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Analysis of OS/2-based ATM situation

TITLE: Analysis of OS/2-based ATM situation

DATE: 2010-01-20 21:59:33

AUTHOR: ecomstation.com

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New Life for OS/2-Based ATMs

Despite the shift to Windows as an operating system, OS/2-based ATMs are still operational. Enough in fact to make major market player NCR include support for those machines into their APTRA Promote content service in the UK in 2008. Deployers have been facing a number of limitations of OS/2 that make operating the remaining machines increasingly difficult. The eComStation product of Mensys BV promises to be a vitamin shot by addressing these limitations, reducing the total cost of ownership, and providing a base for increased revenue.


Over the last decade, Windows has become predominant in the ATM market as manufacturers switched operating systems. However, the decline of OS/2's market share projected did not come to pass as deployers were reluctant to follow the new route and make the transition. In fact, self-service estates still included enough OS/2-based ATMs to make a major market player like NCR support mixed Windows and OS/2 environments when they launched their APTRA Promote content service in the UK in mid 2008 [1]. While operating the remaining OS/2-based machines has become increasingly difficult, it looks like this kind of endurance is going to receive a major justification now. To understand the development, we have to step back and take a look at the situation and the reasons involved. At the verge of the new millennium, IBM had essentially halted further development of OS/2, making ATM manufacturers wary and prepare for a shift in operating systems at least. Their concerns were confirmed when IBM announced the end of support and that OS/2 would be withdrawn from the market in 2006. At the same time, deployers saw a decrease in transfer revenues, making their self-service estates less profitable and leaving them with the demand for new resources of income.

This resulted in the idea to extend the use of ATMs to other areas. If the machines are there anyway, why not use them for CRM purposes? If the customer pays great attention to what is happening during the transactions, why not put that to use for marketing campaigns? And what about connecting the two? On top of that, regulations regarding accessibility became effective. All this, however, raised the requirements for ATMs considerably. Hardware-wise, it meant more processing power, more main memory and storage space, and decent graphics support as a base for an appealing user interface with video and audio capability. On the software side, the operating system had to support the ability to deliver said user interface.

Existing older OS/2-based ATMs with their monochrome displays did not match those requirements, of course, and for better equipped machines, the lack of support for font anti-aliasing became a major hindrance. Deployers saw this as essential for an appealing user experience but IBM refused to implement it because, first, this would have meant a significant overhaul of the Presentation Manager and, second, they feared possible incompatibilities with existing applications. In the end, deployers didn't have any choice but to acquire new Windows-based ATMs to meet the new demands. Nevertheless, OS/2's market share did not drop as fast and far as predicted by analysts. The reluctance of deployers to make the changeover was based on a number of considerations. First and foremost, changing over a fleet of ATMs would have meant considerable investments, in the beginning with larger uncertainties regarding the period of amortization. Second were properties inherent to the underlying operating systems. Windows was available, and both actively supported and developed. OS/2 was basically a sitting duck to some while others valued the known, mature environment that carried very little potential for unpleasant surprises. Windows promised a large software market to choose solutions from-the separation of hardware and software provider-while the number of OS/2 ISVs was decreasing. Features like remote administration and updating promised to keep maintenance cost in check and, together with strong multimedia support-OS/2's traditional weak spot-to provide the base required for the new marketing instruments. OS/2 on the other hand was known for its low service profile. The biggest concerns with Windows lay in the areas of stability-we all remember BSODs on ATM screens at the time when Windows was introduced in the market-and security, both traditionally strong points of OS/2. Especially the latter had deployers fear risking a potential staunch loss of customer trust if they went for the new features and something went wrong. As a result, many deployers only switched ATMs at locations where the new features promised to be really effective and when OS/2-based ones had reached their end of life.

Time has gone on. Until today, some of the issues have changed, others remain the same, and new ones have come up. Marketing solutions that promised much and did not deliver have disappeared. Windows has certainly become more stable while the range of current hardware supported by OS/2 has become small, e.g., requiring support personnel to fiddle around with old and new hard disks to get a new installation running. However, the most important issue of security still exists. Windows is still the main target of all kinds of attacks, be that viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, or hacking attacks, requiring constant updates for the system itself and anti-virus software updated by the hour. And as recent reports by Network Box [2] and Trustwave Spiderlabs [3] and the hacking warnings issued by Diebold [4] this year show, today's ATMs are definitely not immune.

