Author Topic: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport  (Read 8303 times)

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Offline fubar.gr

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Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« on: November 16, 2015, 03:41:25 pm »
Article here: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2015/11/failed-windows-3-1-system-blamed-for-taking-out-paris-airport/

I wonder, what's the oldest computer system still in use in a mission critical environment such as an airport?

Offline VK5RC

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #1 on: November 17, 2015, 11:09:04 am »
I thought a lot of really important systems were often really 'old', as it takes so long to iron out all the bugs, they aren't changing it for anyone.
 I recall a neighbour's son , who was a jet pilot in the Australian airforce, saying that the computers on our jet fighters were an equivalent to a 286 processor but had really rock stable software. I want one!!!!
Whoah! Watch where that landed we might need it later.
 

Offline Mechanical Menace

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2015, 12:07:24 pm »
Not a critical bit of infrastructure but it's rumoured that the Lovell Telescope is still steered by a Beeb.
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Offline Wilksey

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2015, 12:18:16 pm »
Not a critical bit of infrastructure but it's rumoured that the Lovell Telescope is still steered by a Beeb.

It'll probably continue to work fine for years to come then!
 

Offline SeanB

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2015, 07:01:03 pm »
All your banking is done using a VM running on a computer, often emulating another VM which in turn is running something written way back then to run on a specific model of IBM mainframe. All the fancy stuff is simply doing screen scraping of this internal system.

You will be surprised at now many companies still are using software designed to run on Netware 3.x, and run it in an emulated machine on a server, connecting via terminal clients to this golden machine. Scary thing is I was looking at the mass marketer, where they still have dot matrix printers for sale, new ones, not old stock, with parallel interfaces and USB. They are more expensive than around half the low end laser printers, even the colour ones. I still use them at work, as it does do a copy of every form for free, and you cannot say there was a print error on the second one. ribbons however are more than laser refills, the reinker industry died a while ago, which I used as the reink cost was very low.
 

Offline Delta

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2015, 07:06:00 pm »
I'm a big fan of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" (or "if it ain't broke, don't upgrade it"), but I suppose the problem then comes that when it does break, there ain't anyone to fix it...
 

Offline Stray Electron

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2015, 10:27:13 pm »
  I can tell you for a fact that a lot of test equipment is still controlled by HP 9825 calculators!  I know surveyors that are still using HP 35 calculators (c.a. 1972).  A few years ago I inherited an Intel MDS-800 a company had just taken out of service. It has handbuilt 1702 EPROMS and 8080 CPU in it.  It's sitting in my living room and it still runs like a top! The MDS-800 is the computer that CPM was originally written for.
 

Offline _Andrew_

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #7 on: November 17, 2015, 10:42:08 pm »
Take a look at EEVblog #395 think I remember Dave saying somthing about support still being available or until quite recently.
 

Offline _Andrew_

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #8 on: November 17, 2015, 11:17:29 pm »
The UK department of work and pensions have a job position going for some one to head up the migration of there legacy systems which date back to 1974 running on Fujitsu mainframes using the VME opperating system. Pay for the job is £135000 a year.
 

Offline Hydrawerk

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #9 on: November 18, 2015, 12:01:10 am »
I thought a lot of really important systems were often really 'old', as it takes so long to iron out all the bugs, they aren't changing it for anyone.
 I recall a neighbour's son , who was a jet pilot in the Australian airforce, saying that the computers on our jet fighters were an equivalent to a 286 processor but had really rock stable software. I want one!!!!
Why not. There are still many 1980's airplanes in use.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_F/A-18_Hornet
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BAE_Systems_Hawk
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Offline rollatorwieltje

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #10 on: November 18, 2015, 02:07:53 pm »
I thought a lot of really important systems were often really 'old', as it takes so long to iron out all the bugs, they aren't changing it for anyone.
 I recall a neighbour's son , who was a jet pilot in the Australian airforce, saying that the computers on our jet fighters were an equivalent to a 286 processor but had really rock stable software. I want one!!!!
The fire control unit in the F-16 used 32K core memory until about 1988. But the computer systems in those things aren't really comparable to a general purpose computer like a 286, it's purpose built stuff with very strictly defined tasks.
At some point they added a more "general purpose" computer as an upgrade, it used a MIPS R3000 processor, the same CPU as used in the first Sony PlayStation.

