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 …

  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 Silver badge

          ...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.)

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Oh boy, ME

          "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"

          So at some point he's going to have to bite the bullet and replace the 20+ year old pumps and control gear with something a bit more modern anyway.

          In my experience "limited budgets" are only such as long as he can keep it running with what's cobbled together and have a tendency to become "It needs to work, how much do you need to fix it?" when the thing finally becomes unrepairable (IE: he should have a plan for a complete replacement system costed up and ready to drop in for when that event occurs so that the question can be answered in 30 seconds, not 5 days and the entire replacement system ordered within 24 hours)

          If he doesn't do that, manglement may decide that he's been keeping himself "essential" for no good reason over the last 30 years and decide to replace _HIM_ along with the equipment.

      3. rg287 Bronze badge

        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.

        More or less this. The data for my (watery) Final Year dissertation (~2008) was collected on a box running Windows 95. For context, W95 went out of Extended support in 2001, so this was well past prime time. As often happens, the flume lab I worked in was built around sensing equipment made by a company that went bust shortly after it was all installed, so no software updates were expected. It's probably still there unless it's suffered a terminal hardware failure, in which case someone may have had to do some surgery on a new mobo to get the esoteric interface card in.

        In any case, it wasn't networked and didn't need to be, though I doubt anybody had a golden image to restore the system from should a nasty be introduced by removable media.

        I was the one who installed USB drivers on it - I guess everyone to that point had been taking data off by floppy since the CD drive was only a reader, not a burner. My moderately recent (2005) Toshiba Satellite didn't have a floppy drive...

  3. Rupert Fiennes Bronze badge

    Few comments

    - Locking down ME / 95 / 98 is effectively impossible

    - new hardware for ME / 95 / 98 / Win 7 etc will become increasingly hard to find

    - orders are not a security policy. Ask Mr/Ms Manning :-(

    - Add a bit of unauthorised hardware with wifi, and it will clearly have access to the internet, thereby bridging the air and water gaps handily.

    I'm a fan of having a Wifi controller and proper firewall and proxy purely on the basis you need to know what's going on. Old apps exist, but porting them to virtual machines or containers gets you out of the nightmare that's unsupported hardware.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Few comments

      "new hardware for ME / 95 / 98 / Win 7 etc will become increasingly hard to find"

      interestingly enough, a FreeBSD system could run these with virtualbox or its own virtualizer 'bhyve'.

      That would assist with the lockdown, allow for newer hardware, and NOT cost an arm and a leg to deploy.

      And wouldn't a virtualized disk image of the ME system be VERY easy to back up and restore?

      In any case, solutions exist for the hardware compatibility things. And, of course, networking could more easily be firewalled if it's in a VM.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Few comments

        "new hardware for ME / 95 / 98 / Win 7 etc will become increasingly hard to find"

        You do realise that the flagship of the Royal Navy is a First Rate Line of Battleship, which was laid down in 1759 and predates the formation of the United States of America?

        By comparison, keeping a bit of ten year old equipment in service is not exactly an insurmountable problem. The RN & MOD is not precisely short of warehouse room for spares.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Few comments

          Are you sure about that? Isn't the budget the bane of any military?

        2. Lotaresco

          Re: Few comments

          "You do realise that the flagship of the Royal Navy is a First Rate Line of Battleship, which was laid down in 1759 and predates the formation of the United States of America?"

          You forgot to mention it has no headroom and it leaks like a sieve. It's possibly not a great example to wave around.

          1. imanidiot Silver badge

            Re: Few comments

            But that's ok, as it's never going to float again anyway. Might as well stop calling it a flag-ship. More of a very elaborate flagpole at this point.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Few comments

        Virtualuzation won't help you if the hardware is custom and/or runs on a deprecated bus like ISA. Remember the story of the XP-controlled six-figure lathe?

        1. Sandtitz Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Few comments

          Remember the story of the XP-controlled six-figure lathe?

          Just last week I hunted high and low for < 32GB IDE hard drives because a customer had one of those 6-figure CNC machines with a DOS controller and the old drive was dying. The 200-500GB drives I had didn't work and didn't have a jumper for 32GB compatibility...