So there still are good reasons to stick with OS/2-based ATMs, even if it has become harder. A number of deployers has chosen to go that route, and apparently their number is not that small. The demand was large enough at least to make NCR include support for mixed environments with OS/2 ATMs and thereby removing one of OS/2's limitations when they launched their APTRA Promote content service in the UK. Now, deployers will find that another relief is available.

American software vendor Serenity Systems International and Dutch software distributor and vendor Mensys BV have realized the remaining issues and promise to address them with the eComStation product. eComStation is developed based on the latest available version of IBM OS/2, Warp 4.52, the idea being to take the proven, mature base for its strengths and extend it to remove its shortcomings. The new version eComStation 2.0 is the result of several years of development and testing.

The list of improvements to the OS/2 base reads impressive and well-suited for use by ATM deployers who are interested in protecting their investments: The installation process has been completely redesigned. The installation CD-ROM is bootable, so no boot floppy disks have to be created, and uses a new boot method for maximum compatibility with current and legacy hardware. The installer provides full control over the components to be installed. Unattended installation via CID is still supported, and the installer can even be used as a GUI to create CID scripts, two things that technical personnel familiar with OS/2 will certainly appreciate.

All fixes and updates for OS/2 that have ever been released by IBM are incorporated to avoid time-consuming post-installation updates. Interestingly, this includes fixes and updates that were released by IBM after the official end of support.

Great care has been invested into ensuring that eComStation can be operated on both modern and legacy hardware out of the box. This is achieved by a combination of system and driver updates. One improvement that deployers will find particularly interesting is that this includes support for today's large drives. According to Mensys, it will even be possible to change hardware without having to modify the setup in many cases.

eComStation also comes with tools for remote administration, which should eliminate the need for on-site maintenance in most cases. Third-party offers are also available for special requirements in that area. Mensys has even provided the possibility to make the updated desktop resemble that of previous OS/2 versions, so administrator should feel at home immediately and require little training.

In terms of networking, eComStation comes with support for a broad range of methods. Interoperability should not pose any problems, even in very heterogeneous networks.

eComStation has inherited OS/2's hardiness against attacks. De facto, it is not susceptible to virus attacks at all. In contrary to Windows-based ATMs [5], no cases of virus infection of OS/2-based ATMs have been documented to this day. Still, anti-virus software is available. To minimize the potential for attacks, eComStation follows a strict policy of not running any non-essential services and comes with a firewall that is integrated into the networking connectivity.

Finally, regarding support for advanced marketing features, eComStation really hits the spot. Not only does it offer support for current displays, audio output, and video playback but Mensys BV has even managed to solve the font anti-aliasing issue in an intelligent way. Instead of changing the Presentation Manager, they utilize a plug-in technique,the Innotek Font Engine, that is based on the FreeType library and provides anti-aliasing on a per-application base and thus avoids potential regressions. In addition, Adobe Flash 10 is available for the eComStation platform, too.

eComStation promises to be a real vitamin shot for OS/2-based ATMs. Deployers with such machines in their fleet will find definitely worth giving a close look. It has the potential to help them overcome the status quo and further prolong the life of their fleet while reducing maintenance efforts, strengthening security, and laying a base for a much improved user experience and additional revenue.


  1. NCR to launch ATM ad service in U.K. ATM Marketplace, 20 Aug 2008.
  2. Asavin Wattanjantra: Cash Machines at Risk From Hacker Attacks. ITPro, 25 Feb 2008.
  3. Asavin Wattanajantra: Malware Allows Criminals to Control Cash Machines. ITPro, 4 Jun 2009.
  4. Asavin Wattanajantra: Co-ops ATM Supplier Hit by Russian Hackers. ITPro, 18 Mar 2009.
  5. Kevin Poulsen: Nachi worm infected Diebold ATMs. SecurityFocus, 14 Nov 2003.

Press contact:

Christian Hennecke, http://www.ecomstation.com/atm/


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