If you want to see proper old and crusty, look inside a random metalwork or woodwork shop. Good chance the CNC stuff is still running on some ancient 386 completely covered in dust, but somehow keeps working.
 

Offline Galenbo

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #11 on: November 18, 2015, 02:22:52 pm »
Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport

Says the press, spokespersons and some managers.

Is it due to the operating system and/or it's hardware?
Should Win10 have done it better? Should it have failed faster if they upgraded/bought new?

Or is it some failure in a part of a system, in where there's also a win3 PC on the other side of the wall?
What exacly is the failure? Were original maintenance and redundancy procudures disregarded?
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Online Howardlong

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #12 on: November 18, 2015, 02:46:26 pm »
I thought a lot of really important systems were often really 'old', as it takes so long to iron out all the bugs, they aren't changing it for anyone.
 I recall a neighbour's son , who was a jet pilot in the Australian airforce, saying that the computers on our jet fighters were an equivalent to a 286 processor but had really rock stable software. I want one!!!!
Why not. There are still many 1980's airplanes in use.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_F/A-18_Hornet
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BAE_Systems_Hawk

A lot older than that, the Beaver is still the mainstay of floatplanes. There's bugger all technology in those, all VFR and a paddle.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Havilland_Canada_DHC-2_Beaver
 

Offline zapta

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #13 on: November 18, 2015, 03:44:42 pm »
Or is it some failure in a part of a system, in where there's also a win3 PC on the other side of the wall?
What exacly is the failure? Were original maintenance and redundancy procudures disregarded?

It was a computer glitch so nobody is responsible for the failure.
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Offline Mechanical Menace

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #14 on: November 18, 2015, 03:51:55 pm »
Or was it a 'computer glitch'?  (which means that nobody is responsible).

May be used as a get out of jail card but I disagree. All glitches are caused by human action or inaction somehow. The hardware wasn't maintained properly, the codebase of the legacy code hasn't been loved and modified for modern usage cases that the original coders couldn't foresee, nobody thought the system would be used long enough to need more bits to store a date, modern systems interfacing with that system aren't properly sanitising their communications with the legacy system, etc, etc...

Machines don't make mistakes, computers don't make mistakes, software doesn't make mistakes. They just blindly do what the designer and builder made them do. The problem is that people don't always realise that what they designed and built something to do isn't what they thought they designed and built something to do.
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Offline SeanB

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #15 on: November 18, 2015, 05:53:41 pm »
I worked on aircraft avionics. All the designs I was familiar with were pretty much discrete TTL and often had core memory as well, as it is a lot more reliable. The ATE was also running on an old HP mini, which was booted using a set of toggle switches to load a bootloader to load the bootstrap tape which then loaded an operating system which then ran the ATE. The planes are still flying, and probably relatives of them were used recently to deliver some love notes in Syria this week. Accuracy is a skill many pilots have issues with, with new pilots often the safest part of the bombing range was the target.

Still remember the one pilot complaining "first bomb landed on target" as his fault description.
 

Offline Towger

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #16 on: November 18, 2015, 08:43:20 pm »
We inherited the maintainance ( about 1k eur a year) for a system running on DOS and Novell.  Every few years we would ask them if they wanted it rewritten.  No, was the answer it works fine and does exactly what we want.
Anyway, The company starting with 'O' offered the higher up MBAs a free system which did the same job, they just had to pay for any customisation. It took them almost 2 years of disasters, staff handing in their notice over using the replacement and ended up costing over 2m. To this day they have no trust in it.
« Last Edit: November 18, 2015, 08:48:23 pm by Towger »
 

Offline Towger

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #17 on: November 18, 2015, 08:46:11 pm »
.
 

Offline Halcyon

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #18 on: November 20, 2015, 04:57:34 am »
I'm a big fan of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" (or "if it ain't broke, don't upgrade it"), but I suppose the problem then comes that when it does break, there ain't anyone to fix it...

Generally I agree, however at work, we are in a bit of a pickle at the moment in that we have been running an old database which was originally commissioned in the early 1990's and used dumb terminals to connect to. Since the implementation of desktop PC's and Windows, we use a terminal client to connect to said system.

