Bringing Interactive Displays to Life

REDMOND, Wash. — Sept. 28, 2010 — Digital media displays have become ubiquitous in kiosks, digital signage, gaming and many other applications. Until recently, however, the value of these displays was limited by their static, impersonal content. Many of these devices also presented management headaches. As enterprise customers look to deploy their next-generation systems, they are seeking devices that deliver greater value and functionality. Enterprises have four main objectives in selecting devices:

  • Delivering a compelling experience to engage the user and increase consumer interaction with the device

  • Adding intelligence so the device can respond to a changing environment

  • Securing the device deployed in the field

  • Reducing ongoing maintenance costs for managing the device

Selecting the right embedded operating system is critical to meeting these goals. With the release of Microsoft Windows Embedded Standard 7, developers have a new option that offers several advantages. Windows Embedded Standard 7 delivers the power, familiarity and reliability of the Windows 7 operating system in a highly customizable and componentized form. Using Windows Embedded Standard 7, developers can deliver innovative and rich user experiences with seamless connections to the world of Windows PC, servers and online services. The following section outlines some of the key components of the operating system and explains how they benefit kiosk, digital signage, and gaming devices.

Rich, Compelling User Experiences

For a compelling user experience, devices should employ rich graphics and multimedia along with natural user interfaces such as speech and touch. These features are key to engaging the user and increasing interaction.

The user interface is an area where Windows Embedded Standard 7 offers unique advantages. It uses the latest technology from Windows 7, such as Windows Touch, that enables multi-touch gestures that include pan, flick, and zoom. Access to these features is simplified through new hardware hooks and API elements, as well as core operating system functionality, that provide context-aware touch capabilities throughout the user interface.

Windows Embedded Standard 7 also offers unique features for rich interface design. For example, it includes Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), a next-generation presentation system for building Windows applications with visually stunning user experiences on a range of standalone and browser-hosted applications. It includes features for common user interface elements such as 2-D and 3-D rendering, vector graphics, runtime animation, and multimedia playback. It can link these elements together and manipulate them based on various events and user interactions.

Microsoft Silverlight is another option for creating rich media experiences. Silverlight is a powerful development platform including a subset of WPF functionality for creating rich media applications and business applications for the Web, as well as desktop and mobile devices. Silverlight integrates graphics, multimedia, animations and rich interactivity into a single runtime, and supports WMA, WMV, MP3, VC-1 and H.264 video codecs.

In addition to offering a compelling interface, kiosks, digital signs and gaming devices all require custom branding. Windows Embedded Standard 7 has several features to create a custom experience from boot-up to shutdown. For example, Shell Launcher can replace the standard Windows shell with a custom look and feel — or the Windows shell can be completely removed. Developers can also remove the boot screens and remove or replace Windows branding from the startup and login screens. Developers can also modify the interface by blocking pop-up dialog boxes.

Creating an Intelligent Device

Device manufacturers looking to differentiate their devices can create a more premium offering by adding intelligence. To create a truly great experience, Windows 7 technologies within Windows Embedded Standard 7 enable devices to be more aware of their surroundings and location. The Windows Sensor and Location Platform provides a standardized way to integrate sensor and location devices into Windows, helping developers create cutting-edge interactivity features. For example, a digital sign can use a proximity sensor to detect when someone walks in front of the sign, and then change to an attractor loop in the video. For example, Microsoft and Intel recently demonstrated the Intel Intelligent Digital Sign Proof of Concept at the National Retail Federation (NRF) annual convention & Expo in New York. Based on Intel’s Core i7 and running Windows Embedded Standard 7, the proof-of-concept demonstrates ways OEMs can leverage Microsoft and Intel’s digital signage platform to deliver differentiated user experiences. The device features a multi-touch, multi-user interface with a seven-foot-six-inch holographic glass display, and the two-panel system (side-by-side) contains the holographic glass display on the left with a built-in camera for anonymous video analytics that recognize consumer genders. The right side features high-definition LCD display. Video analytics determine the age and gender of the viewer, and then the system plays a custom message. As another example of intelligent signage, a mobile sign could use a GPS sensor or Wi-Fi triangulation to determine the type of ads it should play based on geography.

