Operating systems for military computers

Just like other key elements that make up a rugged computer, the operating system is something that can be selected by the user and upgraded in line with evolving requirements. In this blog we look at the options customers have for their operating systems, and explore when and why it might be time to upgrade.

Most people are familiar with operating systems (OS) as they come across them in their everyday lives. And just like the iOS, Android or Windows operating systems that appear on your phones and personal laptops and tablets, rugged devices also need an OS in order to function.

But what is an OS? It essentially manages all of the hardware and computer resources in a device, including memory and processes. It continuously runs when the computer is switched on, allocating resources and managing tasks, and is essential to the operation of a device.

While operating systems for military applications may be familiar to the ones you see in your personal lives, there are special-purpose variants for certain applications, such as embedded OS.

GRiD supports Windows and Linux operating systems in its laptops and tablets, both of which automatically run on a particular hardware as long as the processor architecture and drivers are compatible, making installation as straightforward as can be.

Modularity equals choice

When selecting an OS, it is important to consider your hardware requirements as this can influence areas such what processors can be installed. This is because each processor generation will be compatible with certain OS, and this means that certain combinations may be incompatible.

Because GRiD offers a modular approach to its computer design, we can install the appropriate hardware, such as processors, dependent on the OS required – which in GRiD’s case could be either Windows or Linux.

So, for example, GRiD can provide sixth-generation Intel processors for one customer, while it can also deliver the latest 14th-generation Intel processors for another, even though they are the same core computer. And because GRiD can support these older generation processors, it can also support older OS versions such as Windows 7 and 8. Note that Windows 7 FES (For Embedded Systems) is no longer available to purchase after 30 September 2024.

Why is this important?

It offers flexibility and options for the customer. Militaries quite often still run older operating systems, and as a result, need older generation processors to support them. This flexibility allows GRiD to build a brand new laptop that runs an embedded version of Windows 7, for example.

This is unheard of in the commercial market because Windows 7 is no longer sold or supported.

Processors are what drives performance, and the OS then sits on top. If a customer requires a certain operating system – take Windows 7, for example – GRiD then determines which is the latest embedded processor that can be supplied that will support that OS. In the case of Windows 7 it is the sixth-generation Intel Sky Lake, which we can buy brand new and install into new-build laptops despite them being an older generation processor.

GRiD only uses embedded processors in its systems because they are singular, confined units that generally require less power and are designed from the outset to be long-lasting.

Read more about why GRiD uses embedded processors here: https://www.griduk.com/military-processors-selecting-the-right-cpu-for-demanding-defence-needs/

GRiD’s highly flexible engineering approach

GRiD provides rugged computer solutions for platforms across domains and across their service life, whether they are brand-new capabilities straight off the production line or older platforms being updated as part of mid-life upgrades. This inherent flexibility and ease of integration across a range of platforms, especially land vehicles, has proven popular with many of our defence customers over our 30-year history.

As a testament to this, GRiD solutions can be seen on armoured vehicles around the world, including the aforementioned Leopard 2 tank.

GRiD’s rugged laptops and tablet displays leverage the very latest in computing technology and, as all our solutions are designed and manufactured in the UK, can be specially designed and manufactured to fit in a specific space envelope and interface with a particular vehicle architecture, including legacy examples. This can include specific power output from the vehicle and associated cabling, as well as specialist connectors and interfaces that have already been qualified and tested to strict military standards.

As an example, GRiD can integrate MIL-DTL-26482 bayonet-lock connectors into its laptops to ensure interoperability with legacy architectures where required. GRiD can also integrate the same connectors and interfaces that aid data transfer, such as ethernet and USB, or upgrade if needed. The use of legacy connectors ensures ease of integration into older vehicle fleets and negates the need for expensive and time-consuming re-wiring of vehicles. This ‘box-on, box-off’ concept has already been proven to be successful with a NATO country’s land forces and is an effective and lower-risk upgrade solution.

Of course, if newer connectors and interfaces were selected, this could be easily integrated by GRiD as well, owing to the flexibility of our engineering approach. As we mentioned above, this is ultimately the decision of the purchasing stakeholders and there are always trade-offs to be made between capability, cost and delivery timeframes.

To upgrade or not

Some customers will require new hardware, software and OS for particular requirements, and of course GRiD supports them when the time comes to either upgrade their current systems or acquire new ones entirely.

Upgrades can address obsolescence and security challenges, and GRiD’s modular approach means that we are well placed to support upgrades when the time comes, and there are no hard and fast rules on how things should be done.

However, it is worth remembering that software development is expensive, and in some circumstances finding a supplier that supports legacy OS like Windows 7 that is already in service is a better option because it is more cost effective.

Software, hardware and operating systems have to align, and new software has to be written around a new OS, which is costly in terms of both money and time.

Because GRiD can support older generation OS and can develop new hardware for older systems and software, we do not require customers to regularly update their hardware and software because an OS is suddenly no longer supported.

Module security

Another consideration when selecting operating systems is their security. From Windows 11 onwards, a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), which is a cryptoprocessor that secures a device, is required to be installed. The concept of a TPM has been around for nearly two decades, but is now becoming a mandatory requirement, especially for Windows.

Read more: Encrypted storage for rugged computers – what to choose?

GRiD has been providing these modules for many years, even for legacy designs, so we are well versed in delivering this security measure and our products can withstand modern security requirements.

There is a chip variant – the discreet TPM, or dTPM – that provides encryption from the motherboard, there is also a firmware version, the fTPM, that is securely built into the latest processors.

Both are secure options, but selection can be made by the customer. GRiD is able to provide either option, which is fairly unique in this market, offering even more flexibility to users.


GRiD is an expert in the design and manufacture of rugged computers, including the operating systems used. We have in-house technical managers and firmware specialists on hand that work with our customers to help them understand their requirements and how they can be best approached from both a technical and cost perspective.

We work with customers to provide support on OS installation and configuration, and this support does not end when a product is delivered. We offer continued in-service support, which is a true differentiator for GRiD and something we consider important in all that we do. We care about customers and want to deliver the right solution to them for as long as they need it.

Looking to support a legacy operating system or are you thinking it is best to move to the latest? Contact us now and we can advise you. Telephone us on +44 (0)1628 810 230 or drop an email to sales@griduk.com.