Why Do Companies Still Use Microsoft Windows For Displays?

As I was exiting Oxford Railway Station, I glanced at this screen showing the bus departure times. Notice anything odd about it?

Windows Update on Display Screen

*sigh* Yet again someone has shoehorned Microsoft Windows into a product it is completely unsuitable for.
Windows Update Message
Why does a screen which displays a fairly basic set of information need to be running on an expensive Windows licence? Moreover, why is such a machine connected to the public Internet?

For bonus points, take a look at the program which has automatically loaded.
Mouse Jiggle
Yup, they're running a program to prevent Windows kicking off its screensaver. Why? Why not just disable the screensaver? Or, even better, run the whole thing from a Raspberry Pi loaded up with Linux?

I've been ranting about this for years.

My good friend Kai Henry runs a company called Webconverger - a simple and free Linux based kiosk display system. Why on earth pay Microsoft over the odds for a buggy, crash prone, Operating System which isn't very good at kiosk displays?

Broken Windows Advertising Screens on the Tube

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36 thoughts on “Why Do Companies Still Use Microsoft Windows For Displays?”

  1. Martin says:

    At least those displays run a fairly current Windows version (XP). I've seen (lately) displays running Windows 98 :-(((.

    Once a manufacturer has a system running, he doesn't want to change anything unless he has to.

    When we rolled out our displays (informing visitors about rooms, important anouncements) a few weeks ago, we picked a Raspberry Pi based solution with central (IP based) administration.

  2. says:

    I'd assume that lots of the advertising displays are running flash animations. I suspect that for an advertising agency to guarantee that it would work on a given linux distro would cost more than the windows license.

    1. weberc2 says:

      They're obviously not ensuring it would work on Windows... Anyway, a one-time cost for the entire advertising industry to guarantee that flash will work on a given platform seems like a lame excuse to use Windows, especially when it's well-documented that Windows doesn't perform this task well.

      1. says:

        Yes, because getting entire industries to change their tooling, expertise, implementation and legacy systems for the benefit of all rather than the individuals is exactly what capitalism is good at achieving.

        Come the revolution, when I become supreme dictator for life, I will consider your application to standardise advertising platforms to something better. You had better be nice to me in the meantime though.

  3. Wouter says:

    The displays in Helsinki metro carriages run Linux. Once or twice I've seen the kernel boot output and an error message. I don't disagree with what you say and I'm definitely not defending Windows, but any system can fail.

  4. Paricit says:

    Most electronic displays and ATM machines don't use the full blown windows they have a version called Windows embedded. The licensing for that is dirt cheap compared to the full blown version of windows. And like angusprune mentions the total cost of making a Linux app with flash etc makes the be in does embedded a cheaper option

    1. I'm not saying that WebConverger is the best / most popular solution - just that there are plenty of viable Linux alternatives.

    2. Kai Hendry says:

      Whoa, thanks Terence for the endorsement.

      @Robbie, what was your search query?

    1. says:

      You might not want to have a Windows icon as your picture if you want people to think your opinion is unbiased.

      1. says:

        Sorry, I was expecting people to think for themselves and not base decisions on completely shallow claims.

        Let's try thinking about this... Why does everybody use Windows for these displays? Hmmm. Is it possible that maybe Windows offers something that other OSes don't? By definition, IT MUST since reality supports this claim since the vast majority employ Windows for this functionality.

        You're all sitting here thinking that "Linux could do this", but you can't see beyond that and it's hilarious.

        Have fun trying to figure it out.

        1. Robert says:

          To me it is perfectly obvious, it is because Windows is the default and has been for a long time. It is what people know and what people fall to when put on the spot to do something. It offers security, you don't have to venture out of your comfort zone. It offers ease, it just works enough the first time and long term issues can be ignored since the bill was paid. Of course that you have to reboot it every so often, or invent some device to keep the mouse moving doesn't matter and make the people using feel ever so smarter. That is what I have seen in the last 10 years working in the IT field.

          But this is changing Windows is no longer the default for everything, more and more people are discovering alternatives like a Raspberry PI running Linux. The shift has started and will only pick up speed.

  5. During the dotcom boom I ran a gift certificate startup. I needed kiosks for the upcoming holiday season. After searching for any kiosk manufacturer that used anything but Windows I had to settle. As soon as the kiosks were up and running the nightmare began. These things had six screens to capture data and a special printer to print MICR encoded gift checks. Every morning I had to drive to each store that had one and reboot them because of memory leaks, until the vendor supplied a script that would reboot them every night after hours. Huge opportunity to replace WIndows everywhere for these simple tasks.

    1. I'd almost ask why you're blaming Windows for a memory leak that seems to be occurring from an external program. Is it really the Operating System at fault? Not in particular.

      Everyone seems to forget, but Windows does have an embedded version. Windows RT (kiddie-Windows) even runs on ARM. It's nowhere near perfect, but, the compatibility is there for a ton of input/output devices as well as the software that runs the kiosks. That's just all there is to it.

      I don't mean this in an aggressive manner, so if it's coming off as aggressive I do apologize.

