The Back Room

Tag: Kiosk Mode

How to Setup Windows Vista as a Museum Kiosk

by on Sep.16, 2009, under Hardware, Software

If you want to setup Windows Vista to work in a museum environment, you are not faced with an easy task. Vista provides more automated features for novice users than any other Microsoft operating system. In a kiosk mode, we want all these features off so they don’t interfere with the exhibit or cause maintenance nightmares. I want to preface this article with the fact that Bruce and I currently have several institutions running Vista day in and out on their exhibit machines and we have experience supporting those exhibits. The points in this article are based on our real-world experience.

Boston Productions purchases most of our computer equipment from Dell. In museum enclosures and machine rooms, their small form computers have proven very reliable. Unlike a large corporation, we do not maintain our own Windows image or have a site license. This means that each time we setup a kiosk, we do our best with whatever comes installed by the computer vendor. I would be overjoyed if someone can point me to an article of how to do all this with something like the corporate User State Migration tool in Windows XP. The following is a list of all the items that I perform when doing a kiosk setup.

Uninstall Computer Vendor Software

Computer vendors like Dell love to ship machines with third party software installed.  I always uninstall everything unless we need it.  This includes Java, because you don’t want the Java updater to accidentally pop up and non-essential Windows components like Windows Live.

Patch The OS

This is self explanatory.  Windows is a large attack vector.  You want to mitigate this to the best of your ability before you release the kiosk to the public.

Turn off Default Update Behavior

The default vista update behavior will download and install updates automatically. This usually results in an undesired restart of the system out of no-where.  Auto-updating can create unintended support problems as an exhibit could patch itself, restart, then not boot correctly.  We usually patch quarterly and do an entire institution at once (if the exhibits are web connected).  This way the institution is prepared just in case a problem arises and so are you.

Change The Default Windows Update Behavior

Change The Default Windows Update Behavior

Turn off Windows Defender

Kiosk machines are not general use machines.  Windows defender scanning while people are using your kiosk is not going to add value anywhere.  The most likely result of this will be bog in processing intensive interactive exhibits.  Just turn off Windows Defender.  You can get to these options in the Control Panel -> Windows Defender -> Tools -> Options.

You Don't Need Defender in a Kiosk

You Don't Need Defender in a Kiosk

Modify the Power Settings to Prevent Screen Turn off and Sleep

Default power settings will turn off your monitor, hard drives, and put the machine to sleep.  We don’t want a kiosk to make itself unavailable in order to save power.  Please note that the following options change based on what Vista Service Pack you have installed.  (As of Service Pack 2) Control Panel -> Power Options -> Change when to turn off the display AND Change when the computer sleeps.

Modify the BIOS Power Settings

In the Bios of most computers, there is an option of what to do when AC power is lost.  By default this option usually will keep the computer off.  However, we always want the computer to turn back on!  Change the AC Power recovery settings if you can.

AC Power Settings on a Dell

AC Power Settings on a Dell

Make the Computer Automatically Login at Startup

In Windows Vista we use a tool called control userpasswords2 to do this.  You can access this by start-> run -> control userpasswords2

Control User Passwords...2

Control User Passwords...2

This opens up a User Accounts dialog.  In order to login automatically under a certain account, click that account to highlight it, then uncheck the box that says “Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer”.  When you hit “Apply” your going to be prompted for the users password.

Select the User you Want to Login

Select the User you Want to Login

Enter the User Credentials

Enter the User Credentials

Congratulations as when you restart, it will now login automatically as this user.

Disable TMM Scheduled Task – Transient Multimonitor Manager

Windows Vista by default has a scheduled task called Transient Multimonitor Manager that is on by default for all versions of Vista.  TMM is intended for laptop users that are hooking and unhooking external monitors.  In a kiosk environment we will often have very strict display settings that we never want to automatically change.  TMM may contribute to automatic changes in multiple display setups which is extremely frustrating.  Just disable this scheduled task!  You can do this by the following actions: Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Task Scheduler.  Inside the Task Scheduler open the “Windows” tasks and under “Mobile PC” you will see the TMM task.  End and Disable the task.

