The Digital Signage Insider

FireCast and the open source argument for kiosks and digital signs

Published on: 2004-07-23

A few months ago, I wrote an entry about Scala's knowledge base article defending Windows as a viable platform for digital signage deployments. In fact, as I re-read the article now, it has been edited to take a slightly more agressive stance on the Windows vs. Linux debate (they favor Windows, obviously). Recently, there has been a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) circulating the industry due to the many security problems surfacing with Windows and Internet Explorer, and it has caused some questions to come up regarding Windows use in uncontrolled environments. In fact, a google search for internet explorer security benefits returns some amusing results right now, though that will likely change over time. Since then, several customers and prospects have asked me about this subject, and more specifically, why WireSpring chose to use Linux as the base for its FireCast kiosk and digital signage software.

The open- vs. closed-source debate should be left for the various zealots to deal with, so if you're looking for some brainless fanboy idolatry, you won't find it here. We're stuck with business, technology, and economics as our driving factors. The bottom line with FireCast is that:

We use open source technology because we must be able to provide complete, comprehensive service to our clients. If there is a bug anywhere in the source code, from the kernel to the networking components to the video player, we must be able to fix it. To give you an example, Microsoft's Media Player had a memory leak that caused it to crash after about 6 hours of operation. It wasn't fixed for over 6 years. The last time FireCast had a memory leak, which was over two years ago, it was fixed in 15 minutes, and our clients' machines were remotely updated without any user intervention.

This leads to another interesting point. Because we only deal with a single set of applications written on a single operating system, we can guarantee that a software update, security patch or feature addition will work exactly as advertised without causing problems for the end-customer. Even the best add-on Windows software has to work with multiple versions of Windows running multiple service packs, different software configurations, different patches applied, etc.,etc. The uniformity of our product -- and the ability to buy exactly the version that you need, no matter how old -- is one of our greatest strengths.

Finally, if you're a regular reader of this blog, I don't need to tell you that FireCast was built from the ground up to be nothing but a digital signage and interactive kiosk operating platform. We don't have any of the end-user cruft or eye candy that Windows software developers have to deal with. As a result,our systems are more hardened, secure, and reliable.

I'm not going to argue the technical pros and cons of open source technology, or explain why one is "better" than the other. The question of better security because there are more people looking at the code is still up-for-grabs. I've read dozens of conflicting analyst reports and case studies that haven't been able to figure it out, and I don't expect that we'll have a resolution on this issue any time soon. But nobody would argue that open source doesn't have distinct benefits, and we plan to take advantage of them as much as possible.


0 # Yigal 2007-12-26 22:11
Thank you Bill for a very interesting arguments.
-1 # Bill Gerba 2008-01-02 21:39
Hi Yigal, Thanks for the feedback. Granted I'm coming from a particular point-of-view here, and I have some vested interests (namely, we make Linux-based kit and we think there are numerous advantages to doing so), but even after nearly four years I think the above arguments still hold true, so that's pretty neat.
0 # Stan Coleman 2008-05-22 17:38
Nice to see an open discussion about 'Open Source' after having read Scala's knowledge base article. Your point about it taking 6 years to fix a leak also points out a problem with another article I read that said something like, 'If you find something annoying with Windows you just have to wait for the patch." Biggest reason I see against using Windows is every time I see our local Scala system on the local access channel reboot all buy itself. Mind you I usually just channel surf through the local origination channel but I've seen that Windows based system do an unscheduled reboot close to three times over a single weekend. My reasoning for using Linux is why pay for something you can get for free...that works better. If you want to modify how software works in Linux you can use the powerful built in BASH shell to write simple scripts of your own design. Try writing your own scripts on a propriety system. I also like the remote capabilities of using SSH to run command line prompts remotely. Doesn't take near as long as waiting on a GUI to make a simple change.
+1 # vaibhav 2008-12-30 04:05
hello bill, ur blog is a very rare community out here... nice u hv taken a intiative... i m an amature in this field... i building a kiosk system based on linux... im really confused on choosing the right application for this... ie kioware,open kiosk... which is better??? an what is the config required on the hardware... part plz enlighten me ...
0 # Adam Gregory 2009-02-15 17:47
Where can I obtain a copy of the source for firecast linux?
0 # Bill Gerba 2009-10-13 03:53
Hi Adam, If you're interested you can send an email to sales at wirespring dot com and they can provide you with instructions for obtaining the open-source components of FireCast OS. Of course, the proprietary and licensed components won't be included.

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