Coles runs on Windows

The other day a McAfee stuff-up led to thousands of Windows XP machines getting a virus data file which deleted SVCHOST.EXE, a vital part of the operating system.

As Ed Bott remarked: I’m not sure any virus writer has ever developed a piece of malware that shut down as many machines as quickly as McAfee did today.

In Australia, one high-profile company hit was Coles, with around 10% of registers knocked out of action causing a number of their supermarkets to have to stop trading while they fixed it.

Yes, Coles runs on Windows.

About 12 years ago Coles ran a project (which I worked on for a short time) to move off NCR cash registers in favour of Windows-based POS systems (then on NT4) developed in-house for the company, with the initial rollout being in Coles. The plan was to subsequently roll it out across other then-subsidiaries such as Target, K-Mart, Myer and so on.

They did a fair bit of interesting workflow analysis, for instance coming up with the Windows Start Menu-style interaction for the cashier to select which fruit/veg they were putting on the scales. It was all designed to cut training requirements and transaction times, and improve backoffice operations, as well as freeing them from dependence on NCR, which at the time had told them support was ending for the registers they’d been using.

Obviously Thursday’s problems showed a down side of the plan!

Perhaps the lesson here is that if your Windows PCs are secure (you wouldn’t imagine they’d allow people to slip in a disc or USB stick and run any old program on them) and fundamental to your company operation, you shouldn’t allow any automated updates onto them (not McAfee, Microsoft, nor anything else) without verifying that it works okay first.

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2 thoughts on “Coles runs on Windows

  1. Stephen

    I worked at Bi-Lo Chadstone at the start of the NSE rollout in 1998/9. It was an interesting experience.

    While there were plenty of advantages to the system, I found it laughable that it become part of the daily jobs for someone to individually reboot each register.

    And while looking up unfamiliar fruit/veg was a lot easier, once you knew the code it was a lot slower using the touchscreen keypad than it was to use a physical keypad.

  2. josh

    I remember back in the nineties a bunch of bank systems were ‘upgraded’ from dumb terminals to Wintel boxen. Teller productivity went through the floor, because the new terminals weren’t designed for rapid keying – it was all GUIs and point-and-click. What a mess.

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