back to article UK rail lines blocked by unexpected Windows dialog box

Window admins rejoice! It isn’t just you that can’t get Office 2010 to uninstall silently. The mighty brains behind the UK railways have had just as much trouble. As well as the usual passenger information boards, detailing the day's cancellations and delays, London’s Victoria train station also features displays on every …

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Windows

Why Windows in the first place on a system with a narrow functional requirement?

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Boffin

Re: Windows

Because the display system is an Excel Spreadsheet with information populated by a 30,000 line VBA script.

Some people here seem to think MotorcyclesFish was joking when they said that. It sounds very plausible to me.

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Len
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Paris Hilton

Re: Windows

I understand that in some cases it makes sense to use a tried and tested off-the-shelf OS like Windows. It may not be perfect but its flaws are often well-known so you can work around it.

What does puzzle me, though, is the use of Windows for systems like this, or those ad displays, public information displays, video terminals etc. They usually have a very narrow set of requirements (some network activity, some display functions, some times limited mouse or keyboard input) that could easily run on a much more pared down OS without all the unnecessary baggage that a consumer desktop OS like Windows has.

If you develop the application in a high level stack (Java? Python?) and run it on a severely pared down Linux or BSD flavour that only has the minimum required functionality compiled for this task you'd likely be much more reliable. You could probably even do a major hardware or OS upgrade without the higher level application noticing it.

Anyone able to shed some light on this?

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Re: Windows

Anyone able to shed some light on this?

Yes. It's all about economics.

The companies that produce these aren't trying to make the best product possible - but the most money possible.

Windows developers are 2/1p.

If their "wiz kid" nephew can whip up a billboard in VB6, by copying stackoverflow question code, then so be it.

But yes, this isn't completely the fault of Windows - the consumer OS designed for Grandma - but perhaps the fault of those deciding to use it.

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Re: Windows

"Why Windows in the first place on a system with a narrow functional requirement?"

Good question.

A RPi would be ideal for this sort of thing. The cost of keeping a few spare RPis, pre-imaged cards and PSUs ready for swapping in the event of a problem would be negligible.

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Devil

Re: Windows

Why Windows in the first place on a system with a narrow functional requirement?

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Re: Windows

So that after hours the station staff can play Candy Crush.

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Boffin

Re: Windows

A RPi would be ideal for this sort of thing.

And if they'd done that six years ago they'd be running on original Pi B hardware and Raspbian Wheezy and in another decade they'll be so behind the times we'll be laughing at them like we're laughing now.

Because. It's simply what happens.

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Re: Windows

So that after hours the station staff can play Candy Crush.

If the OS is as old as some claim, Candy Crush is too new. More like Solitaire.

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Re: Windows

The only reason this situation occurred is because the engineer preparing the disk image didn't do their job properly. It's not Microsoft's fault - sorry to burst everyone's bubble. How do I know this? I spent 6 years working on very high profile Windows and Linux based vending machines on every aspect from preparing the disk images, writing the drivers and the application software. If you live in London I guarantee you've used one of the devices I've worked on.

To address your question as to why people use Windows for these kinds of applications, there are many and which apply depend on the organisation. To cite a few: a) Legacy - many systems were developed for Win32 before Linux distributions were practical alternatives, b) compatibility - much middle-ware and drivers are only available for Windows, c) familiarity - many engineers are familiar with Win32, d) continuity - Microsoft isn't going to go away any time soon, e) cheap, easily available hardware platforms. So, I know the next question is "why don't companies dump Windows and switch to a Linux distribution". Usually the reason is the cost of porting the software outweighs any measured benefit.

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Re: Windows

"Windows developers are 2/1p."

Those are the wizard-runners. The ones smart enough to write code can't be had for less than a pence apiece.

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Re: Windows

@Jason Bloomberg - "in another decade they'll be so behind the times we'll be laughing at them like we're laughing now"

Why? It'd just be a dusty screen that still works.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Windows

If only there was an embedded edition that could be used in such situations

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Re: Windows

"So that after hours the station staff can play Candy Crush."

Actually they do that on their mobile phones now.

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Re: Windows

"Actually they do that on their mobile phones now."

So much better when it's up there on the wall, for everyone to see their high score.

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Re: Windows

> Why Windows in the first place on a system with a narrow functional requirement?

The only reason would be to use F#

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Re: Windows

A RPi would be ideal for this sort of thing

You mean like one of these?

:-)

M.

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Re: Windows

Why? It'd just be a dusty screen that still works.

And as if to prove a point, I have a "wall" at work with 14 Raspberry Pis. 13 of them are original, 2012-vintage, Sony-built model B units with 256MB RAM. They are being used as looping video players running 24 hours a day and apart from a few new SD cards and an occasional software update they just work.

The SD cards have been replaced because the originals were bought in a rush and weren't terribly good quality (the Sony Pis only became available about two weeks before we needed them), and because early versions of the OS would quite happily irretrievably corrupt an SD card if you removed the power unexpectedly. The OS updates to help with that but mainly because over the years I've used more and more Pis, and each new generation needed an updated OS and I really only want to keep one OS image in play. I use "Lite" images and yes, the latest version does still run on the older hardware.

In total (if I've counted correctly) I had 17 or 18 first generation model Bs and have "lost" three (I think). One failed because the SD slot cracked and now won't reliably hold a card in place, the other two just "died" for no apparent reason after many years in use. I also had three (lucky me) original China-built Pis between work and home. All three have been withdrawn from use due to "odd" errors which make them unsuitable for 24 hour use. They seem to work fine, but then stop for no apparent reason.

M.

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FAIL

"...alas, yet to receive a response."

Can you blame them for keeping quite?

Talk about a balls-up.