  6. Tim says:


    Depending on what 3rd party hardware they might need to work with, many companies only provide drivers for Windows.

  7. Mike says:

    Martin, can you tell us what you used for the player to display content on the raspberry pi? Thanks!

  8. I have a project where I was required to attach multiple touchscreens hooked up to a computer in portrait mode and it just came down to it more or less working out of the box under windows.

    I spent about a week off and on trying to get it working under linux but I had random problems with windows overlapping, screens flashing, and being unable to get the touchscreen driver to take xinput rotation commands and had other things I needed to do.

  9. says:

    No matter what OS you use, if the application hasn't been thoroughly tested of course it will fail. These problems come from hiring cheap companies to do the job.

  10. Hitchins says:

    I assume the added licencing cost is negated by the availability of cheaper Windows developers and engineers who build and run these things.

  11. says:

    As ibrahim stated correctly, if it's not done right, it will fail.

    However, due to license costs and the availability of cheap hardware - most notably the raspberry pi - Linux will probably be the cheaper solution. Not even mentioning that I've mostly seen that people run an oversized desktop computer instead of little chip that only uses ~5W.

    I've done this a couple of time and use a little c programm with webkit to show a website: http://repat.de/2013/03/raspberry-pi-als-kiosk-mit-resourcenschonendem-browser-und-vesa-mount/

  12. says:

    While the ticket machines of the Austrian railway service (ÖBB) run Windows CE (on what looks like a regular PC), I think the info displays use some kind of Unix. Well, >10 years ago (where the info displays weren't widely deployed) in the middle of the night one showed the standard X11 background, a X shaped cursor and a terminal with scrolling text.

    You only know the OS if something goes wrong. Maybe all the displays that are ok use Linux/Unix/something else?

  13. Tim says:


    The license cost is often a non-issue as many already have volume licenses. The main cost issue is the expertise to implement a solution along with 3rd party driver support.

  14. I can tell you that the Windows license is the cheapest part of costs for such a thing.

    "Why is it connected to the Internet."
    Simply, because you want to have the correct and most current departure times with all delays displayed. These data has to come from somewhere.

    "Why no Raspberry PI"
    Because the Raspberry is nice for rapid development, but does not fulfill any of the requirements in terms of EMI, temperature rating, shock proof, reliability, and so.

    Embedded world is different from your home environment, where you have a controlled temperature, almost no EMI problems, and stuff like this.

    I am by no means a Windows advocate. I just want to point out, that embedded is a completely different area, which is the reason why there is not only Windows, Linux but also QNX, VxWorks, OS9 and others operating systems existing.

    Kiosk systems are most likely Windows based for the reason, that HMI development is dirt easy, why most companies are doing it this way.

    1. Some good points, thanks. I'd take issue that it needs to be connected to the Internet. In this specific case, it certainly needs a network connection - but only to a specific server with the data it needs. There's no way that it should be connecting to the Windows Update system.

  15. There isn't nothing inherently wrong with using something like Windows OS to power Kisok display, there are definite use cases for it.

    Keyword: Inherently.

    The devil is in the details, specifically in the configuration of the devices.

    Everything, if done right, could be configured to prevent annoying little Windows dialog pop-ups and errors.

    Hell, if you are running a nice little Windows network, the process is actually quite simple.

    Its just that too many people configure things incorrectly too many times simply because "out-of-the-box", Windows will do stuff like this.

    It does stuff like this for a reason, because it is intended as an operating system and presumes that someone would be, y'know, operating it.

    This I believe is more of a failure in Project Management, failure to account for failure.

    It should be a very basic core requirement for:

    • Output to be visual only, with no other OS output
    • Content and Data be managed on a separate device or network, passing the info.

    The sad thing is, it would take less than a day of foresight and configuration to prevent these little problems which are humiliating.

  16. fritz says:

    I am developing digital signage solutions on both Windows and Linux.
    If I could I would use Linux for everything, because remote administration of Linux Boxes via ssh is just so much more convenient.

    That said, the problem with Linux is the driver situation. For example, on a cheap foxconn box, Window RT runs 1080p vids plus animated transarent scrolltext on top of it without a hitch (without any special programming), on Linux it doesn't, because Qt which in turn uses gstreamer does not support hardware accelerated videos out of the box.

    Being a single developer, I need solutions not problems.

    That's why I have to choose Windows more often that I'd like to.

  17. Anonymous says:

    How do you know it isn't WSUS? Or that maybe it was recently serviced and that part of a "shotgun blast" of attempted fixes, someone installed Mouse Jiggler and updated the system with something like Autopatcher and then forgot to do a manual reboot?

  18. The vast majority of digital signage in the world is Windows based, and as some have already pointed out, it's the driver situation that pushes companies to WIndows. A good chunk of signage software out there relies on the ActiveX subsystem to run, as a result, it would be a significant undertaking to pick up and move to another platform.

    Digital signage is another area where hidden complexity makes laypeople think that they could implement their own solutions with nary a bead of sweat on the brow. In practice this is far from the case and high quality signage is expensive and complex. All that said, nothing like some lazy implementation engineers to ruin an otherwise good product.


What are your reckons?

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