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1. Introduction

Information display kiosks are useful in libraries, galleries and museums, educational institutions, municipal offices, visitor information booths, conferences, shopping malls, airports---in short any location where simple, easy access to information is desirable. Kiosks are normally set up with touchscreens or pointing devices such as trackballs, to allow people to select and view information that is attractively displayed and up to date.

There are many ways to create kiosks, from expensive solutions based on proprietary software to HTML-based open-source solutions. Browser-based technologies are particularly attractive because they are inherently multimedia, offering text, graphics, sound and streaming media, and the content is highly portable.

Linux provides a flexible and interesting platform for kiosk development. Linux is inexpensive to set up and it offers a wide range of options, from diskless display stations to self-contained, database-driven web servers. Due to the versatility of the underlying operating system, a well-designed Linux kiosk can be placed in a remote location and administered via a telephone or network link.

This HOWTO explores one method of setting up Linux as a standalone information kiosk, using Netscape Navigator 4.X and FVWM2 on a Red Hat Linux 6.X system. It is based on a kiosk I set up for use in the Hands-on Biodiversity Gallery in the Royal Ontario Museum ( http://www.rom.on.ca), Toronto, Canada. The kiosk outlined in this HOWTO incorporates a trackball rather than a more expensive touchscreen. There are undoubtedly many other ways to create a Linux-based kiosk, but this one has worked reliably for us and it may provide a useful starting point for your own kiosk project.

1.1 Copyright, license and terms of usage

Copyright Gene Wilburn 1999. All rights reserved.

The author disclaims all warranties with regard to this document, including all implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a certain purpose; in no event shall the author be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortuous action, arising out of or in connection with the use of this document.

This legalese means use at your own risk.

1.2 Acknowledgements

Our Linux kiosk derives heavily from the work done by the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, for their municipal website, Charlotte's Web (see http://www.charweb.org/webinfo/kiosk/). The Charlotte's Web kiosk project, which employs a touchscreen monitor, was set up in 1996 using an early version of Slackware Linux, Netscape Navigator 2.X, and FVWM. The webmasters at Charlotte have created a very useable kiosk implementation and have shared their complete setup via their website. This HOWTO, to a certain degree, represents an update of their work, altering the details to work with Red Hat 6.X, Netscape Navigator 4.X, FVWM2, and a custom-made trackball.

I worked with Debra Luneau (debral@rom.on.ca), the Royal Ontario Museum webmaster, to create the graphics overlays for Netscape. The examples we distribute at our ftp site are her work---and are the ones we use on the kiosk in the Biodiversity Gallery.

The Ontario Biodiversity section of the ROM website was designed by Hopscotch Interactive (www.hopscotch.ca). The original application was converted from a flat-file database system to a MySQL-database driven system by Gord Howells (gordonh@rom.on.ca), the ROM's database designer and programmer. The non-kiosk version of this mini-site may be viewed at http://www.rom.on.ca/ontario/.


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