          Found a working 6.4GB Quantum Fireball. Phew! Cloning all the 50 megabytes took perhaps 10 seconds.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Few comments

            Been in your shoes. I have some old Quantum Fireballs in a cabinet for just that reason.

            I also have some spare floppy drives and AT power supplies in the same cabinet. Care and feeding is for machines that run on DOS 6.x, OS2, WIN2K, and one that I think runs Windows 98 (boots right into and shuts down from the control software, never need to work with the underlying OS). All talk to lots of custom hardware, so no kids, I can't "just virtualize them". Sure, we should replace the equipment with something newer, but doing the entire works will be a multi-million dollar price tag.

            Been working on trying to PXE boot to a Linux installation that can image the hard drives. Backups via 2.5" floppy drive are painful in so many ways.

            1. JimboSmith Silver badge

              Re: Few comments

              I also have some spare floppy drives and AT power supplies in the same cabinet.

              We were moving to a windows version of some ancient DOS software that the provider had finally got round to updating. At the same time we were taking the opportunity to upgrade the computers of the users of this software by replacing their machines. The new computers have no floppy drives as these are (at the time) going out of fashion being replaced by USB memory sticks etc. The switch is going well one weekend when I discovered that the software was effectively just a lazy arse port of the DOS version.

              So the same backup provisions exist i.e. you can use the A: drive and nothing else. The fact that we now had CDR, USB, a fricking load of networked servers that could be used (as they're backed up to tape drive and taken off site every day) was irrelevant. We did a quick check that it wasn't April 1st and then started putting floppy drives into the new machines. Our Head of Technology and myself had a few words with the provider on Monday morning.

              1. IanRS

                Re: Few comments

                Subst?

                It seems to work when I try to link the A: drive to mapped network drive in a Win10 machine with no floppy drive.

              2. RobDog

                Re: Few comments

                I had something similar. The tills in the restaurant were DOS machines, all worked ok even had touch screens. The provider came in and told the managers a costly upgrade to Windows 2000 was required, many improvements, including supporting two card readers etc. I did my bit and watched them install the kit, then came the testing where they promptly fired up the SAME DOS application just running in a DOS-emulating window.

                The best part though was the two card readers part - ‘twice as many customers!’ they puffed - ‘still only one till operator!’ I retorted - as experience went on to show, nothing improved but the frequency of windows crashes and patching accelerated.

            2. Lotaresco

              Re: Few comments

              "Been working on trying to PXE boot to a Linux installation that can image the hard drives. Backups via 2.5" floppy drive are painful in so many ways."

              Same advice as before, buy an appropriate adapter card and sidegrade to CF or SD card. You can get adapters designed either to use inside the case or fitted into an ISA card to give external access to the socket, allowing you to backup to a CF card.

          2. J. Cook Silver badge

            Re: Few comments

            IDE to compact flash converters; unless the software does Stupid Controller Tricks with the drive itself, that's the easiest way around that issue. the real trick is finding good quality CF cards that small now...

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Few comments

              "IDE to compact flash converters"

              NO, just NO.

              CF and other small stuff don't do wear levelling unless you want pay stupid money for specialist units.

              SATA and later PATA (ATA-5 onwards) drives have commands to change their reported size AND available parameters, which is why the jumper went away. (DCO and HPA commands)

              Learn to use them and stop trying to fuck around with old drives that are likely to die when you least want them to. Those old bastards park the heads on the platters and tend to stick if left for years - sometimes to the point of breaking loose from the arms when you try to "unstick" them.

            2. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Few comments

              "IDE to compact flash converters;"

              That's the saving grace of Compact Flash. Its design is based on PATA; thus why it has 39 pins, so it's probably the most basic thing to try if you need an old PATA drive in this day and age. There are other solutions for other legacy devices as well (SD floppy emulator, for example).

          3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Few comments

            "one of those 6-figure CNC machines with a DOS controller"

            This is the Real World where computers do Real Stuff, not just PowerPoints.

            1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: Few comments

              Digging out salvaged IDE drives (10\20\40Gb) & cloning the still working drive of a emissions tester, got me a free MOT at the garage concerned about 11 years ago.

