Kiosk Maintenance Manual

Kiosk in User Land



A general overview and some high-level guidance to maintaining the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve Interactive Information Kiosk is provided by this maintenance manual. Every attempt has been made to use Open Source software on this project, in order to avoid additional costs associated with license fees, and to eliminate the need to be connected to the Internet for license verification.

Prerequisite Knowledge

Important for this particular project is an interest in computers, especially an interest beyond the confines of the Microsoft Windows operating system. Knowledge of UNIX and Linux is a big advantage though not absolutely necessary. A willingness to learn something new is the most important attribute of the person maintaining the kiosk.

More detailed information about the Ubuntu GNU-Linux operating system can be found in numerous places on-line. beginning with the links listed in the Referenced Documents section, below. Best place to start is with the Ubuntu Pocket Guide & Reference, which is written specifically to cover the version of Ubuntu used to support the kiosk.

Referenced Documents

  1. Download a free copy of the Ubuntu Pocket Guide & Reference in PDF format from the source web-site.
  2. Ubuntu Pocket Guide & Reference: This link points to local copy in the event the source web-site is unavailable.
  3. Overview of the Ubuntu Operating System.
  4. Overview of the Ubuntu Philosophy.
  5. Official Ubuntu Home Page.
  6. Overview of GNU-Linux.
  7. Touch-screen manufacturer’s product web-site.
  8. Touch-screen manufacturer’s corporate web-site.
  9. Planar Touch Screen LCD Monitors User’s Guide: This link points to a local copy of the User’s Guide.
  10. Fit-PC manufacturer’s product web-site.
  11. CompuLab, the Fit-PC manufacturer’s corporate web-site.
  12. R-kiosk the FireFox web-browser add-on needed to operate in kiosk mode.

System Description

For expository purposes, kiosk systems are divided into two principal areas: hardware and software. Each functional area is discussed in more detail below. Overall, the system is designed to operate continuously, without intervention by daily users of the kiosk. Inevitably, the hardware system will fail as parts age and wear out; when this happens, this maintenance manual should serve to help the person who undertakes to restore the kiosk to working order.

Open Source software and industrial grade hardware were selected for the kiosk: hardware for reliability and long life, software to reduce the cost of ownership to zero. All software is free to download and use; the office applications are part of the Ubuntu distribution and versions are available to run on both Windows, Mac, and Linux systems. As the maintainer you should have no expenses other than time.

Kiosk Hardware

Internal arrangement of the kiosk pedestal and an overview of the hardware architecture is shown in the system block diagram and picture below.

Kiosk Hardware System Block Diagram & Rear View

Planar Touchscreen

The Planar touchscreen controls are a series of buttons on the lower right-hand side of the display. The top button activates and deactivates On-Screen Display (OSD) of the settings menu. Two buttons below the menu button are marked with arrows, allowing selection of menu items. Second button from the bottom activates menu items. The bottom button switches the touchscreen on and off. See the User’s Guide.

Planar guarantee their product for three years. The Nature Conservancy purchased the touchscreen in August 2009.

Stereo loudspeakers are integrated into the touchscreen. Each channel is capable of producing 1 Watt of audio power output.

Cleaning the Touchscreen

The manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning recommend use of a soft dry cloth only. This proved inadequate for smeared fingerprints. Soft-paper kitchen towels work well, slightly damp with a small drop of soft handsoap. Application of dry kichen towel removes any residual moisture.

CompuLab Fit-PC

As you can see from the picture above, the PC isn’t the usual lap-top or desk-top computer. It is a compact fanless computer, designed as a low noise, long life system.

The only moving part is the hard disk drive. Most disks today have a MTBF rate of better than 1-million hours. If the disk survives for the first few weeks of operation then there is a good chance that it will continue operating, unless it is subjected to excessive heat or physical shock.

This computer is equipped with 256-Mbytes of main memory, a 500 MHz AMD Geode LX800 CPU, two Ethernet ports, two USB ports, a VGA port, stereo audio line-in, and stereo audio line-out.

Low voltage DC electrical power is provided to the Fit-PC by an external power module or block, as shown in the illustrations above, plugged into the surge suppressing power strip.

The stereo audio line-out is connected to the audio input of the touchscreen monitor, as shown in the hardware system block diagram above.

One of the USB ports is expanded by connection to the USB hub, to allow more than two simultaneous USB connections. This is especially important if it becomes necessary to attach a mouse, keyboard, and USB memory stick at the same time.


