Don’t Use Microsoft for Oil Rigs

Deepwater Horizon Alarm Intentionally Disabled:

Testifying before a federal panel investigating the Deepwater Horizon explosion, Transocean employee Michael Williams said that an alarm designed to warn the crew if combustible gases were in danger of igniting was deliberately disabled. …

Williams also told the panel that the computers used to control drilling operations on the rig froze regularly, resulting in blank blue screens, a phenomenon he said he and fellow employees ominously labeled, “the blue screen of death.”

Seriously, Microsoft is not to be trusted.


  1. #1 garic
    August 1, 2010

    I thought everyone labelled it the blue screen of death…

  2. #2 radiomankc
    August 1, 2010

    With today’s Oprating System software, it’s not Microsoft’s OS that has a problem. It’s third party software that doesn’t dump its memory when its finished using. Windows is doing what it’s supposed to do. Tell the user when its memory resources are too low to run.

    Starting with XP, it doesn’t do the Blue Screen anymore. But software still locks up computers, especially if it’s not well written, or if the computers being used have too much crap and not enough memory installed.

    Probably the problem is the software company that wrote the custom application for the oil company’s rigs.

  3. #3 kevin
    August 1, 2010

    I work in tech support specifically on windows clients and servers. I have for 15+ years. radiamankc is wrong. XP, Vista and Windows 7 still blue screen. Each iteration is better than the previous, but it still does occur. I think they changed the color of the screen at one point, but same thing.

    Most common cause in the clients is bad video drivers. video drivers run in the kernel so when they crash they can take the whole computer with them. Next is other peripheral drivers, and that would be my guess on the alarm system, it was probably a bug in the drivers that processed the alarm information.

    Bad hardware like bad memory sticks also causes the problem.

  4. #4 Lyle
    August 1, 2010

    If you look at the web sites for the makers of the drilling chairs, its the display system that uses windows. Behind it sit various PLC systems to control the actual devices. Note that there are at least 2 display systems in the shack the a and b chairs. In addition the mud logger has an independent system. Interestingly the newest systems have web interfaces as well. My thought is looking at pictures of the drilling chairs is that they have a bad case of 3 mile island control syndrome with 5 or 6 displays. Some of the systems have some analog displays. It appears that the basic info is displayed on analog gauges such as pump pressure etc. If as the testimony indicated there was a hard drive problem, where the drive hung, then any system using any os would have crashed.

    On the fire system there is no indication that it uses windows, and in any case the system was put on do not sound alarm by a human, so in no sense is that any computers fault.

  5. #5 TheDude
    August 1, 2010

    It sounds like the software almost certainly has real time requirements, for which Windows is not designed. There’s a reason Unix and Linux are standard choices in such systems.

  6. #6 radiomankc
    August 1, 2010

    Well thanks, Kevin. Until late winter, I’ve been a programmer for ten years and I surely know how to lock up or kill off Windows. Maybe my code’s been getting better but I haven’t seen a blue screen since my companies installed XP.

    You should know. Mostly what I’ve been told, without nailing it down to hardware and drivers, is that if you want to crash Windows, just throw some instructions it doesn’t know what to do with, or have killed off Windows resources by not releasing memory so it’s exhausted. And here I’ve been mostly using MS product all along! Some Designer software works better than others. It is soo hard keeping up with the drivers and printers though. Me thinks the MS program languages could send fixes faster so this all happens behind the scenes. O well.

    And too, we can’t control how many apps an operator has open nor can we always account for all the software thats running since most of it written independently. There are so many people who just never reboot or shut down their systems and wonder why their PC’s crawl down to nothing.

    A good IT department that knows how to train users is the answer, along with keeping up with updates. Sadly, they don’t usually get around to user training and writing ‘best practices’.

    Thanks for the lesson, tho bud. Can’t say I miss the nightmares, having recently gone on the federal dole! Been retired since March and admittedly, I’m starting to get bored.

  7. #7 tütüne son
    August 2, 2010

    On the fire system there is no indication that it uses windows, and in any case the system was put on do not sound alarm by a human, so in no sense is that any computers fault.

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