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Few comments

                "Digging out salvaged IDE drives (10\20\40Gb) & cloning the still working drive of a emissions tester, got me a free MOT at the garage concerned about 11 years ago."

                Considering how much you saved the garage, you should have got free MOTs for life.

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Few comments

            MHDD from hddguru.com allows setting the HD to a lower size and the BIOS will detect the size at set by MHDD.

            MHDD is slso useful for testing and erasing drives.

          5. Voland's right hand Silver badge

            Re: Few comments

            Just last week I hunted high and low for < 32GB IDE

            Which is exactly why sub-32GB IDE flash modules continue to sell till this day.

          6. Lotaresco

            Re: Few comments

            "The 200-500GB drives I had didn't work and didn't have a jumper for 32GB compatibility..."

            For future reference, we had similar problems in the past. It's possible to get CF Card to ATA connectors, which means you can use a 32GB CF card or add another layer of kludge by using a CF card to SD card adapter. Possibly a good idea to get some of the adapters now while they are still available. They cost all of £2 to £4 for the adapters and they are available for 2.5" and 3.5" pin configurations.

          7. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Few comments

            "Just last week I hunted high and low for < 32GB IDE hard drives because a customer had one of those 6-figure CNC machines with a DOS controller and the old drive was dying. The 200-500GB drives I had didn't work and didn't have a jumper for 32GB compatibility..."

            I can (and HAVE) solved _that_ problem with any modern SSD (or other SATA drive) and a £6 IDE-SATA adaptor and so can you if you bothered to RTFM (if the interface is a PATA 2.5" then use a MSATA drive and a 2.5" PATA carrier)

            The fact that you don't know how to do it shows you haven't done your homework and the fact that you're attempting to do this with old mechanical hardware is simply buying more trouble a few months down the line.

            SSDs solve the vibration problem permanently and end up with so many spare blocks that wear levelling essentially means even the smallest one you can lay your hands on will last forever (don't use HDD to SD adaptors. These will die eventually unless readonly and you can't make them report as 32GB)

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Few comments

        > interestingly enough, a FreeBSD system could run these with virtualbox or its own virtualizer 'bhyve'.

        Yes, but - that's far too sensible and doesn't cost enough to keep consultants in their jobs.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Few comments

      "new hardware for ME / 95 / 98 / Win 7 etc will become increasingly hard to find"

      See the comment above about old hardware the running of which, which might be entire purpose of that particular box.

  4. Solarflare

    Jesus

    Every time I so much as read the words "Wicrosoft ME" I gag a little.

    1. I&I

      Re: Jesus

      Classic Ella Fitzgerald song?

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Jesus

      > Every time I so much as read the words "Wicrosoft ME" I gag a little.

      ME is a nasty lingering disease. WIndows ME is even worse.

  5. Spanners Silver badge
    Pirate

    ME is not an Operating System...

    it's a medical condition!

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: ME is not an Operating System...

      "it's a medical condition!"

      And MS is also a medical condition. I don't want any of them.

  6. TRT Silver badge

    Shurely...

    That should be Portholes ME?

    Macintoshes are also compulsory on-board gear; those mid-Atlantic storms can be real doozies.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Shurely...

      Macintoshes are also compulsory on-board gear

      I believe this one is yours, sir.

  7. Martin Watson

    Every Navy around the world is the same. A friend of mine works sourcing obsolete IT for various countries. He asked me last year to help find him Spanish language Win98 First Edition. On floppy disk.

    1. Oh Matron!

      I've windows 3.11 workgroups on floppy if you ever need it. All 8 of them :-)

      1. hopkinse

        I used to have an Alcatel badged blister pack of I think 4 floppies - windows 2.0 :-)

    2. WolfFan Silver badge

      I have DOS 6, Win 3.x, Win 98, Win 98 SE, WinMe, Win NT4, W2K, and WinXP available in multiple languages in ISOs. The DOS and Win 3 ISOs can be used to create floppies, if you have a floppy drive around. The Win 98 and NT4 ISOs can create both floppies and CD/DVDs. The others can create CD/DVDs only.