Without going into details, it contains A LOT of information and ties into other Government systems. To replace it would cost millions upon millions. It probably should have been replaced and updated long ago before it got to this point. I guess it has to happen sometime.
 

Offline CatalinaWOW

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #19 on: November 20, 2015, 05:22:18 am »
The real question is why update these older systems?

1.  New look user interfaces?  Meh!
2.  Higher capacity/ more memory/ faster?  Maybe for the DB applications, but if it has been servicing the same peripherals for years it is likely that there is no need for any of the above.
3.  Better security features in newer versions?  Only matters if it is internet connected.  Wasn't usually the case in systems of that vintage.
4.  Hardware failing, can't get compatible replacements?  This might actually be a good reason.  Even ceramic packaged ICs may start losing it after 20 or 30 years. 
5.  Inability to get software support?  If nothing is changing, why does the software have to?  If however there are periodic tweaks, occasional updates to current generation hardware or the like this might be a reason, but is it really cheaper to start from scratch than it is to train somebody?
6.  Documentation lost?  Well sure, but if your organization is that sloppy you will be in trouble with the new system in no time.  And it might be cheaper to reverse engineer the documentation than to start over.

And so on through a long list of possibilities.  In a lot of cases there is a real reason for updating, but often the reason for updating is something really stupid.  "it's shiny" or "I'm embarassed to admit my company uses that old ..." or "The case is nicked and worn." or "I always wanted to try..."

 

Offline Delta

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #20 on: November 21, 2015, 12:15:38 am »

Since the implementation of desktop PC's and Windows, we use a terminal client to connect to said system.


I've noticed when I've been dealing with sales or customer service staff in "large" organisations (banks, travel agents, chain stores etc) that they will have a nice new PC on the desk, running the latest version of windows, but when they come to actually process stuff up comes a (terminal emulator) window with a character based interface!  I think it's pretty cool.  Some staff can really flash through the screens, with the keyboard shortcuts probably in muscle memory.

PS.  My Dad worked as a programmer in the 70s, doing "batch processing and database stuff".  He moved out of programming in the early 80s.  One of his friends who he sees a few times a year does consulting work, and swears that he still sometimes sees my Dad's name on code that is still running!
« Last Edit: November 21, 2015, 12:20:31 am by Delta »
 

Offline SeanB

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #21 on: November 22, 2015, 08:11:24 am »
Banks and travel ( and airlines in general) are still running old IBM machine code on something.  Ask RBS just how good the outsourcing of the core of the bank, it's IT centre, to the cheapest bidder was. They are still picking up the fallout of that a few years down the line.
 

Offline crispy_tofu

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #22 on: November 22, 2015, 09:17:40 am »
I'm sure there are thousands of other PCs like this running ancient software, especially if there's support available (e.g. XP)  :-+
 

Offline marshallh

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #23 on: November 22, 2015, 10:20:54 pm »
When I worked at a large retail chain we used an AS/400 backend system accessed via thin clients. It was a bit unintuitive but using it became extremely fast and productive. Sure beats using a crap frontend GUI or website.
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Offline Halcyon

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Re: Failed Windows 3.1 system blamed for shutting down Paris airport
« Reply #24 on: November 23, 2015, 08:49:17 am »
When I worked at a large retail chain we used an AS/400 backend system accessed via thin clients. It was a bit unintuitive but using it became extremely fast and productive. Sure beats using a crap frontend GUI or website.
There are still criminal records and driving licence databases around the world which run on this stuff. Trying to bolt on a GUI to anything resembling old terminal systems usually fail miserably. You can whip around a terminal session with nothing more than TAB and ENTER keys where as once you introduce a mouse to the same fields and records, you slow things right down with no net gain.

I believe the UK Police have quite a good system from what I've heard... not sure if anyone can elaborate? In contrast the systems used by QPOL (Queensland Police) called QPRIME and PROMIS which is used by ACT Policing are pretty rubbish. I know PROMIS has been around since the mid-1990's. At least NSW Police officers are able to access criminal records using Android devices (http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/government-it/nsw-police-goes-hightech--with-mobile-phones-20150223-13m2g4.html).

« Last Edit: November 23, 2015, 09:06:58 am by Halcyon »
 


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