Securing the Device

Securing a device deployed in the field and away from the corporate datacenter is another major pain point for enterprises. Depending on the device’s characteristics, there are multiple security layers that are required. These may include the following:

  • Data security. Data theft is a huge concern for enterprises. They need ways to lock down the device so that no data can leave the local storage. Windows Embedded Standard 7 comes with a data encryption feature called BitLocker. This feature encrypts the data on the local storage and helps prevents unauthorized access. The risk of data theft can also be reduced by denying access to removable media. This kind of hardware lockdown can be achieved through the configuration of Group Policy settings.

  • Network security. Most devices today are connected to a network, so restricting network access is extremely important. Windows Firewall with Advanced Security helps prevent unauthorized network traffic, keeping the device more secure.

  • Operating system security. Devices in the field must be able to boot from a known good state. To help ensure that the boot image is not corrupted — and to help protect disks against general abuse — Windows Embedded Standard 7 offers write filters designed to protect disks against write operations. These filters intercept writes and redirect them to a storage location called an overlay. The Enhanced Write Filter secures the system at the partition level and can discard the overlay at reboot, thereby restoring the system to a known state. In contrast, the File Based Write Filter allows certain files and folders to be written directly to the disk and retained at reboot. This filter is useful for allowing an antivirus application to update its signature file, among other things. Finally, the Registry Filter works with both the Enhanced and File Based Write Filters to allow the persistence of certain registry keys even when the write filters are turned on.

  • Application security. Kiosks, digital signs and gaming devices must be able to control which applications run on the device. No unwanted application or installer should be able to take the device out of the desired experience. To meet this goal, AppLocker is available for flexible application lockdown.

Reducing Costs

IT organizations are always looking at ways to reduce the overall cost of maintaining the device in the field. These costs are mostly associated with managing the device, power usage and bandwidth utilization. Key costs include the following:

  • Management costs. Kiosks, digital signs and gaming devices typically run in unattended mode, meaning that there is no one present to install an update. With Windows Embedded Standard 7, the device operator can seamlessly connect embedded devices to the Microsoft back office and manage these devices with System Center Configuration Manager (Configuration Manager). Windows Embedded Standard 7 is built with IT professionals in mind, allowing them to use familiar tools and proven best practices. Powerful tools such as Configuration Manager, Microsoft Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and Windows Update seamlessly connect with Windows Embedded Standard 7, enabling quick delivery of applications, updates and new operating system images. Enterprises can use the Direct Access functionality in Windows Embedded Standard 7 to ensure that these devices are connected into the corporate infrastructure as soon as they are connected to the Internet. This makes the devices visible in the datacenter and available for control by the IT administrator.

  • Power usage. Today, everyone focuses on power management as a way to reduce costs and decrease carbon emissions. Windows Embedded Standard 7 was designed with a strong focus on reducing overall power consumption. It provides power management APIs that allow applications to check device power state and adjust device behavior as needed. For example, an application could reduce the extent of animation to reduce processor and graphics engine cycles.

  • Bandwidth utilization. Devices in the field require connection to the datacenter to access data and media content that should be displayed on the device. The high-bandwidth requirements for a media-intensive application can drive up the costs of this connection. BranchCache allows the enterprise to reduce the overall bandwidth requirements by caching data locally on each device.

Choosing the Right Operating System

Choosing the right operating system for your next-generation kiosk, digital sign or gaming device is critical. The right operating system can help device manufacturers differentiate themselves by building engaging, intelligent devices that offer high security and low costs for maintaining the device in the field. Windows Embedded Standard 7 offers the features developers need to meet these goals by bringing the power of Windows 7 to the embedded world.