Oh, and all the posts about it being an Excel spreadsheet, where were the joke icons?

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What about node.js interfering at Reading Station?

https://www.reddit.com/r/CasualUK/comments/9u4zsc/the_new_sign_outside_reading_train_station_runs/

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Re: What about node.js interfering at Reading Station?

It's the new techno-televangelist screed!

REPENT!

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Shock horror - it's not running XP!!!

Whilst Office 2010 can be run on XP, that toolbar, looks like a Windows 7 toolbar.

I suspect someone has simply taken a bulk standard OEM Windows PC that has Office Starter (2010) preinstalled and didn't bother removing unnecessary stuff and simply configured the full screen (IE) browser application.

Now if this were a screen in one of the signalling boxes, I would be much more concerned...

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Re: Shock horror - it's not running XP!!!

The crashed signalling display I saw last week indicated it was running NT 6.1 SP 1. Quite impressively it had an an IPv6 address showing.

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Pint

Re: Shock horror - it's not running XP!!!

>NT 6.1 SP 1

That's commonly known as Windows 7 SP1 ...

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Pint

Re: Shock horror - it's not running XP!!!

"NT 6.1 SP 1 - That's commonly known as Windows 7 SP1 ..."

Well I've learned something I didn't know, or more likely been reminded of something I'd long forgotten. Thanks ->

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Coat

Beware sleepers.

Perhaps they were training some new IT hires and they got a bit off track.

My coat is the one with the HO train set in the pocket.

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Anonymous Coward

Ancient meme is ancient

I think you meant

"Perhaps they were training some new IT hires and they got a bit...

(•_•) / ( •_•)>⌐■-■ / (⌐■_■)

...off track.

YEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!"

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Re: Ancient meme is ancient

Glasses Pull

Fade To Quip

...

Sorry, I've spent far too many hours on tvtropes.org.

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TRT
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Re: Ancient meme is ancient

It looks like their IT system...

...

...

...

... went off the rails.

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Why does the Twitter poster exclaim like it is preventing him from doing his job? Given that he works in Healthcare I'm guessing he was just a passenger and those screens aren't designed for passenger use ..

(Doesn't mean it wasn't an issue for someone else of course)

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Joke

The post is required, and must contain letters.

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Where's Windows for Warships when you need it?

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/05/windows_for_warships_hits_type_23s/

Please insert disc 39 of 40...

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Coat

Where's Windows for Warships when you need it?

It fails to Surface...

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Anonymous Coward

"Where's Windows for Warships when you need it?"

Still happy running on most US and UK warships and submarines.

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Joke

"We asked the UK’s rail operator, Network Rail, if they were having some IT difficulties but have, alas, yet to receive a response."

That's because Outlook 365 hadn't finished its install yet.

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Anonymous Coward

Office

"Why a copy of Office is needed on a PC tasked with showing line information is anyone’s guess (and two Internet Explorer icons indicates there is double the fun to be had)."

What? *Every* copy of Windows has Office amirite? why it just *has* to be there. Ref: exporting data from software like Sage: why allow .csv exports when you can require hooks into Excel. Oh, and that means you can't even work on report permissions on the freaking server without Excel installed on the server.

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Can these systems, that display the state of the rail network and store stuff in Office365's cloud, also be used to alter signalling?

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They are information displays, for staff, and while they take data from the signalling control systems they cannot interact with the control equipment.

In the rail industry these secondary displays are considered non vital.

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hile they take data from the signalling control systems they cannot interact with the control equipment.

Before Solid State Interlocking (SSI), the signalling control systems had very limited interaction with the control equipment, input from a signalman being required.

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Pint

@Barrie Shepherd - "while they take data from the signalling control systems they cannot interact with the control equipment"

Thank Goodness!

Much appreciation to the techies and safety officers who fight the on-going battle to keep it that way.

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Paddington 247

Had an odd one last week I think it was. Had an "incident" which you could clearly see from the info box was at West Ealing. Then the next few shots they blurred it. Odd.

Bit late.

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Okay so this system is some sort of extra information box for platform staff to see what is going on.

It's probably fed from the Open Data feeds which also feed a bunch of Web services such as open train times and real time trains et al.

It will be running on a standard COTS IT system used for office staff hence the 365 install.

It has no access to safety critical or safety relates systems.

I'm not bragging (I'm really not) but I have worked in and around railway signalling and control for a decade and look at this stuff a lot.

It's done as cheap and quickly as possible to get info to people on the front line. The thinking required to build a cut down box running a custom OS running some neat pure code which is optimised is vastly outweighed by the fact a windows box is £40 a month on internal lease and will be binned off in 5 years when it all gets changed anyway.

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gfx

raspberry pi

A Raspberry pi is 40 quid once and can display a webpage. Saves 2360 quid over five years and less energy.

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TRT
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Re: raspberry pi

But does the code base require Ruby...

...

...

...

... on rails.

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Re: raspberry pi

A Raspberry pi is 40 quid once and can display a webpage.

But much harder to find someone you already have, who knows what to do with it.

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Re: raspberry pi

But much harder to find someone you already have, who knows what to do with it.

Anyone who can click a couple of options to cause Explorer to auto-launch, go full-screen and display a fixed web page on Windows should be more than capable of doing exactly the same thing on Raspbian with Web (Epiphany) or another browser of choice, even if they've never handled a Linux machine in their lives.

If they're not, put them back into the office making colourful Powerpoint stacks to explain to middle management why the trains are late again today.

M.

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Victoria Station

Not the place to have a Buffer Overflow.

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None of you work for the Railway I see

Why you are surprised by this, I've no idea?

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This post has been deleted by its author

"We apologise for the issues with your journey today, this was due to overrunning IT work"

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