      I can even supply activation keys, if required. (Note: I suspect that none of them will actually work any more, as Microsoft probably turned off the activation servers years or even decades ago, but they're actual legit activation keys...)

      Microsoft hates me.

      1. fedoraman
        Go

        I think you'll find that everything up to WinXP didn't use an activation server. The product key was simply checked to see if it was legitimate. I don't know for sure, but expect, that there was some way to transform the key and see if it belonged to the group of allowable keys for that product. I remember that keygens were available for many bits of software, once the valid-key-generating algorithm was reverse-engineered.

        1. 0laf Silver badge

          I tried to use an old but bought and paid for XP key to set up a VM to run an old game (also paid for, Sid Meier's Pirates). I couldn't get the XP install to authnticate because MS had turned off the servers. The easiest fix appeared to be to get a cracked copy of the OS.

          1. Jamesit

            I just did a reinstall of XP Pro and had no problem activating, however I'm having trouble getting the updates. MS changed the update URL.

        2. WolfFan Silver badge

          It's been a really long time since I've installed anything prior to WinXP, so you could be right. What I have is a PDF containing a very long list of activation keys for various Microsoft, Adobe, Quark, Apple, other vendors' products going back to the early 1990s. There's a stack of old CDs and DVDs and floppies, most of which were converted into ISOs or similar for archiving purposes. We have some ancient hardware, including a (still working!) Apple PowerMac beige G3, complete with (still working!) floppy drive and (very, very, very dead) Iomega Zip drive, 192 MB of RAM, and an amazing 4 GB of hard drive, plus some old Apple B&W G3s, and several (still working, by some minor miracle!) Dell DeskPros (with 425 MB hard drive, 64 MB RAM, and 66 incredible megahertz of 486DX2!) (There's a reason why we still have DOS, Win 3 and NT4!) The ancient computers are attached to just as ancient hardware of various types, some of which cost upwards of $150,000 when new (one cost over $350,000!) and management insists that we get all our money's worth out of them. Tech support? What's that? No-one at Apple knows anything about G3s running OS 9.x and 10.2.x, no-one at Dell knows anything about a 'DeskPro', and some of the companies which made the hardware are dead, dead, dead!

          You youngsters, have respect, those computers are older than you are!

        3. defiler Silver badge

          I don't know for sure, but expect, that there was some way to transform the key and see if it belonged to the group of allowable keys for that product.

          Back in the day it used to be a 3-digit country code followed by 7 digits which just had to add up to a multiple of 7. 040 was the UK country code.

          My understanding is that a shop in Edinburgh got hauled through the courts by Microsoft for selling hooky Windows on their machines. Turns out they were including valid licenses, but just entering 1111111 (or something) during installation. Still had to pay a fine for license violation.

          Ah - them were the days... Then Windows 2000 came along with proper keys.

          1. Danny 14 Silver badge

            software assurance probably means you can happily install 98SE instead of 10.

          2. hopkinse

            That would be Silicon Computers I think near Haymarket. Vendors of all things grey :-)

        4. Black Betty

          Who remembers the universal keys for early windows products.

          Three digits (which I no longer recall) and a string of "1"s

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Happy

      Spanish language Win98 First Edition? Diskette images? I might be able to do that...

      My old MSDN subscription CDs are still around. I've got piles of them. Upon one of those I'd probably have Win '98 First Edition, Spanish Language even. I'm pretty sure I had all of the language packs.

      And most likely other ancient computer geeks like myself would have a similar pile of old CDs

      1. Shadow Systems Silver badge
        Joke

        At Bombastic Bob, re: MS software.

        For a guy that hates MS so vociferously you sure do have a lot of their software...

        Should we call you Microsoft Bombastic Bob instead?

        =-D

        *Runs like hell*

        Just kidding Bob, we know you loathe them with the fires of a thousand Suns... and Debians & Fedoras & BSDs & Unixs &... =-)p

        1. onefang Silver badge

          Re: At Bombastic Bob, re: MS software.

          "For a guy that hates MS so vociferously you sure do have a lot of their software..."