D-Link manufactures the USB hub. It is a generic product and most well-known brand names should work as well. Though the hub can be powered from the Fit-PC USB port, the port has insufficient power to operate several devices at the same time, therefore the hub is equipped with an external power supply module or block, as shown in the pictures above, plugged into the surge suppressing power strip.

Keyboard & Mouse

The keyboard is connected to the USB hub and stowed as shown above during normal operation. You will need the keyboard for maintenance activities and changes to the kiosk beyond normal user interaction. A mouse is available, but it is disconnected from the USB hub so as to avoid conflicting actions with the touchscreen. The mouse and the mouse-pad are stored in the brown cardboard box that can be seen on the left-hand side of the lower shelf in the pictures above.

Power Surge Suppressor

The electrical power surge suppressor is a generic product. Any similar power strip should work. Some thought was given to provision of an uninterruptible power supply, but it was deemed an unnecessary complication.

Kiosk Software

Kiosk Software Architecture

Organization of the software is illustrated by the kiosk software architectural diagram to the right.

Ubuntu Operating System

The Ubuntu operating system is a free, Open Source alternative to the Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh operating systems for personal computers. It provides the same the functionality and ease of use of its commercial competitors, with the added benefits of high reliability and availability. As the phrase has it: "It just works and keeps on ticking." Version 8.10, code-named Intrepid Ibex, underlies and supports the functions of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve Interactive Information Kiosk.

Ubuntu is maintained on a six-month release schedule. As of this writing, the current version is 9.04, Jaunty Jackalope. Do not upgrade from Intrepid; the Fit-PC hardware doesn’t work with the new version. In any event, there is no need to upgrade because the system is working well without problems; it isn’t connected to the Internet and is therefore at no risk of compromise by malicious software.

A good introduction and overview of Ubuntu is provided by the Ubuntu Pocket Guide referenced above.

User Accounts

Concept of user accounts is common to all varieties of Unix and Linux. Ubuntu has two user accounts: administrator and visitors for security and organizational reasons as described below.

administrator Account

Full access to all parts of the system is granted to the administrator account upon entry of the administrator’s password for utilities and other programs that require super-user privileges. Administrator login is as listed here:

The administrator account is used to configure the system as described here:

  1. Create and configure the visitors account.
    • Accounts are created and managed by selecting from the menus:
      System|Administration|Users and Groups
  2. Set automatic login of the visitors account.
    • Automatic login is set by selecting from the menus:
      System|Administration|Login Window
      then selecting the Security tab, followed by checking the Enable Automatic Login box and then selecting the visitors account from the drop-down User menu. This action is needed only for new systems and is unecessary for currently operating kiosks.
  3. Download and install the touch-screen calibration utility. You will need the system temporarily connected to the Internet for this to work as described here.
    • Use the Synaptic Package Manager,
      System|Administration|Synaptic Package Manager
      to download and install the xserver-xorg-input-evtouch touchscreen driver for the X.Org/XFree86 server. This action is needed only for new systems and is unecessary for currently operating kiosks.
    • Run touch-screen calibration by selecting from the menus:
      System|Administration|Calibrate Touchscreen
      and follow the instructions to calibrate the screen. Connection to the Internet is not required for this operation. Recalibration of the touch-screen is only needed if the area under a touch isn’t activated. It is important to disconnect the mouse while performing calibration, to avoid conflicting signals.

visitors Account

The visitors account is unprivileged with maximum restrictions. A visitor has no need for access to anything other than the kiosk pages and should be excluded from other areas of the system. Although visitors login is automatic, the account does have a username and password:

The visitors account is used to store the kiosk visitor information pages and to configure the system as described here:

  1. Store the kiosk visitor information pages.
    • Kiosk visitor pages are stored in the folder kiosk.
  2. Point the FireFox home location to the Topic Index of the kiosk visitor pages.
    • Set the Home Page of the FireFox web-browser to:
  3. Install the FireFox R-kiosk add-on.
  4. Add FireFox to the startup applications.
    • Open the startup applications utility by selecting the menu sequence:
      System-->Preferences-->Startup Applications
    • Select the Startup Programs tab.
    • Click on the Add button.
    • Add firefox to the command box and click on close. FireFox should start automatically next time you login to the visitors account or the machine restarts.
  5. Disable the screensaver.
    • Open the screensaver utility by selecting the menu sequence:
      and uncheck the boxes Activate screensaver when computer is idle and Lock screen when screensaver is active then click on the Close button.
  6. Set the audio volume to maximum.
    • Click on the speaker symbol on the right-hand side of the panel across the top of the screen.
    • Set the slider to maximum +
    • Click on the speaker symbol to close the volume control

Kiosk Visitor Information Pages

Kiosk information pages presented to visitors are constructed as a series of slides with active areas mapped and linked forwards to the next slide, backwards to the previous slide, and home to the topic index. Slide construction is explained in the following sections.

