Snapped this on my way to Gate 1 at Heathrow’s Terminal 3. I know the London hub has its problems, but I didn’t realise one of them was that its passenger information system — or at least part of it — was running on Windows 95, a 12-year old operating system that has not been supported by Microsoft since 2001.
Does it matter that flight information is being run on a system that Microsoft not only no longer sells, but it no longer supports?
I guess not, in some ways. Who cares, if it’s still working? (Well, in the case above, where one screen is in permanent ‘shutdown’ mode, and the other seems to be in permanent ‘boot’ mode, leaving me waiting patiently in the hope of getting some flight information, I guess I do.)
But how about security? If a software manufacturer no longer supports a product, it doesn’t just mean their helpdesk is no longer taking calls from baffled customers. It also means they’re not pushing out updates to the software that solve problems like the one above, or security patches to cover holes bad guys have found in the software.
This bit is more worrying. If a bad guy knows that Heathrow is using Windows 95 for some of its operations (and I guess he does now) it should be pretty easy to find a way in. While not many people use the software anymore (I couldn’t find any surveys on this, but anecdotally there don’t seem to be many folk out there using it), new vulnerabilities are appearing that affect both newer and older versions of Windows. So while XP users might get a patch, Windows 95, 98 and Me users won’t.
Anyway, I caught my flight OK. So maybe there’s nothing to worry about. Apart from realising that an airport I entrust my life to a few times a year is relying on software that, when first launched, didn’t even support Internet access.