If you’re feeling more than a little worn down by conversations about desktop computers, network/desktop operating systems and Microsoft licensing, you’re not alone. And if you’re exhausted by the effort of trying to decide whether your bank should upgrade its desktop computers to Windows XP, the new Microsoft operating system, welcome to the club.
It’s not news that the banking industry enjoys making capital investments that provide a return for a number of years. But the industry had it all wrong when it assumed that desktop computers were going to be an alternative “solution” to the totalitarian control wielded by an unresponsive Data Processing Department. Sadly, the desktop computers proved to be neither the envisioned solution nor a lasting investment.
So. Did we learn anything from this? Have any of our well-intentioned but misguided investments where desktop computers are concerned taught us anything that will help us know whether or not to make that upgrade decision that stares us, unblinkingly, in the face?
Well, before I serve up a heapin’ helpin’ of Dr. Faulkner’s Insightful and Invaluable Technology Advice (hey, keep in mind that it’s free), let’s take a little stroll down memory lane…
Once upon a time, monolithic mainframe computers with dumb terminals were the mainstay of banking systems. This era lasted from the late 1950s until the advent of the IBM PC in the mid 1980s. It was not unusual in the ’80s to see a bank running 15- or 20-year-old equipment.
Enter the early personal computer from IBM equipped with the venerable DOS operating system. This OS was purported to be the solution that would free creative minds in all businesses. Overnight, hundreds – even thousands! – of products were produced to operate on this new platform, and in no time at all, DOS-based products for standalone and, later, network-based personal computers were widely deployed. Banks invested in new hardware and software to replace terminal-based systems. (It is still possible to find DOS products in a bank, but for the most part, they disappeared in the mid 1990s.) Give or take, the DOS era lasted about 10 years, making this technology’s lifespan a third of the preceding generation’s.
Now enter Windows. The initial version, Windows 1.0, basically didn’t work and never entered the business mainstream. In fact, Windows wasn’t reliable enough to use until the Windows 95 product was introduced (in 1995, of course). Considering the instability of earlier products, 95 appeared to be a miracle product. Alas, the software companies jumped on this platform and began retiring their DOS-based products. Oh, by the way, the hardware requirements for 95 mandated, in most cases, upgrades of personal computers.
Windows New Technology (NT), the first desktop operating system not based on DOS, was announced shortly after Windows 95. NT arrived late and never was widely deployed on the desktop, but it was the first Microsoft attempt to enter the server operating system market. NT was not positioned to replace desktop systems and therefore was not a real player to replace 95.
Both Windows 98 and Windows ME were no shows for the business user. They did not deliver enough functionality or reliability to make a business case for replacing 95. Windows 2000, announced in the late 1990s, was touted to be the replacement for both servers and desktops. The end of Windows 95 was fast approaching. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft announced 95 support would be withdrawn in November 2001.
Assuming it was 1997 or 1998 before Windows 95 was widely deployed, then the life of Windows 95 is about five or six years. Important to note here that, according to our most recent surveys, Windows 95 is still on 59% of bank desktops!
Two years ago the big talk in banks was Windows 2000 and whether it should replace 95. A few banks made the move, replacing, overall, 3% of desktops. It’s unfortunate, but if Microsoft adheres to its typical product life cycle, Windows 2000 will no longer have support in 2004.
In only two years’ time, the conversation has moved on to Windows XP. In the last few weeks, dozens of banks have called to ask about the advisability of making this move. Ouch, this cycle is only two years old and the upgrades to hardware and networks are substantial.
With a little history behind us, let’s return to the question: “Should my bank upgrade our desktop computers to the new Microsoft operating system, Windows XP?” I think fellow techies will appreciate my if-then analysis:
That upgrade required hardware enhancements which are probably still depreciating, and Microsoft will support NT for at least another year and will likely support 2000 until mid-2004. Most of the features and benefits of XP are contained in 2000, and many of the features and benefits exist in NT. However, if you have NT, start upgrade planning in the next two years.
Software vendors are already releasing products that will not operate on 95. In the near future, few if any software products will work in the older environments.
Following the upgrade to Windows XP, most of the benefits that accrue to the bank will be noticeable only to the technology department. Sure, users may notice their systems do not “freeze up” as much and that their screens look a little “prettier,” but the technology department will see higher reliability, better security, and a greatly enhanced ability to manage each computer. In fact, it is possible to lock down the desktop computer completely, giving the user no ability to load favorite games, screen savers, or financial analysis programs.
Perhaps with the next upgrade we will have come full circle and put a dumb terminal on the desktop under control of the monolithic, glass-enclosed data center. Sheesh. Before you know it, we’ll be seeing the return of platform shoes, polyester and bellbottoms.
What? We already are? And no one remembered those weren’t smart choices the first time around???