Building a kiosk

At the museum, we’re setting up a kiosk to let people browse our online collections database. We’re very much in the mode of trying things out using a simple setup and then when we see how that works, we can tweak it as needed.

The basic requirements were to let visitors browse a single website (http://webmuseum.mit.edu) but not to be able to follow any of the outgoing links. Additionally, the visitors should not be able to leave the web browser and start mucking about with the underlying computer.

Even though our old PowerMac G4‘s are dropping like flies with broken power supply units, we have two left in the “good enough to reuse” bin. So I set one up with Mac OS X 10.5. Using MacPorts, I installed Squid and set up the network to use that squid as a proxy. Squid lets you configure which URLs it will go out and get, and which ones it will return an error on. I set it up to only return pages in the webmuseum.mit.edu site, and whenever a link outside that site is requested, it returns the toplevel page at http://webmuseum.mit.edu.

So far so good. The next thing I needed was a browser that won’t let visitors do too much other than browse. Luckily last week I bumped into Plainview. Plainview is a webkit based browser with no chrome. It also happens to have a kiosk mode that requires a password to get out of.

Then I set up a user account with Parental Controls, and only allow it to run the Plainview app and nothing else. I have the Mac boot up with that user login coming up automatically, and Plainview starts as a login application. Presto, a nice web kiosk. If users break out of Plainview, they can’t do anything else but log out of the system. We’ll see how long that takes…

One minor hitch in the entire setup – I don’t know whether it’s possible to set up Plainview to go directly into kiosk mode. Right now you have to type ⌘-/ and enter an administrator password to start kiosk mode.

Posted in kiosk, Museum
8 comments on “Building a kiosk
  1. keith says:

    hey.. i stumbled across your post. I started the Plainview project at the barbarian group, and if we can add any features that might help you out, just shoot me an email and we’ll do our best.

  2. Paul says:

    Alan, not sure if this would help you but check out http://fluidapp.com/, it allows you to build a site-specific browser using safari/webkit. And also http://wiki.mozilla.org/Prism, the same thing for firefox.

  3. Allan says:

    @Paul – yes, I’m a fan of Fluid. Plainview has the advantage that it has no chrome at all – i.e. no buttons the visitor can push to get out. I don’t know if Fluid has a full-screen mode that I could lock in. I’ll check out Prism.

    By the way, Keith says that they’ve gotten several requests for having a way to go directly into kiosk mode. So they will add it soon.

  4. Allan says:

    So I just discovered the newest build of Plainview with the option to launch into Kiosk Mode. I’m testing it now… so far so good.

  5. Antiq says:

    it doesn’t work

  6. Works just fine for me:)

  7. Yves Mailhot says:

    Hi, Mac computers look great in museums. You can use eCrisper from http://ecrisper.com

    Yves

  8. Allan says:

    Next time I need to set something up, I’ll give eCrisper a try. I find that each kiosk package has its own quirks. How things look and work depends a lot on the overall site design.