Kiosk reliability – and their operating systems

17 December 2020

An “out of service” kiosk is a big annoyance at any level and we have all seen them. 

Most people, including experienced kiosk owners, assume that when a kiosk stops working there is a hardware fault to be fixed – “Please send your engineer”.  However, in our experience, “kiosk out of service” issues are mostly nothing to do with faulty hardware… (commenting on our own kiosks).

We have found that the Windows operating system versions that have been and still are mostly used on kiosks (ours in the past also) have been the main cause of most calls we have ever received about kiosks not working correctly or at all. Additionally, the second problem in line is the lockdown software that many people use to run kiosks in a public domain.  When we used to receive calls about a problem kiosk we would hear: “the screen is blank”, “the touchscreen does not work”, “the kiosk is stuck with error xyz”. Etc etc.  All very frustrating but mostly nothing to do with hardware

So, what did we do about eradicating these “kiosk not working” issues

We had to think about how do we make the experience of deploying / using our kiosks a consistently good experience and not one where “kiosk out of service” has to be hung on them, where the owner / user believes a K4B engineer needs to replace some component.  When we looked into reported malfunctions, most of the time the kiosk operating system had created a situation where one or more parts of the system had been rendered inoperative for some reason.  It became apparent that the operating system had changed in any problem kiosk some time after we had built and commissioned it.  We found that it was generally the changes to the operating system that had disabled parts of the kiosk which then looked like a physical fault with the kiosk. The operating system stopping recognising the touchscreen has been a classic situation that has happened more than a few times randomly – but after a major windows update had been applied automatically.

Updates Updates Updates…

What was happening? Fundamentally, when using Windows 10 – now Win10Pro – as most windows based kiosks do there is an auto update feature within Windows that cannot be disabled. These auto updates to Windows are random and regular. They can be minor changes or large fundamental changes. For the ordinary user (read everyone but the largest computer companies in the world) there are no warnings or details of what is to be or what has changed. You just get the end result of an update which maybe a compromised kiosk or a continuously working kiosk – a lottery.

Win10 and the general public

Because Win10 is widely used and “understood as the de-facto OS by most people” no-one questions its operation other than to complain and fix it when it goes wrong or needs attention. But this cannot happen with a kiosk – nobody is looking at this when the kiosk is in normal operation.

Why does Microsoft take this course of action on automatic forced updates? 

Its stated point of view as many a reviewer of Windows and updates says is that “everyone really wants the most up to date quality of service from Windows operating system”- we ask do they really??  What this actually means is that Microsoft believes is that everyone wants all of the latest games, that everyone wants the most up to date Cortana service, everyone wants the latest  apps etc. Well, for a kiosk this is patently not true, as none of this is used in running a self service kiosk – in fact it gets in the way.  The only real reason for a kiosk to need an operating system update is for security purposes when new threats are identified and need to be dealt with in the OS. The basic function of a kiosk does not change from month to month.  Think of your car – if its operating system were automatically updated with apps and voice command stuff on a weekly basis you could reliably bet that your car would have some malfunction or different function than you are used to at some point. This is what happens to kiosks running standard Windows 10 OS.

Why can’t kiosks be like cars from an OS point of view?

Taking the car analogy further…. Cars are fitted with their operating system and leave the factory working (like K4B kiosks) Thereafter there are no changes to the operating system of a car (unlike K4B kiosks due to forced Windows updates). If the car goes in for a service and where an OS update is applied, the car comes back to you again in working trim where you are unlikely to know that there has been a change applied.  Unfortunately with standard windows driven kiosks, where random and unsupervised updates happen very regularly this is not the case.

What should we do?

We asked ourselves how do we get to the same level of reliability of operation as a car’s operating system has, but with our kiosks?

Windows 10 “enterprise” version

On investigation there clearly had been the same thoughts from other organisations and / or Microsoft as there was talk of an “enterprise” solution a year or so ago.  This was not well publicised in general as it was thought that the general user public would not benefit / be interested in this. In fact most of the eventual reviewers of the initial “enterprise” solution from Microsoft gave it a thumbs-down as it had no games or Cortana and was quite stripped back and that was not what the general public would want.  

When we evaluated the initial “enterprise” prototype OS version we thought that this is exactly what a kiosk needs (stripped back to the necessities, no frills, no complexities – no sledgehammer to crack a nut – just a tool to do a particular job well and reliably). 

Windows 10 LTSB, as it was then, was what we needed to run kiosks reliably. However not many of our customers had heard of it and were sceptical, and, we were unable to get licences for it. But it did prove the point – our kiosks just ran uninterrupted with no auto updates to get in the way. Far fewer “knobs to twiddle” by anyone to put the kiosk in some weird mode that looks like a malfunction.

Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC 2019

We use Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC 2019 exclusively now for all kiosks as it only has the relevant items we need to run our kiosks and any updates are about security fixes mostly, no games, no Cortana and at last general reliability in service in a kiosk. We, of course, can now get licences for this version of Win10.  If a particular customer wants the standard issue Win10Pro we will of course fit this but we advise about likely future stoppages and caution about continuous kiosk functioning needing to be taken care of by their IT folk when stoppages occur. With the normal Win10Pro OS the likelihood of an operating system update creating a malfunction of the kiosk is considerably higher than a physical component failing and causing a malfunction of a K4B kiosk.

The conclusion for us has been:  

Win10 Enterprise LTSC 2019 = K4B kiosk continuous operation without “repairs”…. Like your car.

Additionally, if you want Android or Linux, that is fine too – same reliable kiosk hardware and continuous operation – again like your car…

I cannot remember now the last time we had to replace a failed physical component on one of our kiosks such is the reliability of the electronics and robustness of build of our kiosks. Hence our customers around Europe trust our kiosk design + manufacturing – they also follow our advice on what keeps them working reliably. (See also SME enterprise awards December 2020 that reinforces the point)

That all said, we can of course help all our customers with operating systems and other software by using Team viewer remote access. But this would of course not be possible with kiosks that have hardware failure. Fitness for purpose, quality components and build technique, ensure reliability of operation – after that it’s the OS you load and then the application software on top.

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