back to article Windows XP? Pfff! Parts of the Royal Navy are running Win ME

The Royal Navy is running Windows ME – and XP, and even an early version of Apple Macintosh. But all is not as alarmingly obsolete as it may appear. Your correspondent, during a few days embedded aboard seabed survey ship HMS Enterprise, asked the crew what systems were in operation aboard the ship’s networks. The answer was a …

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  1. Dr Who

    - We keep it because it works.

    - We don't connect it to everything else in the world because it doesn't need to be connected to everything else in the world.

    Excellent points which we all ignore daily.

    Now excuse me while I go and reboot my IOT immersion heater controller with which I replaced the old electrical timer switch that worked perfectly. I'm not joking either, I'm a moron. It must have been a pissed Amazon purchase but I can't remember.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      "- We don't connect it to everything else in the world because it doesn't need to be connected to everything else in the world."

      And how do you KEEP it that way? Especially against both clandestine bridging and PHBs who don't know better?

      1. A.P. Veening

        Keeping it that way

        Pretty easy, clandestine bridging is physically impossible (read the article) and PHBs are in rather short supply in the navy. And if you do encounter one, he is scared shitless of security, who does know better.

        1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

          Re: Keeping it that way

          During WW2 my dad was a radar technician in the RN. He told us of one ship where, as soon as they had left port, people in his position were ordered to do normal sailor duties.

          There are such people in the armed forces -- not too many of them, one hopes. "Man management with discipline" is the key phrase.

        2. martinusher Silver badge

          Re: Keeping it that way

          Funnily enough I've been having an interesting conversation with a chip vendor's marketing person over the last few days about 'the wave of the future' -- the "Industrial Internet of Things". This looks like a nice prize for marketing people but as an engineer I'm a bit more skeptical about putting the equivalent of a web server on everything and anything. It is, as we say in the trade, "asking for trouble".

          Anyway, I'm a bit disillusioned with whizzo technology even if I do feed at this particular trough. We've had some wildfires in the area recently which has not only caused inconvenience and (significant) damage but also took out the Internet over a wide area. Also the phone system (because we're all using VoIP....). This is more than a nuisance -- unprepared retailers had to close, unable to process payments, we had only an unreliable cellphone service ("its a mountainous area") to rely on. Rather ironically both the mail and the (print) newspaper were delivered as usual (and I daresay if I still had POTS service it would still work). Instead, nothing worked (Alexa just sat in the corner and sulked all day). That's progress for you. So don't knock the RN for not upgrading all their boxes to Windows10 and putting them all on the one backbone; they've got enough problems as it is without inviting further trouble.

      2. 0laf Silver badge

        Digital

        But what about ticking the digital transformation boxes you director needs to show off to his peer group? Oh the humanity, no devops opportinuty or live web feed!

        Surely there is some way to allow remote networking to his so he can check his XYZ from bed in Tuscany twice a year?

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Re: Digital

          This is the Royal Navy, not Bodgeit&Extort.

          It is repeatedly pointed out to all navy newbies that failing to follow the established (by salty old engineers) procedures can result in an impromptue attempt at a long distance swimming record.

          As is the way with the military, all procedures have equal billing to ease the thought process -> Don't follow procedure = Get a**e kicked

          1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

            Re: Digital

            As is the way with the military, all procedures have equal billing to ease the thought process -> Don't follow procedure = Get a**e kicked

            Follow procedures = Get hanged at Nuremberg.

      3. Fatman Silver badge

        RE: And how do you KEEP it that way? ...

        <quote>And how do you KEEP it that way? Especially against both clandestine bridging and PHBs who don't know better?</quote>

        Simple,

        "Man Overboard!!!!"

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: RE: And how do you KEEP it that way? ...

          'Man Overboard!!!!!'

          the same way you deal with thieves!

          on a related note, perhaps the Royal Navy can invest in completing ReactOS? Open source, compatible with ME applications, and you can FIX the vulnerabilities yourself.

          1. vtcodger Silver badge

            Re: RE: And how do you KEEP it that way? ...

