Why we can’t run the NHS on Windows XP

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It is, of course, appropriate to condemn those who have written the virus that has deliberately crippled the NHS and put lives at risk and I do so, unreservedly.

That said I think it wholly appropriate to ask three further questions. The first is why the NHS was at risk because so many of its units were running machines using Windows XP that has not been supported by Microsoft for years?

Second, it is fair to ask is why Microsoft can leave the world at risk by not supporting its software?

Third, it’s appropriate to ask what economic system can result in such a combination of circumstances arising?

The first question is easy to answer: it is a policy of deliberate austerity that has left the NHS denuded of sufficient funding to ensure that people are safe that has resulted in this situation arising. The blame can wholly appropriately be laid at the door of the last two governments. If appropriate funding for the NHS had been made available, and it had not been forced to operate at and beyond financial limits, this attack need not have had the impact it has.

Second, Microsoft deliberately left the world at risk in pursuit of relentless profit. Windows XP was a strong and stable operating system that was more than adequate for the vast majority of the world’s business (and NHS) needs. It was only deliberate technical and commercial obsolescence that left it unsupported when many users had no reason at all to update because it very successfully let them achieve all they wanted of IT. This vulnerability to attack was, then, deliberately made possible by a company refusing to support a product simply to extract revenues from those who had no need to pay it.

Third then this situation arises because we live in a political economy that grants corporations that are effective monopolies (as Microsoft and other such companies clearly are) the right to hold us to ransom by refusing to support perfectly useable product that we have purchased, which refusal does in turn lead us vulnerable to quite literal attack, which has a wholly foreseeable consequence. The cost is very obviously to us all. The benefit is equally obviously to a very few.

And let me be clear, this is not about profit maximisation. That can, even by its firmest enthusiasts only be justified when competitive environments prevail. That is not true in the market for IT operating systems. Sio this then is rent extraction and not profit maximisation. This is what the goal of modern multinational corporations is. Innovation is limited, and designed only to render obsolete systems that can be discarded when still useful to force customers to unnecessarily spend, in the process limiting choice, stifling real opportunity and ultimately imposing untold externalities on society at large.

Is this the direction in which we wish the world to continue to progress? I personally don’t think so. Regulation to control this abuse seems as essential as measures to prevent hacking.

In the meantime it seems we can’t run the NHS on Windows XP. Those who have made it do so must be held to account for that.

But we should also ask why we can’t do so. And that puts Microsoft firmly in the firing line.

After the criminals who, predictably, hacked it, of course.