          That's likely why he hates them so much, coz he has to put up with them. Dunno about Bob, but the only reason I have any Microsoft software on any of my computers is coz people paid me to.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "He asked me last year to help find him Spanish language Win98 First Edition. On floppy disk."

      Check with Mr Dabbs, sounds like something that could be in his collection.

  8. Semtex451 Silver badge
    Pint

    I'm not really sure why but this article put me in mind of Lester. Still Missed.

    I'll raise a glass to him tonight.

    1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      *Raises a tankard in silent honour*

      Don't hog all the munchies.

  9. HarryBl

    The next time you go into a Post Office and see them using the touch screen behind the counter be advised that under the counter is a Pentium 4 with 256Mb of memory running NT4...

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      NT4? I thought it was CE...

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        " I thought it was CE..."

        There's a reason it was called "Wince"

    2. morgz84

      Last time I worked for the post office, about 10 years ago, the PCs were Pentium 2!

  10. Oh Matron!

    I look forward to...

    The deep blue sea of death

  11. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Windows

    The Royal Navy--when we say "blue screen of death"...

    We mean it!!

    1. James O'Shea Silver badge

      Re: The Royal Navy--when we say "blue screen of death"...

      Only if they have Harpoon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpoon_(series) installed. Many is the hour I spent playing Harpoon, usually sending Backfire regiments and Oscar subs out into the North Atlantic to hunt down imperialist carrier battle groups. Long live the glorious Red Banner Northern Fleet!

      Soyuz nerushimy respublik svobodnykh

      Splotila naveki velikaya Rus'!

      Da zdravstvuyet sozdanny voley narodov

      Yediny, moguchy Sovetsky Soyuz!

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: The Royal Navy--when we say "blue screen of death"...

        No Harpoons there, but in spite of the Bootnotes implication, the ship is armed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Enterprise_(H88) see side bar on the right. At the bottom.

  12. John Savard Silver badge

    One Benefit

    That's one way to protect your systems from Sasser and Blaster! And no doubt before this article was published, they enjoyed a great deal of "security by obscurity". But now that this vital national secret has been spilled by The Register, obviously they'll have to switch operating systems. OS/2, anyone?

    1. defiler Silver badge

      Re: One Benefit

      I'll fetch my (boxed) Warp installation CDs :D

  13. Sam Haine
    Trollface

    "With that said, all the IT kit aboard, regardless of age, is there because it works reliably when required"

    But how can it work reliably without a load of IT people tinkering with it all the time?

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      Facepalm

      bleedin obvious aint it

      quote

      But how can it work reliably without a load of IT people tinkering with it all the time?

      BECAUSE it doesn't have a bunch of IT people tinkering with as directed by a PHB who doesn't know any better.

      Its as bad as the bright spark who decided to make us save all our data on the backup server in order to make his life easier when it comes to doing off site backups.

      Only thing is.... the server has gone dead and needs a reboot.... and hes the only one with a key to the server room and hes on holiday until Tuesday......

  14. mark l 2 Silver badge

    "I tried to use an old but bought and paid for XP key to set up a VM to run an old game (also paid for, Sid Meier's Pirates). I couldn't get the XP install to authnticate because MS had turned off the servers. The easiest fix appeared to be to get a cracked copy of the OS."

    The is an easy way to activate OEM versions of XP without requiring the MS activation servers in a VM by adding a line to the config files to make it believe it is being installed on a royalty OEM PC such as ones by HP, Dell, Lenovo etc. As these don't require an internet connection to activate. Done it myself in Virtualbox, not tried it with any other VM software though.

    I would have kicked ME off the machine back in the day when it was new in favour of Windows 2000 or even 98SE.

  15. David Roberts Silver badge

    Millenial/Gen X

    As I understand it, these days Millenial starts with born in 1980.

    However I know of those born in the early '80s who firmly self identify as Generation X.

    So sympathy to the 1st Leftenant (Lieutenant?).

    1. Glen 1 Bronze badge

      Re: Millenial/Gen X

      I think part of the handwaving definitions include internet in the house as you were growing up. That seems to be a defining part of the shared culture. (All your base etc) That will vary from household to household.

      If you are old enough to think the internet is newfangled, you're probably not a millenial.