            My understanding is that the US Navy at least is possibly the most conservative organization on the face of the planet. Their motto might well be If it isn't broken, don't even think about fixing it On top of which, every ship is uniquely configured and has a plethora of weapons, navigation, climate control. etc systems and subsystems wedged into any corner where space, power, and cooling are available. I doubt they would upgrade Windows in a weapons or navigation subsystem even were upgrades available. Windows XP or MSDOS 6.0 or whatever will go away when, and only when, the ship is in the yards and the entire entity it is running in is replaced for some reason.

            Sailors who want to get home safely surely are not going to hook their ride up to the "cloud"

            Read Arthur Clarke's "Superiority" to see the reasons why. https://www.baen.com/Chapters/1439133476/1439133476___5.htm

        2. herman Silver badge

          Re: RE: And how do you KEEP it that way? ...

          If he 'fell' off on the port side: "Man overboard, starboard side!!!".

      4. hplasm Silver badge
        Holmes

        And how do you KEEP it that way?

        "Especially against both clandestine bridging and PHBs who don't know better?"

        Weapon Systems.

      5. John Doe 6

        Actually it is quite easy in a military environment - sadly the rest of the world do not live by military standards.

        RN is not alone in this, most navies have the same issue but again this is manageable those are very closed environments.

        It would be very nice if hospitals et. al., airplanes, ships and critical infrastructure could be run like that... people (primary politicians) are however stupid so they are not.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          It would be very nice if hospitals et. al., airplanes, ships and critical infrastructure could be run like that... people (primary politicians) are however stupid so they are not.

          Some of the kit (xp), I maintain is run like that, disconnected from the internet, hardware firewalled and only a specific port open for a very specific purpose, everything locked down, hence why non of it succumbed to the NHS malware, while brand new win7 based systems were dropping like flys.

          But like you say, most systems are just plugged into a port in the wall on a wing and a pray and as long as you suffer the OS updates and keep you antivirus updated, all will be fine.... or maybe not.

      6. IceC0ld Bronze badge

        known as CIS, in the inevitable military acronym.

        ===

        and they do a decent job of solving the navies crimes too I hear :oP

        ===

        And how do you KEEP it that way? Especially against both clandestine bridging and PHBs who don't know better?

        ===

        because it's the military, and you do as you are told, even when it is not necessarily the right thing :o)

      7. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        How do you KEEP it that way?

        Well, sometimes you don't and the PHB wins. Example - in a slightly different Navy standalone systems are all but verboten because "everything must be online at all times so that it can be scanned"

        The attitude is one of compliance to arbitrary instruction rather than a real focus on security.

        Predictably, the security sucks.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: How do you KEEP it that way?

          "everything must be online at all times so that it can be scanned"

          That's just what the Cylons want

      8. Ken 16 Silver badge
        Trollface

        You sail it into the middle of the ocean and shoot anyone who gets too close?

    2. gotes

      What surprises me is that somewhere there's an installation of Windows ME that "works".

      1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
        Trollface

        It probably hasn't got Norton Anti Virus installed.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Security is easier when the Security officer has a bFG

        Wasn't that actually a hacked version of windows for Workgroups badged as Windows for Warships.

        I've not worked with the Navy but on army installations everyone from the base commander down is very wary of the signals officer.

        On one camp I did work on we had networked the shop & Canteen tills (our equipment not theirs) using directional WiFi antenna (it was a large camp) linked to our router on our wiring in our office and only attached to our leased line (separately routed from their comms)

        The previous Signals Officer had allowed wifi as we were not allowed to use cables in their ducts or put up catenary wires or dig our own ducts. Plus the camp did not use wi fi for any purposes.

        There was a change in signal officer and he insisted that the WiFi network be turned off, for several weeks were had to de-install the till's put them in a car boot and drive them down to the office so we could download the sales data to the local server and pick up pricing updates etc then drive them back and re-install them for the next days sales. This caused particular issues as the system was cashless and we could not top up cards in the canteens any more plus updates took a day to get back to the tills , cue a lot of angry hungry squaddies. The base commander had no veto on the signals officers actions, he thought there may be crosstalk between our kit and theirs so ours was turned off immediately. Once we had proven that there was no connection between any of our kit and a defence network, that the wi-fi frequency in use was appropriate. and the network was as secure as needed to be to protect soldiers dining history we were finally allowed to turn the network back on again.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Security is easier when the Security officer has a bFG

          We were not all like that (anon for maybe obvious reasons)

      3. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge
        Pirate

        What surprises me is that somewhere there's an installation of Windows ME that "works".

