Software

Five tools to help you set up a kiosk

A kiosk can serve a multitude of purposes--and with the right apps, setting one up is fast, simple, and affordable.

Kiosks make it easy to display information about your company, allow users to interact with website-driven company directories, get details about products, advertise your products and services, and much more. But how do you set up a kiosk? Surely they are complex creatures that require much care and attention!

Not even remotely. Kiosks can be created using a standard machine or even a tablet. With simple and cost-effective solutions, you can have one up and running quickly. If you don't want to invest too much time and money into the project, the five kiosk apps listed here are well suited for the task. In some instances, these apps will require you to have the HTML pages already set up and ready to go. Let's dig into them and see if one will serve your needs.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.

1: SureFox

SureFox (Figure A) is a great Android and IOS app that locks a tablet into browser mode and allows you to set a whitelist of pages the browser can visit. This Android app is the best in breed for this purpose. SureFox lets you set up categories for users to select and add multiple URLs (and even include subdomains).

Figure A

Figure A

Other features include the ability to enable/disable zoom (you can also set the percentage of zoom), complete device lockdown (pro version only), browse privately, prevent auto-suspend, do tabbed browsing, view full screen mode, and configure remotely.

2: SiteKiosk

SiteKiosk (Figure B) is a more feature-rich kiosk app for Windows and Android. Instead of being limited to a kiosk to display information, SiteKiosk can also be used as an internet cafe tool. With this take on the kiosk app, you can define viewable URLs, add payment devices (for using the kiosk), include session reset, set content filters, view full-screen mode, customize the user interface, and add an onscreen keyboard, among other features. You can also set up SiteKiosk to retrieve data from a centralized location (so you can deploy multiple instances with a single configuration) and even do remote maintenance. SiteKiosk costs $99.00 for the Android app, $149.00 for the basic (Windows version), and $200.00 for the Plus version, which adds VOIP support and can serve as your centralized configuration for multiple devices.

Figure B

Figure B

3: Porteus Kiosk

Porteus Kiosk (Figure C) is a Linux distribution that only allows usage of a web browser. The configuration is simple, the distribution is lightweight (60 MB), and it has low hardware requirements (so you can make use of those old machines lying around). Porteus is free and open source. You will also be hard-pressed to find a more "locked down" kiosk than this one.

Figure C

Figure C

It does one thing and one thing only: It runs a web browser. You'd have to be really crafty (and know your way around Linux) to get anything beyond that. The distribution is also incredibly secure. (It uses an isohybrid format that, even when installed on writable media, is still "burned.") When you boot up the Porteus live image, you'll be greeted with a simple setup wizard. When the wizard is complete, you will find a web browser and nothing more.

4: FrontFace Lockdown

FrontFace Lockdown (Figure D) is a simple tool for the Windows platform that allows you to easily set up either a digital sign or an interactive kiosk. Once you've selected and applied a profile, you must select a user for that profile. You might want to first create a specific user for this purpose. (This person must be an admin user.)

Figure D

Figure D

Lockdown offers plenty of options that should suit just about every possible need. You can also set FrontFace to shut down automatically at a certain time of day, create custom profiles for different purposes, and disable the reboot/shutdown option. NOTE: If you happen to lock yourself out of FrontFace, you must boot Windows into safe mode, run FrontFace Lockdown, and then unset any changes you made to lock you out. FrontFace is free of charge.

5: Fluxbox

Fluxbox (Figure E) is actually a Linux window manager that I have, on a number of occasions, deployed as a kiosk. It works well as a kiosk because you can easily limit what users can access from the main menu. If you want users to be able to work only with a browser, add that single entry to the menu. You will need a bit of Linux-fu to work this, since the menu is configured via a flat-text configuration file. And once you've logged into the Fluxbox desktop, you'll need to know what you're doing to get to a terminal window to do anything but run that browser.

Figure E

Figure E

Using Fluxbox as a kiosk does have a caveat: It will be working on a full-blown Linux distribution, so users who know what they're doing could cause trouble. The average user who's making use of a kiosk, however, will have no idea of the power that exists under their fingers. NOTE: If you want to lock the browser down to whitelisted sites, you'll have to employ a proxy such as DansGuardian.

Other tools?

If you're looking for a cost-effective and easy-to-use kiosk, look no further than these tools. Whether you're using a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop platform, there are plenty of apps that can serve as your digital signage or as an interactive kiosk.

What tools would you add to this list? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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