      If you are young enough to think smartphones and tablets *aren't* newfangled, then you're too young to be a millenial. <- my personal addition

      (age range as of 2018 covers approximately 25-37)

      Wiki

  16. dmacleo

    man had 15 pcs running ME, mix of ide, eide and some sata cards. none of them worked reliably even with no network or usb connections.

    seems like the systems self degraded after 60 days or so.

    can understand xp, can even support decision to keep it depending on situation.

    but ME....jeez.

    I downgraded some to 98SE and move others to 2K just to get OFF ME

  17. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Keep an eye out for The Register's Boatnotes stories over the coming week. Our man spent four days aboard HMS Enterprise, at the kind invitation of the Royal Navy

    Does that mean that there is a chance of Gareth being invited on to Big Lizzie when she sails into the South China Sea with her deck heaving with F-35Bs?

  18. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    The Enterprise runs Windows ME?

    Does that mean Captain Kirk & the others were talking to Clippy?

    1. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Re: The Enterprise runs Windows ME?

      https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xsvaeo

    2. Lotaresco
      Alien

      Re: The Enterprise runs Windows ME?

      "Does that mean Captain Kirk & the others were talking to Clippy?"

      "I see you are trying to remove Klingons. Would you like more paper?"

  19. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Stop

    Boatnotes?

    Surely this should be filed under "Shipnotes", as a Boat in Navy parlance is a Submarine?

    1. onefang Silver badge

      Re: Boatnotes?

      I think it's a pun on Bootnotes, so Shipnotes wont work.

    2. Lotaresco

      Re: Boatnotes?

      "Surely this should be filed under "Shipnotes", as a Boat in Navy parlance is a Submarine?"

      A submarine is a type of boat, not all boats are submarines.

  20. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

    How do you back these up? ZIP drives?

    1. I&I

      What? Boats?

    2. Glen 1 Bronze badge
      Joke

      apply reverse thrust

  21. HWwiz

    And even older.

    There is also a part of the MoD in the UK that still has a Honeywell DPS 6 mainframe in service. And for very good reason.

    It has no connections to the outside world, just internal 10base-T coax. And apparently there is no one left alive in the world that could even de-compile the databases.

    They even had 2 spares in storage that were shipped over from the US.

    1. Down not across Silver badge

      Re: And even older.

      Could've sworn DPS6 was mini-computer (even if it may have taken a rack or two), and DPS8 was a mainframe.

  22. Crisp Silver badge
    Terminator

    When the Cylons attack

    It's going to hold up their invasion for days while they scour the internet for old drivers.

  23. adam payne Silver badge
    WTF?

    “Because it works"

    ME work?!?!? surely you jest?

    I've only ever encountered one ME machine on my many travels and that was quite enough for me.

    1. John Doe 6

      I don't think you understand the concept "work" in this specific situation...

      It is not a desktop environment but a very much specialized environment where the PC just run one or two applications and there may be some extra hardware involved.

      Upgrading the OS may require millions in new hardware.

      No, I do not like the situation - someone should have said "STOP, this will not work, a ship is not a place for a desktop operating systems!"

  24. TwistedPsycho

    Planes, Trains and automobiles!

    Even as recently as 2008, a German train manufacturer was supplying UK train operators with a train running Windows 95.

    ...and that had connections to the outside world; investigatory quality data downloads were pulled using flash drives that then connected to a standard laptop.

    I am suspicious that it will have changed as they now have remote access.

  25. Wzrd1

    Is that all?

    The venerated NASA kept NT4 for quite a few years after its drop dead date, even paying to have service pack 7 created and heavens knows what else after.

    Some things work only under specific environments. One then protects those vulnerable environments from the evils of the intertubes or other potential external threats.

    And I'm the guy who was BOFH mkII, who navigated successfully through the 2007 cyberattack against USCENTCOM, which nailed the majority of servers in the entire extended domain. Because, we followed both US DoD standards on configuration *and* industry best practices, trivially defeating the blasted USB crapware.

    Precisely zero infections on my network that I was responsible for, although I treated systems that alerted as infected and were purged and reimaged, just to teach the end user a lesson on proper caution.

