September 28, 2006

Linux-based LiveKiosk offers low-cost browsing

Author: Tina Gasperson

What connects bikers thousands of miles away from home, customers waiting for a tire change, and technology conference attendees? All of them can check their email and surf the 'Net for free, with the help of Linux-based

LiveKiosk produces a thin client Linux distribution and administrative interface, called EZWebPC, with a locked-down browser. Clients boot off the CD-ROM, eliminating the need for a local operating system or hard
drive. It loads the browser with a custom configuration that will highlight a single site or allow the user access to the entire Internet, as long as a broadband connection is available. Because the system runs from the network and a CD-ROM, no local operating system or hard drive is required.

Rob Brun, IT director of Bear Tooth Harley-Davidson in Billings, Montana, bought and installed LiveKiosk software and hardware. "We have a lot of travelers here who basically want to check email or look up directions, that kind of thing. We keep the kiosks out on the floor as a courtesy."

Brun says the dealership has "always" had kiosks for patron use, but the previous system was subject to frequent hardware failures and required too much administrative attention. "There was a lot of maintenance involved," he says. "The last time the PCs died, I went looking for some way to make a self-contained unit."

The Harley place isn't the only retail establishment offering a free public LiveKiosk. For the past year and a half, Big O Tires in New Albany, Indiana, has offered two Internet-connected PC for its customers who would rather surf than watch soaps. Steve Hargadon, the founder of LinuxKiosks, says Big O co-owner Dave Nash replaced some vending machines with the kiosk. "The store had tried to keep a computer in their lobby, but it was problematic and required cleaning up every day. They also had some vending machines, but didn't make any revenue from them. By putting in the LiveKiosk machines, they found that customers browse the Web during their wait and aren't nearly as stressed about getting their car done on time."

Earlier this year, Hargadon and his staff installed 20 kiosks at the National Educational Computing Conference in San Diego, as part of's open source lab. "We ran the CD version of EZWebPC on old P3 IBM ThinkPads, putting external scroll mice with each one. There wasn't a single problem with them during the show. When I talked about the kiosks before each of our lab sessions, I could see people's eyes go wide as I would describe how they could run for years without ever requiring a reboot or any maintenance."

Next month, Hargadon will have another 20 kiosks set up in the press room and the registration boot at the Office 2.0 conference in San Francisco. "Office 2.0 is all about the idea of the Web browser as the base platform for work," he says. "That you can work at any machine and have all of your productivity tools available. That's a cool idea. For about half to 3/4 of my day, I can actually work on a kiosk and do everything I need to do: Gmail, calendar, aggregator, blog posting. If you have to put it on a $500 machine that requires anti-virus software and maintenance, then it's not really a great savings. But if you can put it on old computers or new barebones machines, it's a great solution."

EZWebPC software is available for a free 60-day trial, and costs $49 for the licensed version, or $99 on a Flash disk. LiveKiosk's Internet Kiosk PC, a 2GHz Celeron with 256MB of RAM, is $349, including the software.


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