Slide Directory Structure

Kiosk Directory Structure

Organization of files is essential to efficient maintenance of the kiosk system. The directory (or folder) structure is shown in the diagram to the right. If you allow the files to become a jumbled mess, you will succeed in making your life difficult as System Adminstrator.

Notice that each topic is given its own directory in which all the relevant files reside. These directories automatically sort themselves as a topic index, when viewed with the file explorer application. As a whole, the topic index is collected together in a top-level directory named kiosk.

When you need to add a new topic, just create a new directory in the kiosk with the same name as the new topic. Follow the procedures outlined below to expand your topic.

The diagram at right was created using the FreeMind mind-mapping application. It is open source and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux from: A brief explanation of mind-mapping is available here:

Slide Component Parts

Slide Component Parts

Component parts, as used to create the final slides, are stored in the topic directories. This is illustrated in the diagram to the right. Bison-Source is a sub-directory of the Bison topic used to store the source files of the slide, as you might infer from the name of the directory.

Bison-Slide.odp is an Open Office Presentation file, similar to Microsoft PowerPoint. The files Bison-Slide-01.xcf, etcetera, are files native to The GIMP, similar to Adobe PhotoShop.

At the same level as the Bison-Source sub-directory are the working files that comprise each slide: files that have .html file extensions are the files displayed by the FireFox web-browser, files with .png extensions are the graphical images displayed by the .html files.

Slide Screen Dimensions

Horizontal and vertical slide dimensions are restricted to 800 by 600 pixels. Reason for this is to ensure that the slides can be displayed at most common resolutions without causing the browser to display scroll-bars at the right side and bottom of the screen.

How to Create Slides

There is more one way to do this. It so happens that this particular method exposed the 6th Grade students to the maximum number of different tools and aspects of computing; they received an example, some verbal explanation, and told to get cracking. Darwinian Pedagogy in action. By contrast, you are getting detailed written instructions, with diagrams and pictures fully labelled. Surprisingly, most of the students and one teacher were still standing two years later, for which they can thank themselves for their persistance and their principal teacher without whose exceptional dedication this project would not have succeeded. Other less adventurous teachers declined similar opportunity.

As a method it is simple, straightforward, and fairly low-level, using an easy to understand process, enumerated below:

  1. Create a slide-show using the Open Office Presentation program. Use the Presentation program to organize your slides and optimize the layout. If you must, you can use Microsoft PowerPoint to do the same thing. Use the existing slides as examples of what you need to do. Your trail has been blazed by 6th Grade school students. For the touch-targets you should use large figures as the students have done; visitors will be using fat fingers instead of styli to operate the kiosk.
  2. Export each slide to its own file in .png format. Use a consistent file naming convention such as Bison-Slide-01.png, Bison-Slide-02.png, etc.
  3. GIMPing the SlideOpen the .png file using the Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP), or Adobe PhotoShop.
    1. Resize the image to 800x600 pixels and save it in .png format.
    2. Insert guide-lines around the navigation arrows as shown in the picture. You do this by clicking and dragging the vertical and horizontal rulers onto the picture. The squares made by the intersecting guide-lines represent the touch-targets on each slide.
    3. Position the mouse pointer at the top-left and bottom-right corners of the guide squares. Write down the XY coordinates shown in the bottom left-hand corner of the window; you will need these values later on.
    4. Save the GIMP file with the same name but this time in .xcf format.
    5. Move the .png files up one directory to the same level as the source directory.
  4. Copy one of the .html files, inspect the file, and modify it to match the slide you are working on; the contents are self-explanatory. Put the file in the same directory as the .png file.
  5. Change the map coordinates in the .html file to match the numbers you obtained in step 3.3.
  6. Change the kiosk topic-index .html file, by adding a new bullet and link to the first slide of the new slide presentation.


This section on slide construction represents much more information than was provided to the 6th Grade students; even so it still requires the interpretation of an adventurous spirit, since it doesn’t provide minute step-by-step detail. Expect errors and make sure that you test all the links. It’s not particularly difficult. It just requires patience and attention to detail. Good luck.

Acronyms & Abbreviations