  26. ashm

    Its complicated

    As Gaz suggests, they don't tend to change things just coz they're old. There's little enough money to replace the obsolete and unsupportable without ditching kit that works just fine.

    They also don't often update sw on ships equipments without a very good reason, because its difficult and expensive to prove the system as safe following such a change.

    Safety is the #1 consideration, and its taken very seriously since misbehaving kit has the potential to affect nav, weapons, etc.

    1. rg287 Bronze badge

      Re: Its complicated

      There's little enough money to replace the obsolete and unsupportable without ditching kit that works just fine.

      They also don't often update sw on ships equipments without a very good reason, because its difficult and expensive to prove the system as safe following such a change.

      This. It's not just the computers that might need updating. Depending on whether the civvie company who provided the surveying equipment still exists, there may or may not be W7/10-compatible software to collect the data for your £££ towed sonar array. Or for the esoteric interface cards they use. It's just a floating version of the six-figure CNC lathe made by an obsolete company.

      So if you were to upgrade the hardware, you could end up virtualising stuff anyway, which has some advantages (if it works and is stable), but eh, why overcomplicate what works.

      At some stage Enterprise will go in for deep maintenance/refit and it will all come out and be replaced with the latest-greatest. Then the new cycle of bolting bits on for the next couple of decades starts again!

  27. Andy3

    It all sounded super-secure until we got to the 'internet access via the satellite terminal'.

  28. avidal

    why not

    It is the same s hite in different packaging up to today

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Front Line Opinion

    DII is an absolute heap of shite... I've spent years of my life keeping it working. It runs upwards of 30 VMs on about 3 HP hosts for the benefit of about 15 people who can log in at once. Not enough terminals to log more people it. It uses an early version of SharePoint with non of the useful features and all the down sides. It's predecessor NavyStar V4, while outdated was pretty solid and 1000 x simpler. Even it's predecessor NavyStar V3 was ok for it's time. People do have CD rights, they just have to be impex group members. Everyone can read and most people can burn CDs. USB does work, it's controlled by Sanctuary and it's pretty simple to add a USB device. This article just reeks of RN propaganda... Sounds like it was a very directed tour... Anon Ex-RN IT administrator.

    1. Lotaresco

      Re: Front Line Opinion

      "Anon Ex-RN IT administrator"

      There's a horribly high probability that I trained you :-)

      Even Sanctuary is outdated since it's now HEAT.

  30. N2 Silver badge

    It works

    And its not connected to the tinterwebs

    That is all

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Upgrade pain

    I like 'it's not broken don't muck about with it' when it comes to PC to hardware interfaces. We still have an analytical machine running OS/2 - because that's what the software that controls the piece of kit runs on. I am sure we could virtualise the OS and run it on some fancy new machine, but there's a proprietary interface card that's 8 bit ISA, and you won't find many motherboards with those on down PC World. Again I'm sure that it's not beyond the wit of man to emulate the interface but why bother? It just works! It still has its 'Tested for Y2K - Not compliant' sticker on it - but we just provided a paper calendar and a biro.

    One day we will get the money to buy a fancy updated version of the kit (or have it built - we are talking about a world market of maybe 1 every two years). No doubt it will have a fancy cloudy interface. Bet it won't still be running in 2050. Won't bet we aren't still running the existing toy in 2050.

  32. OldCoderDude

    No excuse

    Please tell me precisely how you lock down CD/USB access on [the not NT-based] Win ME? No SAM, no DAC, no GPO... so what then, HPFM (hocus pocus f--king magic)? The weak attempt at user security on Win 95-based O/S' is easily subverted, if they can store anything to hard drive on those boxes, they can also copy to removable media. (Replacing device drivers is also not a challenge.) ME was obsolete in 2003, there's no excuse for them to be running it, other than laziness and ill-conceived complacency.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No excuse

      I think it's as simple as pulling the drive out of the housing and pulling the interface cables at the motherboard level, then locking the case so that it's de-certified the moment someone tries to put them back in.

    2. IainWR

      Re: No excuse

      Superglue?

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: No excuse

        Acetone dissolves cyanoacrylate.

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