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Waiting to install

One of my little specialties is the real estate kiosk. It’s pretty much a slimmed down Drupal 6 instance running on an incredibly handy little thing called UniformServer. Open Source of course. I’ve installed enough of these to expect and prepare for the worst when it comes to kiosk hardware. It’s not that great packaged solutions don’t exist. They do.

But until they invent a box that unpacks itself and plugs itself in, people like me will get calls to set these things up. Never mind that I was hired to program the thing, not plug it in, these kinds of “customer-service” calls are inevitable. I learned long ago, it’s much easier to stop by and make sure they aren’t trying to install your program into the coffee maker than it is to “walk them through it.”

Ubiquitous and fast, I frankly had assumed the emergence of brilliant, free cloud tools like Dropbox and Logmein would render the personal install a quaint inconvenience of the past. Assuming we could get past the aforementioned plug-in, turn-on phase, I could support the rest from wherever.

A successful “cloud” deploy for a screen in Florida showed how easy it could be. I loaded Dropbox and LogMeIn onto the machine and shipped it to the install location – a coffee shop in Ft. Myers. As soon as that sucker was plugged in and online, it downloaded all the latest files from Dropbox. Anything else that needed done was handled comfortably from my own desktop in Northern Virginia. Like I said – I was pretty sure this was only going to get easier (and probably less necessary to outsource).

The very next install was in a storefront window – with 1 working outlet of undisclosed source. Internet was “wireless” I was told, and I really should have clarified that. When I arrived to that location (having climbed up a ladder and through the front window to enter – the last time I dressed up for an install), I was actually kind of intrigued to find the 4G router sitting there. I didn’t even mind so much getting it connected on the fly in mannequin-melting heat. Explaining-away my excessive dampness was made tolerable by the fact that, upon leaving, the kiosk was online.

Sadly this was not the case 58 minutes later, when I logged on to check. Turns out those nifty mobile routers only connect when they need to. What’s more, 4G might speed up your status updates and such, but even when connected, running LogMeIn through it was like drinking a milkshake through a capillary tube.

Then of course, you have today. Surely one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve ever seen (for real, was that nice). I was happy to see the 40″ ELO screen mounted, powered on, and already running a placeholder video loop.

This particular ELO screen is a very slick all-in-one kiosk. Kind of like a really big iMac. Sort of.

When you bring home your iMac, you remove from box and plugin.

When you bring home your ELO kiosk, you do pretty much the same, but there is one additional step: the actual CPU is packed separately. It’s essentially a laptop-sized PC with no external case. It slides into a metal door on the back of the screen. There is nothing tricky about this step at all, just slides right in.

Since these machines don’t come with keyboards, I bring my own USB wireless keyboard and mouse (another lesson learned the hard way). I went ahead and removed the metal door on the right side of the screen so I could plug in and get started.

I had worked with this type of screen previously, so I knew the USB ports would be right under that door. Instead, I saw this:

If you aren’t sure what you are looking at, I’ll spell it out for you. You are looking at an empty space where a computer (with USB ports) is supposed to be.

Which brings me back to UniformServer, which is kind of a LAMP stack on a stick. The kiosk runs directly off that USB stick.

It truly is a plug-and-play operation.

So once this particular client finds something they can plug it into I’m hopeful today’s install will be complete. I’ll be sure to let you know.