by small outfits means that in the long run could be in an even worse situation, as small companies don't tend to offer much in the way of long-term software support.
They simply lack the resources and, in many cases, startups in niche industries don't survive. That is not a concern for the time being, since bitcoin ATMs are practically brand new.
However, imagine a world with tens of thousands of unstandardised bitcoin ATMs, produced by dozens of companies over the course of a decade or so?
Nermin Hajdarbegovic is a freelance opinion and news writer for CoinDesk: his opinions do not necessarily reflect those of CoinDesk.
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