        The Rovyal Navy sank the mighty German U-boot fleet and the Spanish Armada. Apparently they also conquered ME and MacIntosh.

        "almost nobody has access to the ship’s CD/DVD-RW drives"

        I wonder to how many knots those drives propel her forward.

      4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        What surprises me is that somewhere there's an installation of Windows ME that "works".

        Probably no USB devices, one of the very few video adapters which were reliable (cirrus most likely) and one of the very few reliable network cards (it's been too long - I forgot what worked on that front). Add a reboot job that whacks it once a day and you have something that may still do its job year after year after year as long as it is not connected anywhere outside its small local network.

        1. Down not across

          ...one of the very few reliable network cards (it's been too long - I forgot what worked on that front).

          I found that 3Com Etherlink (in its various incarnations) used to be fairly safe bet. Good driver support. DEC Tulip based cards were also fine. Mostly, but some implementations were not ideal shall we say.

      5. simonlb
        Joke

        'What surprises me is that somewhere there's an installation of Windows ME that "works".'

        It's only used to play Minesweeper, though!

        1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

          At simonlb, re: Minesweeper.

          *Eyes squeazed shut, happy groan, & hands you a pint*

        2. J. Cook Silver badge
          Pint

          @simonlb: *groans*

          It's not pub-o-clock here... yet. Two more hours.

        3. onefang Silver badge
          Joke

          "It's only used to play Minesweeper, though!"

          I think you'll find that's the actual code used to actually sweep for actual mines.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            "I think you'll find that's the actual code used to actually sweep for actual mines."

            I hope not. Losing would be painful.

        4. Ommerson

          I strongly suspect the reason for ME was the highly specialist kit that is attached to the systems. The ability to write to memory-mapped IO from user-space used to be a convenient shortcut for developers - avoiding the need to write device drivers (or possibly having to write them in order to port to a newer version of Windows). ME was the last version of Windows where this was possible.

      6. herman Silver badge

        I take it that a survey mission is always less than 49 days.

      7. Roger 11
        FAIL

        Yes. I can get why they would use XP, but ME is horrible.

    3. gerdesj Silver badge

      "Now excuse me while I go and reboot my IOT immersion heater controller with which I replaced the old electrical timer switch that worked perfectly. I'm not joking either, I'm a moron. It must have been a pissed Amazon purchase but I can't remember."

      What?? You haven't wired up an ESP8266 based thingie to it for that very purpose. Obvs, you'll need another one to restart the first and then its ESP8266s all the way down ...

      We are all morons. You should see what I've done to my U/F heating. I nearly cooked the dog.

      1. Commswonk Silver badge
        Angel

        @ gerdesj:You should see what I've done to my U/F heating. I nearly cooked the dog.

        OT from the point of the article but never mind...

        Some friends of ours had a major refit of their home after an equally major flood a few years ago, and that major refit included underfloor heating. In this case the ground* - to - room interface was some very nice tiles. The effect was to nearly cook anyone who entered the room, particularly in what used to be called "stockinged feet". (Curiously their dog didn't seem to mind.)

        I had a quick look around and discovered that (a) there didn't appear to be a room stat, (b) what might loosely be called the "control system" was at the back of a cupboard at ankle height, (c) the "back of the cupboard" was actually the outer leaf of the wall, and (d) it was noticeably draughty in there.

        Needless to say I was unable to keep the diagnosis to myself, and I advised them about what to tell their installer, including the results of a quick on - line search for a suitable wireless thermostat, etc. I suspect their installer was a bit hacked off about someone else telling what was required, but he did it anyway, and the result was a properly controlled temperature.