You Don't Need the TMM Service

You Don't Need the TMM Service

Hide the Taskbar and Notification Popups

Depending on how you’re interactive is setup, you’re probably going to have to change the behavior of the Windows Vista taskbar so that it stays hidden and doesn’t ever interrupt the interactive and user experience.  Right click on the taskbar -> Properties.  In the Taskbar tab, I usually Auto-hide the taskbar, uncheck “Keep the taskbar on top of other windows”.

Hide that Taskbar

Hide that Taskbar

In the Notification Area tab we need to handle how icons display information.  You know how application icons like to pop up notifications?  These will interrupt your interactive too!  Click on the “Customize” button next to Hide inactive icons.  I Hide everything. (Please Note: This is my development machine not a kiosk machine in the example.  I would never run AV software on a kiosk machine).

Hide Taskbar Icons in Vista

Hide Taskbar Icons in Vista

Restore Points and Auto Recovery

This is a special category because there are a few things that you need to do in order to prevent all the automated recovery tools in Windows Vista from bringing havoc to your kiosk setup.  We usually setup our systems and expect them not to change for a year or more.  By default Windows Vista will do everything in its power to change, or revert your system configuration under certain circumstances.

Windows Vista Will Auto Restore to the Last Known Restore Point Under the Following Common Kiosk Situation

Whenever a Windows Vista system looses power during its startup sequence, the next time it turns on, it will automatically (unless a user specifies in thirty seconds) boot into the recovery console and start running a “System Startup Recovery”.  If for some crazy reason, the machine looses power during a System Startup Recovery, Vista will automatically restore itself to the last restore point!

Windows Vista Auto Startup Recovery

Windows Vista Auto Startup Recovery

In the museum and visitor center industry, we normally use an AMX or Crestron master control system to hard power off and on museum kiosk systems each day.  In the strange event that the institution turns their master control system on and off a few times within a short period, the above normally happens to all the Vista based kiosk systems!  Kiosk systems that are self contained are vulnerable to this type of strange occurrence if the building has fluctuating power during an electrical storm as well, or if a maintenance person just decides to turn the computer on and off a few times manually.

Vista Is Unable to Repair my Startup

Vista Is Unable to Repair my Startup. I Induced This by Forcing Power Off.

Disable the Restore Point Scheduled Task

By default Windows Vista creates a restore checkpoint every single day.  In a kiosk environment we don’t want this at all.  The only checkpoint we are interested in, is one that we know is configured the way we initially setup the working kiosk system.  I have had systems that start in an unexpected way, create a checkpoint of that configuration, then repeatedly roll themselves back to a bad configuration.  In order to disable the Restore Point Scheduled Task, go to Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Task Scheduler.  In the Task Scheduler in the Microsoft -> Windows Tasks you will see the “SystemRestore” category.  In that category you will find the SR scheduled task that should be stopped and disabled.

Windows Vista System Restore Scheduled Task

Windows Vista System Restore Scheduled Task

Create a Manual Restore Point of the Good Configuration

Under certain circumstances, Windows Vista will without user interaction, restore your system to the previously known good configuration.  We need to control what Vista will restore to when this happens.  In order to make a manual restore point, do the following: Start Menu -> Right Click on Computer -> Properties -> Advanced System Settings -> System Protection Tab.  The “Available Disks” dialog box may take a little bit of time to populate.  You can click the “Create” button at the bottom of the System Protection tab in order to create a system restore point.

Windows Vista Manual Restore Point

Windows Vista Manual Restore Point

Get Rid of Previous Restore Points

Due to the auto-restore functionality inherent in Windows Vista above, you need to make sure only the manual restore point remains.  You can delete all the previous daily restore points by use the Windows Vista Disk Cleanup utility.  The Disk Cleanup utility can be accessed in the following way:  Start Menu -> All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Disk Cleanup.  Select Your System Drive when you are prompted.  On the More Options tab in Disk Cleanup you will find the option to delete System Restore and Shadow Copies.  This operation will probably freeze the computer for a little bit.

Windows Vista Disk Cleanup

Windows Vista Disk Cleanup

I hope that covers all of the automated features that need to be disabled in order to give you a rock solid kiosk system in Windows Vista.  I would be extremely interested if anyone knows how to disable the automatic restore from power loss process.

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