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January 30, 2009 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Cheap touchscreens + Linux (?) + full-screen browser?

A colleague is looking at building a semi-public art installation that requires about 20 small touchscreens (14-19 inches) that are running web browsers and nothing else. She has not much budget, but will be applying for some small grants. So I'm thinking about this...

(1) What's the cheap/easiest touchscreen monitor or all-in-one low-end PC? They'll be mounted in (new-build) walls, so they can be laptoppy or industrial or even small CRTs.
(2) I assume Linux for cost reasons, but it doesn't matter really. If Linux, which distro is the best bet for (which?) touch support?
(3) How to boot into a full-screen browser (Chrome?) without any window-manager type other apps visible/available?

I'll take ideas on any 1-2-3 item! I'm sort of stymied for starting points.
posted by rokusan to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if this will help, but you can buy transparent touchscreen overlays that will fit onto any standard LCD monitor and convert it into a touchscreen. You could then buy cheap LCD monitors (you say you only need 14-19 inches, which should be fairly easy to acquire cheaply) and use those instead of dedicated touchscreens.

You'd still need a PC to control everything, but that could easily be fitted into the wall behind the monitor (as long as you have sufficient ventilation). You could maybe use thin clients and have a central server send out the software.

As for OS, maybe have a look at Morphix Kiosk.
posted by fearthehat at 1:47 PM on January 30, 2009

Opera and Firefox can do full screen. Opera may be better suited for it. Chrome is Windows only, so far.

For distro, LTSP is designed for diskless stations. It boots over the Ethernet network, runs, and the user does anything she likes -- there's nothing to break permanently. At the end, you turn it off and on, and everything is reset to the same as before. Configure once, to start a browser, user can break nothing.
posted by cmiller at 1:52 PM on January 30, 2009

Opera also has a kiosk mode for this type of thing.
posted by 517 at 2:19 PM on January 30, 2009

The touchscreen part is probably the hardest part of this setup. Linux drivers for touchscreens can be hard to find or really buggy. The Magic Touch ones are fairly popular with apparently fairly decent drivers. Monitors with touchscreens built in are often fairly expensive (~$300-400 for a 15in), though you may find used ones for way less. Add-On Touch Screen Kits are another good option, as fearthehat mentions. For these you are looking at about $120-200 for the kit and $120 for the lcd.
The pc part is fairly simple, most any system that fits physically will work. A good option if it is to be in the wall or in another small space would be a AMD Geode based system such as the decTOP. They have very low power requirements, very minimal ventilation required (probably near none, iirc the thing is sealed) and are rather cheap. ~$80
For software, you have quite a range of choices. LTSP is very good for a network based setup, only real downside is it requires a server to boot from. Booting off of a local drive (USB thumb drive, flash drive, or normal hard drive) is is the other way to do it. I would probably just do a minimal Debian netinst, install X and Firefox or Opera, so that I can tweak every thing to be as I want it, Morphix Kiosk may be a good out of the box solution though. The downside to this approach is that it can be a pain to change the installed image as you have to re-image every system.
xinit firefox will make Firefox start on its own without a window manager.
Googling Firefox kiosk or Debian Kiosk will get you lots more information. As you get closer to actually making it happen let me know and I can give more specific advice.
posted by cspurrier at 3:39 PM on January 30, 2009

I think Chumbys have touchscreens but I can't find anything on their website saying they do. Wikipedia thinks they do too.
posted by chairface at 4:50 PM on January 30, 2009

Yes, chumbys have touchscreens but they're 3.5" 320x240 and not suited to precise pointing.
posted by djb at 6:21 PM on January 30, 2009

The specs page in the Chumby store says they have a 3.5" LCD color touchscreen. If something that small would work, the Nokia N770, N800, N810 have 4.1in screens and slightly better specs. They can be gotten used for fairly cheap ($100-$120 N770-N800) or new for $220(N810). The Chumby and these are a bit harder to get setup, but could work if the screen size is not a deal breaker.
posted by cspurrier at 6:23 PM on January 30, 2009

Chumby has a touchscreen. It's only 7" though.
posted by zpousman at 6:51 PM on January 30, 2009

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