Future Tense

Future Tense Newsletter: Why Is the Military Still Using Windows XP?

A Microsoft logo is pictured during a presentation.
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Greetings, Future Tensers,

Antique store-worthy hardware. Constantly pushed-back software updates. Shudder-inducing security hygiene. These are the types of technological calamities-in-waiting that can keep governments, businesses, and other organizations behind the curve. And this month, Future Tense will be documenting their struggles to stay digitally caught up—and what happens when they fall behind—in a series we’re calling Update or Die.

First up, if you’ve been putting off those software updates on your device, at least you can say you probably haven’t been stalling as long as some corners of the U.S. military. Mind-bogglingly, the Pentagon is still running certain computers, including those with mission-critical functions, on long-outdated operating systems like Microsoft’s 2001 software package Windows XP. Jeremy Hsu explains why the military can’t seem to quit these legacy products, and what that means for the cybersecurity of digital systems with life-or-death consequences.

Some hospital administrators have also been faced with weighing the life-or-death consequences of not keeping their systems updated. Many medical institutions rely on outdated software, and that’s left them vulnerable to a rising number of ransomware attacks, in which hackers freeze the institution’s IT systems—digital patient records, communications, and websites—and demand money to unlock them. But, as Josephine Wolff argues, paying up can be problematic.

One tool doctors don’t have to worry about going offline? Their fax machines. Rachel Withers explains why some medical providers are still clinging to the relics of 1980s office culture. And speaking of things that belong in a museum, Cleo Levin tells us about how one design museum has brought back the stylus to “revolutionize” visitors’ experiences. Rejoice, former Blackberry users!

Other things we read while wishing a computer glitch would help us “win” the lottery:

Not again, Facebook: A month after Mark Zuckerberg testified to Congress about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, new reports show the platform shared similar user data—including profile information like religion, relationship status, and political preference—with at least 60 device manufacturers.

Connection Racket: Nearly $900 million worth of FCC grants to rebuild communication networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands may look like progress for beleaguered residents. But April Glaser sees some serious trade-offs.

Hamburgers on your house: Augmented reality may soon enable advertisers to superimpose marketing messages on our physical environments. But will we have the right to reject ads digitally plastered in front of our own homes?

Getting in with GitHub: Microsoft announced it’s acquiring GitHub, the largest code repository in the world. Now the corporation must convince a community of 28 million developers that it deserves their trust.

Not quite as awkward as AirPod accessories,

Mia Armstrong
For Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.