This is a relatively complex topic, and hence it is classified into two segments. The first part emphasizes why it actually make sense to use Digital Signage Linux media player while the second part in the coming days explains, where traps will exist.
What is Linux and where does it differ to Android
Several commercial vendors and communities are bringing together easy-to-maintain packages. These are the so-called distributions such as Debian, Ubuntu, Red Hat, Suse. Companies like Red Hat or Suse even certify hardware and provide professional support.
Android, in smartphones and tablets was developed by Google and is based on Linux kernel. However, the system is conceptually different. For example, it uses another C-Library (Bionic) and most of its apps are based on a special Java runtime called ART (Android Runtime).
Because of these differences, it is arguable to call Android as a classic Linux distribution.
The real true advantages of Linux can be reduced to the generic term of freedom. But what exactly does that mean?
Linux can be configured transparently to the last detail. This makes it possible to customize it precisely according to the customers request :
A window manager is not necessary
It is possible to build an extremely economical system without a window manager. This means your digital signage player software can also acts as user interface.
While running the software, you do not need to worry about any dialogues, error messages or installation instructions which come from operating system. In 2008 I worked for a company, which sold digital signage player based on Windows XP. One of the more annoying tasks was to write scripts which suppresses Windows messages.
Our customers did not like it when dialogues pop up on their displays during opening hours without any keyboard or mouse plugged in. While using Linux, such notifications can be silently redirected to the logs files.
Easier Monitoring and Error Analysis
As mentioned in the last paragraph, almost any notification can be redirected to log files. With an easy-to-learn scripting language, it is possible to monitor the state of the system (memory, CPU) and send it regularly to one or more recipients. There are a lot of small assisting applications existing onboard, which are based on the Unix-philosophy. This means they are created to handle only one task, which is done perfectly. However they are designed to cooperate together and can be easily combined. In most cases no extra software has to be purchased or developed. In case of failure, a technician does not need a VNC, Remote Desktop or Teamviewer. He can analyze and repair the device remotely using a text console. Of course, this also works with a graphical interface.
No necessary for “rooting“
An Android media player must be rooted before being used as an interactive kiosk system. On unix operating systems, root is the administrator. This is the only way to remove the typical Android status bar. This does not only look unprofessional, but also raises the risk of abuse. The status bar allows the user to exit the kiosk program and access the default Android user interface. To avoid this scenario, additional configurations are necessary, and an app is needed which hides the status bar. For example you can use these here. With a Digital Signage Linux Player, you can prevent yourself from this additional effort.
Unnecessary services can be removed
The services needed to run are determined by the requirements of your project. Not by the operating system manufacturer. This saves resources, increases stability and security. Each additional component and every service adds complexity to a system. Additional services may have errors and, in the worst case, become a gateway for viruses or trojans. Fewer additional service you add to your device, the better it is.
He can fix his prices or, in the worst case scenario, discontinue support for his product. In such cases you may face a lot of problems. With Linux you can freely choose a service provider with appropriate knowledge or do the support by yourself.
I would like to address this point only for the sake of adequate understanding, because I personally do not like to use this as the reason. Of course, free source code implies that there are no royalties. Of course, saving money is a plus point. However, from my point of view in the professional environment everyone should be aware that a support service is always associated with costs. Especially software connected to the Internet has a constant need of care and maintenance. Bugs and vulnerabilities need to be fixed.
With freedom granted by openness many dependencies and problems can be reduced. In my opinion, this is the main advantage of Linux and free software. Free and easily availability is a side effect.
Conclusion to Digital Signage Linux Media Player
With Linux, efficient digital signage devices can be developed, which are tailored exactly to a customer’s requirement. Also, they are easy to monitor and administer. However, this freedom comes at a price. It is not easy to find devices on the market that fully support Linux.
In the next few days, the second part of this article will be published. I will describe the common problems in the evaluation of economical Digital Signage Linux players. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to contact me.