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What would you do with millions of pounds?

Posted by Simon Brew

Windows XP, the UK National Health Service and £5.5m of public money. Simon Brew can’t be the only one weeping…

There’s a lot that you can do with £5.5m. You could employ a couple of hundred people for a year for starters, or set up some small businesses. You could be sensible and invest in technologies, or you could pay for lots of operations. Alternatively, you could buy lots of sweets or several million copies of the Adam Sandler movie of your choice.

The British National Health Service, however, has handed over that amount of money to Microsoft. And in return, it’s getting an extra 15 months of support for a Microsoft product. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really take too long to sink in.

Microsoft has been a significant beneficiary of the National Health Service in the UK for some time. NHS machines work heavily on the Windows operating system and Microsoft also licences other software and provides training and support as well. As such, estimates suggest that as many as one million PCs used by the NHS use Windows XP.

Thing is, as has been well reported, Microsoft doesn’t want people using Windows XP any more. It doesn’t get much financial benefit, it argues that it’s less secure than more recent iterations of Windows, and as such, it’s been trying to shut off support for the operating system for many years.

In April, it finally managed to do so. No more security patches, no more updates – and the NHS was faced with the possibility of a substantial number of computers being more vulnerable, as a result of a decision made by a company to stop supporting its product.

And herein lies the problem. There are many things that most of us think that a National Health Service should spend its money on. Things to do with health would be the top of most people’s list – software support would not. The NHS hasn’t come out of this perfectly itself, having taken too long to wake up to the very real problem it faces by using so many copies of an unsupported operating system. But it’s the most depressing solution that it has decided to throw more money at a company that, in part, is responsible for the problem.

At the very least, there’s an opportunity here. The NHS, if it wants to stop giving Microsoft millions every year for support updates for its old software, will have to upgrade both its PCs and its operating systems. Surely, surely, this is when a longer term change needs to be made. Where is the continued advantage of tying a service that already has demands on every pound it spends to a proprietary software company? I’m not naïve, there would still be major support packages involved, but the change in the status quo would still bring long-term economies and, more importantly, a better long-term approach for managing such crucial technology infrastructure.

This doesn’t need to be confined to the UK either. It’s idealistic, but couldn’t there be the heart of a system that could work beyond Britain, tailored to individual countries and their demands? It’s surely no more idealistic than a one-size-fits-all Windows XP approach…!

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    • Patrick Elliott

      Not sure “decided” is the right word. Unfortunately, in the so called “professional” world, which includes places like the NHS, the software installed is often custom made for them, written by people who are themselves heavily invested in the same OS (else they wouldn’t be developing for only that OS), and set up to, intentionally or not, *lock in* the people they sell to into the OS they picked. In the US, a lot of shipping truck repair places have the same issue – they are using stuff that just **will not run** on newer versions of Windows, never mind on another OS, because, in no small part, certain behaviors of the OS are *mandatory* for the security and/or function of the program. To replace the program, or even get a version that works **period** either on a new OS, or with the computer in the bloody truck, is literally impossible, because the only people that can do that either a) haven’t yet worked out how to port it, or b) suddenly find that they, quite simply, painted themselves into the same corner, and **can’t** port it, or c) went out of business, and are no longer around to fix their own bloody mess.

      You think £5.5m is a stupid amount.. you might not want to know what the cost would be to basically redo the whole entire system they are using, so its no longer shackled to their original bad decisions on who to pick as the vendor(s) for what they are using.

    • Jayro Jones

      I would turn the useless british currency int o useful American money, and THEN start buying and investing.

    • Callum

      Some pedantry: There is no “British” National Health Service. There is however NHS Scotland and The NHS (England and Wales) – both were started in 1948 and have always operated indepoendently.

    • JahFou


    • conor rynne

      “they are using stuff that just **will not run** on newer versions of Windows, never mind on another OS”

      WINE has better compatibility with older software, like XP era, than Windows

    • James LaBarre

      Sheesh, if their software couldn’t run under Wine, perhaps they should have given that 5.5 mil to the ReactOS project (well, they’d have to have done it 3 or so years ago) and funded a drop-in replacement that *wouldn’t* tie them to some predatory vendor. But that would require intelligence and/or an unwillingness to accept bribes on the part of government administrators, and I don’t see that happening.