        It's quite amazing how non - technical friends will interpret "basic engineering principles" as a branch of black magic and general wizardry, and it would have been inappropriate to dismiss the whole thing as "Simples".

        We wizards need all the adulation we can get.

        *Yes it really was the ground; it is a very old house.

        1. Chris G Silver badge

          @ Commswonk "It's quite amazing how non - technical friends will interpret "basic engineering principles" as a branch of black magic and general wizardry,"

          It's also amazing how such friends will often think it's beyond you if your job description doesn't match that of the crappy installer.

          1. Danny 14 Silver badge

            As an ex RSO sgt I can only say the signals platoon was generally loved by all as we had three commodities coveted by the rest of the infantry platoons: constant electricity, AA batteries and the sat phone (plus the old HF to BT phone - i am talking late 80s early 90s here)

          2. MaltaMaggot

            ..."It's also amazing how such friends will often think it's beyond you if your job description doesn't match that of the crappy installer."...

            and Wives.

      2. Rich 11 Silver badge

        I nearly cooked the dog.

        You prefer your dog steak rare?

      3. Shadow Systems Silver badge

        At gerdesj, re: cooking the dog.

        There's an old un-PC joke that says there's "101 ways to wok your dog."

        I'll get my coat, the pockets are full of fortune cookies...

      4. Glen 1 Bronze badge

        >ESP8266 s all the way down

        I for one approve of this!

        At least when it goes TITSUP*, I know that

        a) It's cost me less than a tenner all in

        b) It's *MY* fault.

        * Total Inability To SUport Pyrexia

    4. PhilipN Silver badge

      It works

      Exactly. Coincidentally just before seeing this piece I was thinking of winding back a Mac Pro to an earlier iteration of the OS, under which a super-duper Esi-audio card not only worked but worked magnificently. Unplug/switch off the ‘net, plug in the drive with the FLAC’s/MP3’s and time to wake up the *****g neighbours. Now why would I need Mojave or W10 for that?

  2. chivo243 Silver badge

    Oh boy, ME

    I really feel sorry for anyone who has to endure the ME experience in this day and age. I would rather have win2000 ;-}

    1. lsces

      Re: Oh boy, ME

      Since it may well be connected to specialized hardware that only has to do a specific job, the problem of getting the same hardware working with a newer version of windows comes to mind. How many systems are still running 32 bit versions of windows so they can still access that hardware by a real parallel port. M$ has broken so much of the physical interface that modern versions of windows can't even connect to some very expensive and still fully operational hardware :(

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        Re: Oh boy, ME

        windows 10 is still sold on 32 bit machines. Many windows tablets still run 32 bit version.

        1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

          Re: Oh boy, ME

          My partners Linux installation is 32 bit - runs very nicely if a little sluggish, but she's happy

          1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
            Angel

            Re: Oh boy, ME

            32 bit?

            16 bit should be enough for anybody.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Oh boy, ME

            "My partners Linux installation is 32 bit "

            Not for much longer. Not on x86 anyway.

      2. pavel.petrman

        Re: Oh boy, ME

        Re: Specialized hardware.

        I once talked to a man who thirty years ago designed a fancy computer controlled fountain for a spa resort and still is in charge of maintenance of the old thing (to get the idea, the pumps beneath the fountain draw about 70 kW). Of course, he has a limited budget, and a very special application. And, crucially, the thirty years old industrial computer still runs reliably today and is repairable. Which means a big no-no to an upgrade to Siemens, Honeywell or similar toys for the millennials.

        It has a downside, though - the control computer will only accept rs-232 connection for updates of the program from a certain Intel 286 running one particular version of DOS. His family resents all the weekends he spent in the control room with an oscilloscope, trying to get to the bottom of the mystery and be finally able to use a modern computer, since his stock of 286 PCs he received as a gift from a local bank is running thinner every year.

        (He needs to be able to update the program because the ever more stringent rules for everything mean, for example, that when he needs to equip the pump motors with inverters which in turn distort the finely tuned timing of the fountain shows which are played to background music. Or a new show is proudly presented from an artist, including a fountain choreography, which needs to be tailored to the characteristics of the various pumps, etc.)

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