Kiosk computers are used in a variety of different environments including laboratory classrooms, tourism centers, airport check-in areas, hardware stores, banks, and so on. Kiosks provide an interactive experience for students, travelers, and shoppers to look up information, engage in various transactions, or even perform complex scientific calculations. Kiosk computers may be terminals connected to a central server somewhere, or they may be standalone kiosks that provide a shared computing environment where each individual user has his or her own separate desktop and applications.
Back in the days of Windows XP, there was a kiosk mode solution available from Microsoft called Windows SteadyState that allowed you to easily turn your PC into a standalone kiosk computer. What was terrific about SteadyState (besides the fact that Microsoft gave it away for free) was that you could use it to lock down what the user was allowed to do on the computer so they couldn’t mess around and break things in Windows. SteadyState also automatically discarded any changes a user made to the system during their logged-on session so that the next individual who logged on would be presented with an entirely pristine installation.
While SteadyState sort of worked on Windows Vista, the next release of Microsoft Windows after Windows XP, it unfortunately didn’t work on Windows 7. Microsoft looked into revamping SteadyState to make it functional on Windows 7 but in the end they decided just to issue a whitepaper explaining how you could use Group Policy and other built-in features to *almost* make something similar to SteadyState work on Windows 7. The response of the business and nonprofit community to this was basically, “Booh!”
Microsoft apparently relented by later including a new feature called Kiosk Mode when Windows 8.1 was released. But those who tried it quickly discovered that Kiosk Mode didn’t enable you to set up a real kiosk computer. Basically, Microsoft has abandoned those who need a real kiosk solution that will work with modern Windows PCs. Enter third parties to make up the difference. Let’s look briefly at some solutions currently available in the marketplace that can turn even a Windows 10 PC into a real kiosk.
SiteKiosk Windows by Provisio is one of the most popular kiosk solutions available for computers running Windows. It lets you fully lock down the Windows operating system and web browser (both Internet Explorer and Chrome) so individuals who use the computer can’t make undesirable changes to its configuration. By using SiteKiosk you can replace the Windows shell with your own custom shell, schedule a reboot or session reset after a specified period of idle time, display the web browser in fullscreen mode, run only programs you have allowed, and implement other much-needed features for a Windows-based kiosk. The product is available in three versions (Basic, Plus, and Non-Profit) at a reasonable cost, and the Plus version includes such features as payment device support and charging for PC usage. Full details for this product are available on the Provisio website.
SureLock for Windows is a kiosk solution available from 42Gears Mobility Systems Inc., a customer-focused company that has offices in both the U.S. and India. By using SureLock you can quickly and easily convert any Windows computer or tablet into a public kiosk computer that restricts access to specific applications and websites, blocks and filters keyboard input, and implements controls to prevent accidental or malicious modification of Windows and application configuration settings. If you need to deploy a standalone Windows computer in a location where it can’t easily be serviced by your IT staff. SureLock includes support for auto-logon after system reboot and auto-launching only of selected applications at system startup. The product also lets you password-protect important system settings and even lets you disable the Windows Task Manager so “smart” users can’t mess things up. And if you need to deploy a bunch of kiosk systems you can use SureMDM, another product available from 42Gears, an enterprise mobility management (EMM) solution ideal for small to midsized business and startups. With SureMDM you can manage not only Windows systems but also devices built on the Android and iOS platforms. For more information about SureLock and other available products visit the 42Gears website.
FrontFace Lockdown Tool for Windows from the Germany-based company mirabyte is an easy-to-use application that lets you configure any Windows computer for the role of either a standalone public computer terminal (a kiosk) or for continuous operation mode (for example as digital signage). The tool includes several predefined profiles that you can customize and save to meet your particular needs. For example, you can configure which shell and applications are launched on Windows startup and whether login should be automatic without the need for the user to enter a password. While the Lockdown Tool itself can be used on any Windows computer, the actual FrontFace product is available in two versions: FrontFace for Public Displays, which is primarily intended for setting up public digital displays such as welcome screens, advertising or information displays, waiting room television screens, and so on; and FrontFace for Touch Kiosks, which lets you make any kind of media such as images, videos, Websites, PDFs, or PowerPoint presentations available on interactive screens for marketing, tourism, hotel, and other industry uses. Full details of these products can be found on the mirabyte website.
NetKiosk from Netkiosk Kiosk Software is a UK-based solution that provides not only software but also free technical support and different customization offerings, which has made it a popular kiosk solution in many government and industrial sectors. NetKiosk Standard provides basic functionality for locking down Windows and controlling which programs and websites users are allowed to run and visit. NetKiosk Desktop Lock includes additional lockdown functionality with easier configuration of which programs you want to allow users to run. NetKiosk also supports Google Chrome secure kiosk mode and includes built-in antivirus and antispyware software in it. And there’s also a version of NetKiosk you can download for the Android platform from the Google Play store should you need it. Various licensing options for purchasing NetKiosk are available for companies and organizations of different sizes; for more information see the Netkiosk Kiosk Software website.
Vivonet Windows Kiosk
Our last kiosk mode solution is an innovative one that has garnered much attention since its release in the summer of 2016. Vivonet, an industry leader in cloud-based hospitality solutions, has released a new Windows Kiosk app that runs on Windows 10 and is built upon Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP). This new product combines the Windows 10 platform with Microsoft cloud technologies like Microsoft Azure and Office 365 to transform the whole concept of what a kiosk is and what it can do, at least for the hotel and hospitality industry for which the app has been designed. Instead of referring you to the company website on this one, I’ll point you instead to a Microsoft Channel 9 video called Engaging Hospitality Customers with Vivonet Kiosk on Windows 10 where Baldwin Ng, Senior Business Development Manager for ISV Offers and Programs at Microsoft, takes us through the powerful new capabilities of this new solution. Enjoy watching it!
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